That’s Me In the Corner


I never considered the possibility that I might be witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– dancing on the dance floor. I did not expect this kid to take to a corner, open up an NFL preview guide and eat an entire bag of soda crackers, while listening to the band Kiss. I don’t know what I would’ve done, if that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought I might never have reached on my own –thanks to that near impenetrable, crusted shell of good and bad memories that prevents, and protects, the human mind from seeing who we were when we weren’t paying attention– just watching the kid. By watching the kid, to the point of an unusual, momentary obsession, some part of me thought I might be able to answer some unanswered questions I had from my youth.

I wasn’t watching the kid at first. He was the bride’s son, from a previous marriage, and as distant from my attention as every other participant in the wedding ceremony. He did little to nothing to stand out, in other words, until he took to the dance floor.

“Look at the kid,” I heard some wedding patrons whispering to others. “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say. I was already watching him. I thought everyone was. How could one avoid it, I wondered, this kid was putting on a show.

There was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged the audience to look away. He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he did not attempt to communicate with us in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer might. There was, however, an element of showmanship in his step that should not have occurred in a normal nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped low in his dance step. I don’t know what this suggested exactly, but he did appear more comfortable on the floor than any of the other kids his age. His handclaps were also a little harder than the other kids were. I don’t know if it was the volume of Kevin’s claps, but the other kids appeared to be struggling to follow the beat, or his beat. His gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us not in the wedding party had trouble stifling our giggles. This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

“That’s Kevin,” he said. “The bride’s son.”  His smile mirrored mine, and those of all of the whisperers watching.

After I asked that question, I realized I was one of those whispering and pointing at Kevin. My initial assumption was that everyone watched this kid in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised, but the sheer volume of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Some consider that album a masterpiece. Some called it Davis’ Sgt. Peppers. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure it was a masterpiece. The structure seemed so simple. I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but the point is I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that there was something I was missing out on.

It was this fear of missing out, FOMO in common parlance, that prompted to continue to watch this kid. I knew as little about dance as I did jazz, so I figured it was possible that I was missing something.

“Why are we watching this kid?” I asked my uncle.

“Because it’s cute.”

My Uncle gave me a look that informed me that we shouldn’t try to make more out of it than what it was. He then went back to watching the kid, and he even regained an appreciative smile after a spell.

There was no simplistic brilliance going on in this moment, in other words, it was just cute to watch a young boy carry on in a manner that suggested he knew what he was doing. The kid didn’t know how to dance, most nine-to-ten-year-old boys don’t, but the effort he put into it was cute.

Anyone that focused attention on the kid’s step –as opposed to the surprising amount of bravado he displayed by attempting to dance– knew that the kid didn’t know what he was doing. He had no rhythm, no choreography, and no regard for what others might think of the fact that he had no knowledge of the crucial elements of dance. The latter, I think, was the point, and it was the reason we were watching him.

My guess was that at some point, someone somewhere had informed him that free form dancing has no choreography to it. You just get out there, lower your shoulders a bunch of times, throw your arms about, pick your feet up, and jiggle every occasionally. It’s free form dancing. A trained chimp could do it.

When the kid made a beeline to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people might have been shocked at the manner he exited. I laughed. I thought it added to the spectacle. I laughed loud, believing that those that laughed while he danced would share my laughter. They didn’t. I received confused looks from those around me. His beeline exit did not elicit shock, or any other response. They’d moved on. I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

Some may have characterized this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance, but I didn’t think that captured it. I thought that a desire to watch how this party would unfold fueled this kid’s exit.

The kid’s exit suggested that he was one that preferred to watch. It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance steps and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception. He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by his performance, so why would he prefer to watch?   

Psychologists state that we have mirror neurons in our brain that seek enjoyment from another’s perspective, and that that enjoyment can be so comprehensive that we may reach a point where we convince ourselves that we’re the ones performing these actions. Others describe it as a frequency of thought, or a through line to a greater understanding of being: being funnier, more entertaining, and better in all the ways an insecure, young man thinks that his elders are better. Honing in on this frequency is something that TV watching, video game playing nine-to-ten-year-olds know well. It goes beyond the joy of watching others make fools of themselves, for entertainment purposes, to a belief that when watching better performers attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was obsessing over the actions of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of the boy’s life, and I attempted to look away several times. Every time a member of the party made some kind of misstep, however, this kid would draw my attention by laughing harder than anyone else would. My guess was that the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors fueled that raucous laughter. This kid would laugh so hard at every joke that it was obvious he wanted to be louder than any others laughing.

“He’s attempting to cross over,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said. “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ is often characterized by a preceding pause. The pause suggests that either they know that you’re talking to yourself, and they’re looking to call you out on it, or they believed the comment was situational, until they chewed on it for a bit and realized they couldn’t place it.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that thought. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, but I also wondered if I intended to think that aloud, so that I might have it on the record if it went down the way I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world. It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all partygoers without participating.

The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve. Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that gains attention. The crossover does require some discretion, however, for it can be overdone. When one overemphasizes an attempt, they could run the risk of receiving a “We know you were there. You wouldn’t shut up about it” comment. The perfect crossover calls for some comments and/or attention getting laughter interspersed in the emcee’s presentation to lay the groundwork for the stories the subject would later tell others regarding his participation.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” the groom, acting as the emcee of the event, said at one point. He was alluding to Kevin, and Kevin’s over-the-top laughter.

It would be almost impossible for me to know if this kid achieved a total crossover, for I had no familiarity with the family, and I would have no opportunity to hear the kid’s after-party stories. The kid did accomplish an excellent first step, however, thanks to a groom that, I assume, had spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual stepfather.

The answer to why I was so obsessed with a 9-to-10-year-old crystallized soon after the groom’s comment. Kevin’s mother called upon Kevin for increased participation. The kid waved her off. He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation. It dawned on me that my preference for observation went so deep that it was less about fearing increased participation and more about a preference for watching others perform that was so entrenched that any attempts to have me do otherwise could become an obnoxious distraction.

That’s me in the corner I thought. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself. “Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?”

Could it be that this preference for observing has something to do with the idea that we’ve all been participants and observers in the audience at various points in our lives, and we’ve all witnessed this idea that those roles can somewhat interchangeable in people’s memories? Unless the participants are so over-the-top funny, entertaining, or in all other ways memorable, observers have can manipulate the memories of participants, if they know how to enhance their role as an astute observer.

When one is an athlete, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display the pride they might feel through vicarious connections. When an athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, they may feel sorry for the athlete, but they won’t associate with them in any meaningful way. They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position as the athlete was at the time of the error, they would not have committed it. ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

Some may view the desire to view an activity, as opposed to partaking in it, as a bit of a cop out. It may have been a cop-out for this kid, just as it may have been for me, but I do have fond memories of various events that I refused to participate in, in the same manner this kid might have of his mother’s wedding. I laughed with my fellow party goers, as we all recalled those past events that took place with fondness, and I did offer funny anecdotes to those conversations, but my role was often limited to that of an observer. Actual participation in these events was the furthest thing from my mind.

If this kid shared as many traits with me, at nine-ten-years-old, my guess was that he was already documenting stories that he would retell for years. Some of these stories might involve slight exaggerations regarding his role in them, but my guess is that few listeners would have the temerity, or the memory, to dispute him. Some of his versions of the story may offer interesting insights, and if those little vignettes involve creative, entertaining nuggets, they might become a part of the narrative in a manner that listeners to join him in making the leaps of re-characterizing his actual involvement.

If this kid manages to accomplish this, and he gets so good at it that others start corroborating his version of other events, he may make the leap to an almost-unconscious discovery of a loophole in his interactions that provide him a future out on all requirements of participation.

If he already does this, on a conscious level, and his evolution is so complete that he’s already choosing vicarious participation over actual participation on a conscious level, then that is where the similarities end. I thought he was too young for all that however, but I did consider the idea that he might be slipping into an all too comfortable position where he is neglecting the importance of participation on purpose.

The problem that I foresaw for him, a problem I now see as a result of watching him act out a page in the first chapter of my autobiography, was that he was learning what to do and what not to do through observation alone. I considered this portal equivalent to the type of learning one can experience while watching too much TV and playing too many video games, with all the same vicarious thrills of victory and dissociative feelings of failure. I also thought that he would come to a point where he had problems learning the lessons, and making the vital connections, we only make by doing. If I had been in a position to advise this nine-to-ten-year-old of the lessons I’ve learned, but did not heed at his age, I would’ve shouted:

“Get back on the dance floor, kid! I don’t care if you were already out there. Get out there and do it. Then get out there and do it so often that you tailbone is on the line and you’re making an absolute fool out of yourself. Then, when that obnoxious observer steps up to laugh at you for making such a fool of yourself, you can turn on them and say, ‘At least I was out there. Doing it! What were you doing? Sitting on your can watching me!’”

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk (This is not a prequel to this piece, but it is another story that occurred in the same wedding.)

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Anti-Anti-Consumer Art


I may be in the minority, but I prefer the work of angry, bitter artists that tend to be maladjusted people. If I deign to offer an artist my bourgeoisie, Skittle eating, domestic beer drinking, and Everybody Loves Raymond-watching opinion on their artistic creation, and they don’t offer me a red faced, spittle-flying “YOUR OPINIONS ARE EXCREMENT!” rebuttal, I might begin to question if they have the artistic temperament I require of those that have no other way of venting their rage on the world than through artistic creation.

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

If I am going to view their art in a serious manner, they had better view me as symbolic substitute for that America loving, God-fearing, football fan of a father that ruined everything the artist held dear as a young child. I want them to view me as a symbolic substitute for that art critic that deigned to call their work pedestrian, the fellow artist that told them they’d never make it in this world, or the art teacher that told them to consider changing their major to Economics.

The path to artistic purity is different for every artist, of course, but most true artists do not set out to create pieces consumers enjoy. For most, the struggle of art artistic expression is to locate and expound upon unique, individual interpretation of nouns (people, places, and things). For these people, the idea that others may share their interpretations is exciting and fulfilling, but it is not why they felt the need to express themselves. Outside adulation is of secondary concern, but it is also gravy. Some, however, create complicated pieces of literature, or other forms of art, for the expressed purpose of airing their complications, and for these people the loathing they have for the common man’s opinion is so complete that they’re looking at something else before the common man can complete their second sentence. Even those authors that write bestsellers, for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, will argue till they bleed that their intention was not to create something that consumers love. They will argue that they just happened to create something that consumers love. We can’t blame them, no matter how much we might disagree, for if they stated that they intended to create a product of universal appeal, few would consider them serious artists.

If a starving artist declares how much they love fans in their artistic statement –and they’re hoping to one day have their art exhibited in a New York City gallery– they may want to avoid the heartache, and headaches, and just consider another profession. They may want to consider trying out for the Atlanta Falcons instead, because they’re probably going to have a better chance of making that team than the ones that have their works considered for a New York City art gallery. A true artist can say that they value input from those that have experienced their piece, but they must word it in such a manner that avoids anyone interpreting their artistic statement as one of appreciation.

The best chance an artist might have for achieving the placement in a prestigious gallery is to condemn everything that that consumer purports to stand for. Their best bet might be to find an artistic method of denouncing everything everyone believes in. Their best bet might be is to find an anti-consumer theme.

The anti-consumer theme has a timeless quality about it that goes to the heart of the artist. Its provocative nature does not yield to pop culture winds. It is anti-pop culture, and thus a “hot ticket” in any era that appreciates their artists.

Little, old ladies that are attempting to be young and hip, will walk up to an artist in these galleries and try to find some way of telling them that they find the most disturbing pieces in their portfolio: “Wonderful”, “Amazing”, and “Wonderful and amazing?!”

“You are so not my demographic,” is something a true artist of an anti-consumer piece of art might say if they received such comments from a little, old lady. A rejection of such compliments, from such an artist could enshrine that artist in the word-of-mouth halls of the art world, and their opportunity for such prestige might increase, if the artist puts some sort of exclamation point on their rejection, by spitting on the old lady’s shoes.

Receiving a compliment from a little, old lady has to put an ant-consumer artist in an odd place. The intention of such a creation is to reject everything that old lady holds dear. Its purpose was to disturb her, and its intent was to shake up her conformist thoughts of the world. To hear that such a woman “gets” the artist’s piece denunciation of her generation, and the way her generation screwed us all up with their toys, and wars, and unattainable gender-specific imagery has to be vexing for the artist. The artist must feel a reflexive warm glow rising whenever someone compliments them on something they worked so hard on, but the artist knows better than to concede to that impulse.

The best way to handle that might be to spit on her shoes. An enterprising, young, anti-consumer artist may even want to set a situation like that up, in a publicity junket, for she could become the talk of the town if she pulled it off.

“Did you hear what happened when some old bag complimented Janice on her anti-50’s piece?” word-of-mouth patrons would say to one another. “She spit on her shoes.”  It could become the artist’s folklore.

Criticism of the theme of the piece would be the next-best reaction for the angst-ridden, bitter, and angry artist, were it to come from some old crank from the 50’s. This would allow the artist to say, “Good, it was meant to make you angry. It was meant to have you re-examine all that your generation has done to us.”

If the patron is not of the 50’s generation, and they deign to criticize anti-consumer art, they might want to consider if they’re part of the problem. They may want to consider going outside more often, or carefully considering the full scope of the artist’s narrative. It would seem that the sociopolitical theme of anti-consumerism is immune to criticism by its very nature. If that were the case, why wouldn’t a curator want their gallery lined with anti-consumer pieces?

The anti-consumer artist doesn’t have to worry about using current products in their art either, for an anti-consumer artist can use whatever consumer-related products they need to, to denounce the ethos of an era. A pro-consumer piece does not have such allowances, for to try and create an artistic expression that professes an enjoyment of Superman cereal the consumer must have some experience with Superman cereal that they can use to relate to the theme. That piece may evoke some sentiments of quaint nostalgia, but little more. If the artist is not willing to include some underlying, angst-ridden subtext regarding the ways in which eating Superman cereal created unrealistic expectations in the patron’s mind, and thus messed up patron’s childhood, the artist can be sure that their piece is not going to fetch the kind of price tag that a bitter, condemnation of being forced to ingest the cereal, and thus the ideals of Superman, will.

The question that I’m sure many anti-consumer, starving artists would love to know is, is there a sliding scale on anti-consumerist statements? If their piece contains sophisticated irony in its anti-consumer theme, with an ironic twist, what kind of return can they expect for their time? If the artist is vehement in the declarations they’ve made with this theme, how much more profitable will that piece be, and is there a percentage by which the price tag increases in conjunction with their bullet point adherence to the sociopolitical, anti-consumer theme?

Walking through these galleries, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of anti-consumer art for sale. It has become the most consumer-related, rebellious, and radical theme in the art world. It’s become a staple in the art world. If a starving artist is not painting, sculpting, or putting together some sort of disturbing, anti-consumer collage, I’m guessing that their fellow artists have already approached them with the ‘what the hell you waiting for?’ question. It’s become the safest theme for an artist to explore if they want their work exhibited.

Curators don’t have to worry about fads or trends in the art world, for the very idea of fads and trends are anti-consumer, and that which an anti-consumer artist speaks out against in their work. All a curator has to do is rotate their anti-consumer art year around, and their gallery can exist in the radical, counterculture milieu 365 days a year. It’s progressed to a point where one would think that a righteous rebel –looking to be capture a counterculture theme in their work, regardless what it said in their pocketbook– would take one look around at all the anti-consumer art in the art world and stick their artistic, middle finger up in the rebellion to expose it for the unintended parody it has become.

The question of how to frame such an artistic creation would be an obstacle of course, for it would be career suicide to have your anti-anti-consumer art be confused with pro-consumer art.

“Eat at McDonald’s”

“It says eat at McDonald’s,” a curator might say with absolute disgust.

“Right on,” the anti-anti-consumer artist would say. “It’s my attempt to highlight the stereotypical art of anti-consumerism. Grimace is a vehicle for the larger idea through which I attempt to explore the tendency our counterculture has to use social media and propaganda to prescribe narrow, contrived definitions of art to individuals and the nation.”

The hip, avant-garde patrons of the anti-anti-consumer artist’s piece would be prone to consider the artistic statement to be a stab at consumerism that contains sophisticated irony. They might consider it quaint, hilarious, and an incredible salvo sent to consumers around the world that don’t get it. If the artist were made available to answer questions, and they implored their artistic friends to accept their anti-anti-consumer theme for what it is, the hip, avant-garde smiles would likely flatten, and they might consider the anti-anti-consumer theme obnoxious, and they may even consider such an artist to be a whore for corporate America.

“I just want to celebrate the history and tradition of the McDonald land character Grimace,” would be the anti-anti-consumer artist’s intro to the patrons of their exhibit. “I also want to explore, in my painting, all the joy and happiness Grimace has brought to so many lives?”

“Is that sophisticated irony?” the patrons would ask.

“No. It’s an anti-anti-consumer theme that I attempt to explore here.”

“So, it’s a pro-consumer statement?” one of the more obnoxious patrons might say to intrude upon the artist’s pitch.

“Good God no!” the artist would be forced to say at this point, if they hoped to generate the amount of interest that might result in a sale.

If the anti-anti-consumer artist has the artistic temperament of one that doesn’t care about the sale, however, and they’re able to maintain focus on the artistic theme, they might be forced to engage in a substantial back and forth with the patrons of their piece before they came to the conclusion that the artist wasn’t putting them on, and that they weren’t being obnoxious. As stated earlier, being obnoxious in an anti-consumer stance is not just acceptable, it’s expected, but stubbornly pursuing an anti-anti-consumer stance will cause others to deem them obnoxious and pro-consumer.

I’m guessing that attracting patrons to the anti-anti-consumer exhibit would not even be the beginning of the artist’s problems, as no self-respecting curator would deign to showcase their work. I’m guessing that most curators aren’t bad people, and that they would have some sympathy for the anti-anti-consumer artist’s frustrations that would follow. I’m guessing that if the curator knew enough about his industry to be objective about it, they would sit the artist down, at some point, and say something along the lines of this:

“I know you are a passionate artist, but you should reconsider this anti-anti-consumer theme. I know that you built it to counter the counter, but you should know won’t play well over the long haul. If you want serious cachet in the art world, you have two genres to consider, the anti-consumerism theme and the anti-consumer works that are vehement with their theme. I’d suggest you drop this whole anti-anti-consumer statement and make it known that your works contain a sophisticated irony with an anti-consumer twist, if you ever hope to sell anything.”

If the anti-anti-consumer artist somehow managed to achieve some degree of success with their theme, they would likely become the scourge of the art world, and at some point, their fellow artists would form a consistent condemnation for their audacity. “You’re ruining this for all of us. What are you doing?”

At which point the anti-anti-consumer artist could look them in the eye and ask, “Is that sophisticated irony?”

Are You Superior? II


Working as an ice cream truck driver one day –a ding ding man, a good humor man, or whatever you call us in your locale– I was pulled over by a couple of bandannas, beneath hats that were turned backwards, and sunglasses. I braced for the worst. I envisioned this encounter a modern-day equivalent of bandits pulling over a stagecoach. I flirted with the notion that the only reason they stopped me “just to talk” was to allow their stickup man enough time to sneak around the back of the ice cream truck and complete the heist. I divided my attention between them and my mirrors as a result, watching for movement behind my truck. When that didn’t happen, I began to wonder if they were feeling me out, to judge if I was a soft and easy roll. All of that may have been unfair, but I have always been a nerdy guy, and these guys appeared to be so cool. I could find no reason why they would want to stop their truck in the middle of a neighborhood street “just to talk” to someone like me.

I’ll be blunt, I don’t understand any of the subtle and wide divides between being cool and being nerdy, and as many tell me, “You probably never will.” I did know that these guys were cool, however, or cooler than me anyway. They had this aura about them I call cool, but others, far smarter than me, call radiating self-possession. They spoke in an ethereal tone that suggested to me that they were probably potheads, and as one attuned to pop culture, pop culture references, and pop culture characterizations, I knew that meant that they had to be much cooler than me. If they were, in fact, thieves, and I was the aproned shopkeeper –to complete the “old west” analogy– their comparative cool points were through the roof.

In a world of what I considered proper metrics, I should’ve been the superior one in this encounter. I wore better clothes, and I figured I had a better education, but these guys had intangibles that I couldn’t even imagine attaining. They appeared to have the look, a sense of cool about them, and an aura that suggested that they were fun loving, party-going types. Such characteristics threw all of my metrics right out the window. They weren’t stupid, however, and that fact was evident minutes into our conversation, but there was no way their education was as expensive as mine was. If they were potheads, they probably spent a lot of time equivocating moral issues, and those that equivocate –my Catholic school educators informed me– have a fundamental flaw about them that they spend most of their time trying to hide. In this world of proper metrics, I thought I was, check, check, check, superior.

Except for one tiny, little nugget, I conveniently neglected to input into the equation: I was also wearing sunglasses and a bandanna beneath my backwards facing hat. The only difference between the three of us was that I didn’t wear this gear on a day-to-day basis. I wore this getup for the sole purpose of concealing my true identity. I was so embarrassed to be a ding ding man that short of wearing a fake beard and a Groucho Marx nose and eyeglasses, I had every inch of my identity concealed from the public.

They didn’t know any this of course. They must have thought I was a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses brutha, and that may have been the primary reason they decided to stop and chat with me in the first place. It may have been the reason they were so relaxed about their status, and my status, and the superior versus inferior roles in our approach to one another. When this idea hit me, I felt superior, until I realized that if I was superior, I wasn’t doing anything with it, and that fact led me to be embarrassed that I was now wearing a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses. I wondered if I input that new information into the paradigm if it might make me inferior to them. Then it dawned on me how many points we derive from knowing our limitations, and learning to live with them, until we’re so comfortable with who we are that we’re radiating self-possession. I realized that in my bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses façade, I was going to get no points in any of these categories.

The bandanas, with hats on backwards, and sunglasses wore no shirts, and they were riding in a beat up, old International truck, that rattled in idle. They were construction guys with dark, rich tans that made their teeth appear whiter when they smiled and laughed. My guess, watching these two twentysomethings speak, was that even though they appeared inferior, they had no trouble landing women. My guess was that among those girls that knew them well, there was a whole lot of adulation going on. I didn’t know that to be a fact, of course, but guys like me –who were always on the lookout for what I missed in life– were always looking to guys like these for ideas.

They laughed a genuine laugh at some of the things I said. I remember that what I said had something to do with the business side of being a ding ding man, but I can’t remember specifics. I do remember their laughter, and I do remember wondering if they were laughing with me or at me. At this point in my life, I just escaped a high school that contained a large swath of people that were often laughing at me. This casual conversation among men reminded me of those kids I escaped, and it revealed the shield that I erected whenever I thought their types neared.

Something I did not expect happened to me in the midst of this conversation, however, and it happened soon after they told me they had to go. This something caused me to miss them before they drove away. I enjoyed speaking with them, and I realized that they had no pretensions about them. I realized that these two might have been just a couple of good guys, and that I liked being the guy they thought I was. The latter point was the something I didn’t expect. I wasn’t sure what it was they thought they saw, but I liked it, and it led me to watch them drive away until they were gone. The idea that most people speak in superlatives was not lost on me, but most people who knew me well said that I might have been one of the most uptight, frustrated, and angst-ridden individuals they’ve ever meet and the costume I currently wore supported that characterization more than I care to admit. Very few of these people have ever accused me of being too relaxed.

The idea that I was unable to put high school behind me didn’t hit me at the time, but looking back, I realize that my inability to enjoy a simple, casual conversation with some decent fellas –that just happened to drive up on me– was just that. I was still playing that proverbial king of the mountain game, a game I often lost in high school, and I was still so locked into a defensive position that it had ruined my life for years.

Is it true that we’re searching for a point of superiority, or inferiority, in even the most casual conversations? I don’t know, and some would say no, and others would say hell no! “I’m just asking you what you think about the latest wheat and grain prices on the commodity markets.” So, why do we loathe speaking to some people? What makes us so uncomfortable that we leave some of the most casual conversations feeling incomplete and inferior, and why do we enjoy casual conversations with others so much more? The tricky, sticky element of this argument is that most who propose that in some way, shape, or form these elements shape just about every conversation we have, wish we never discovered it. Now that our mind’s eye is open to the idea, we wish we could turn it off, and enjoy the fruits of casual conversations again.

If it is true that every single conversation has these elements in some form, where was I in this casual conversation with two guys that wore a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat and sunglasses? That was never established in a substantial manner, but my takeaway from this particular encounter was that for a very brief moment in my life, I didn’t care, and that might have been what I liked, what I missed, and what caused me to watch them drive away.

Deserve vs. Earn


“You just received a raise? Well, congratulations! I think you deserved it.” A co-worker said after I stepped out of a one-on-one with my boss. I was so proud that I almost missed her faux pas. If it wasn’t a faux pas to her mind, I thought, but it was a violation of my philosophical principles.

“Well, thank you for the kind words,” I said with all sincerity, “but I didn’t deserve that raise. I earned it.”  

I don’t know if I offended a third party in our group or not, but she stepped into the conversation when I stressed the word earn. “If you earned that raise, then we all did,” she said with a dismissive tone. “We all got a raise, but it wasn’t a raise in a traditional sense. It was a bump in pay. Yeah, the federal minimum wage went up, and we all received a commensurate bump in pay.”

I knew about the raise in the minimum wage, but I made more than the minimum wage, so I ignored the stories on the topic. I didn’t think I would be affected by it, and I didn’t know anything about the general practice companies have of raising wages commensurate with the minimum wage. In our one-on-one, my boss led me to believe that the increase in hourly wage I would see was an amount of money I would receive, going forward, based on merit. He never said the word raise, I realized in the aftermath of my co-worker’s clarification, but he said enough to allow me to fill in the blank. I was so proud. I couldn’t wait to tell my dad, but it turned out this bump in pay wasn’t an amount of money I earned, but money I deserved for working in a country that decided to mandate that employers pay their employees more money.

“Why do you care whether you earned or deserved more money?” another co-worker later asked, “as long as you have more of it in the bank.”

Other co-workers told me to shut up in various other ways, and that I should be grateful that I had a job. I tried to be that guy, as I knew the pain of being laid off and fired. I don’t know if my state of mind had something to do with my boss delivering the news of my bump in pay under what I considered false pretenses, but I thought it had something to do with the overwhelming sense of pride I felt when I thought the company was finally recognizing all of my hard work, and how that all came crashing down when I realized I deserved it.

✽✽✽

In a post-game interview, following his first 1994-1995 national championship, former Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne was asked if he felt he deserved the title. Tom Osborne began head coaching duties in 1974. What followed was a level of consistency almost unheard of in college football, with numerous near-misses in national championship games. No college coach, at the time, could be said to be more deserving of a national championship. No college coach worked harder, or was more effective in building a consistent winner, at the time, than Coach Tom Osborne. Yet when he finally won his first championship, and someone asked him if he felt he deserved it, he said, “No one deserves a national championship,” I write paraphrasing Coach Osborne. “You win one in that particular season.” Without going into too much detail, every loss to the Oklahoma Sooners, every bowl game loss, and every near-miss informed Tom Osborne that he needed to change some in-game strategies. He also realized he needed to change the type of players he needed to recruit to finish his career with three national championships and a 60-3 record over his last five seasons as Nebraska’s head coach.  

What’s the difference between the words earn and deserve? If a reader sorts through various periodicals they will find the two words used in an almost interchangeable manner. We conflate these two words so often that some of us consider them synonyms, some thesauruses and dictionaries even list them as such.

This casual, but curious, observer of language would not go so far to write that those periodicals are incorrect, but in a purely philosophical sense, I consider these words so far apart as to be antonyms. When the office worker speaks of deserving a raise she has not yet received, even those who know the standard measurements of the company would not bring up the word earn, fearing that doing so might taint the relationship they have with her. When a sports fan speaks of his favorite team deserving a championship, only his antagonists will mention the fact that that team hasn’t earned it yet, and when the lovelorn and politicians speak of the word deserving, it is an emotional appeal that their audience dare not counter.

Most define deserve as something for which they are entitled, as if by birthright, and earn has a more meritorious quality. We think we deserve to have something, as a result of a natural course of events. If another has, we should have. In this context, deserve takes on the definition of an adjective to describe those who should attain, and earn is more a verb to describe the justifiable reward for the hard work put into attaining a goal. Deserve is also a term used by those who feel they are owed something by being a good person, a human, or a human being that is alive.

All philosophical differences aside, this causal, but curious, observer can’t help but think that those who invest emotions in the idea that they are deserving, at the expense of working to earn, set themselves up for failure, heartache, and even diminished mental health when the reality of their circumstances continue to dispel such notions. One would think that, at some point, the confused would take a step back and reexamine their algorithm, but for most of us that’s easier said than done, as it could lead us to the conclusion that we’re a lot less deserving than we once believed.

LOVE

Love is difficult to calculate by standard measurements of course, as past behaviors do not dictate future success. As such, no rational person should ever say that they deserve to be loved in a conditional manner by a prospective lover, but love is not something one can earn entirely by merit in this manner either. Conditional love, between adults, is a complicated algorithm fraught with failure that begins with simple, intangible superficialities. These superficialities can be as simple as the way a person combs their hair, their scent, the clothes they wear, the way they smile when they see you coming down the aisle at Cracker Barrel, and all of the other, otherwise meaningless intangibles that form superficial attraction. Some could argue that the superficial nature of the early stages of love are nothing more than a crush, but a crush forms the fundamental layer of all that will arise from it. At some point, and every relationship is different, a cross over occurs. The initial spark that drove the relationship from point A to point B progresses into shared values, individualistic ideas, and some modifications on long held beliefs and philosophies, until it eventuates from that initial, superficial attraction into the ultimate, comprehensive and conditional decisions we make about another person we call love. In this sense, we earn love every day thereafter by maintaining and managing the conditions that the other party lays out for us in overt and implicit ways to form adult, conditional love.

“Do you think you should receive love simply by being?” I would ask those who claim to deserve love. “Do you think that you should be able to walk up to a total stranger on the street and inform them that you are a good person, and therefore deserving of love, and that they should do their civic duty, as a good citizen of the world, and love you? If that’s what you believe, you’ll probably end up with the type of love you deserve.” 

The point is that those who claim they’ve achieved the quality of deserving open up a whole can of why, for those who are asked to believe it. ‘Why do I deserve,’ should be the first question we ask ourselves, and ‘why am I more deserving than anyone else’ should be the next, and all of the answers should culminate in self-evident facts and figures that result in the definitions of the words ‘merit’ and ‘earn’.

Some high-minded types who tend to overthink matters are often quick to warn the rest of us that we tend to overthink matters. One such person told his audience that love is nothing more than a complex mixture of chemicals in the brain, and he did so under the theoretical umbrella that suggests that a human being is no more complex than the penguin. This person added that other animals, like some penguins, maintain long-term, monogamous relationships based on decision-making. The rest of us would not say that this is outright false, but we would add that the definition of love can vary with the complex and simple variables we add to it. If we want the love we deserve to be no more complex than the penguin’s, and our drive to be loved, and love, is nothing more than a natural and primal need to procreate, then all humans deserve to be loved by the primal, prospective mate who senses when we’re in heat. If the human’s senses are equal or inferior to the penguin’s, in the sense that a penguin can tell when their mate is in heat, and humans don’t know when we deserve love, we may want to develop a mating call that informs prospective mates when we feel ‘deserving’ to see what comes running down the alley to us.

Most of us prefer to believe that we earn the love we receive on a perpetual basis, a love that is much more complex than the penguins, and that the love we receive is reciprocated by the love we give. This, in financial circles, is called ROI (return on investment). If we decide to invest our emotions into another, we try to make an informed decision of whether that person shares our values. After we make that initial assessment, we advance it to greater levels with all variables that both parties introduce to it on a day-to-day basis. If we settle on this primal, penguin definition of love, and we choose to believe that we deserve a form of love that should be nonjudgmental, and lacking in morals and values, and that which is nothing more than a stick that stirs the chemicals in our brain, the love we receive will be as meaningless as the penguins’, and what we deserve.

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman


At one precise moment on the timeline of comedy, the subversive nature of it was so comprehensive that it became uniform, conventional, and in need of total destruction. Although the late, great Andy Kaufman may never have intended to undermine and, thus, destroy the top talent of his generation, his act revealed his contemporaries for what they were: conventional comedians operating under a like-minded banner. In doing so, Andy Kaufman created a new art form.

Those of us with a seemingly unnatural attraction to Kaufman’s game-changing brand of unfunny comedy now know the man was oblivious to greater concerns, but we used whatever it was he created to subvert conventional subversions, until they lost their subversive quality altogether.

Those “in the know” drew up a very distinct, sociopolitical definition of subversion long before Andy Kaufman’s variety. They may deem the art form of Kaufman’s making evidence of his certifiable comedic genius now, but they had no idea what he was doing while he was doing it. I can only guess that most of those that saw Kaufman’s act in its gestational period cautioned him against going through with it. 

I see what you’re trying to do. I do,” I imagine them saying, “but I don’t think it will play well in Omaha. They’ll just think you’re weird, and weird doesn’t play well on the national stage, unless you’re funny-weird.”

Many of them regarded being weird, in the manner embodied by his definition of that beautiful adjective as just plain weird, even idiotic. They didn’t understand what he was doing.

Before Andy Kaufman became Andy Kaufman, and his definition of weird defined it as a transcendent art form, being weird meant going so far over-the-top that the audience felt comfortable with the notion of a comedian being weird. It required the comedic player to find a way to communicate a simple message to the audience: “I’m just acting weird and that’s all.” Before Kaufman and those influenced by his brilliance broke the mold on the word, comedians relied on visual cues, in the form of weird facial expressions, vocal inflections and tones so that the so-called less sophisticated audiences in Omaha could understand the notion of a comedic actor just being weird. Before Kaufman, comedic actors had no interest in unnerving audiences. They just wanted the laugh. 

One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage on Saturday Night Live, he heard those warnings, but for whatever reason he didn’t heed them. It’s possible that Kaufman was just that weird, and that he thought his only path to success was to let his freak flag fly. It’s also possible that he had enough confidence in his act that he was able to ignore the advice offered by those in the know. We admirers must also consider the idea that Kaufman might not have been talented enough to be funny in a more conventional sense. Whatever the case, Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, idiotic characters and bits until those “in the know” declared him one of the funniest men who ever lived.

The cutting-edge, comedic intelligentsia now discusses the deceased Kaufman, in a frame that suggests they were onto his act the whole time. They weren’t. They didn’t get it. I didn’t get it, but I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to lead me to  the genius of being an authentic idiot, until I busied myself trying to carve out my own path to true idiocy, in my own little world.

Andy Kaufman may not have been the first true idiot in the pantheon of comedy, but for those of us who witnessed his hilariously unfunny, idiotic behavior, it opened to us a completely new world. We knew how to be idiots, but we didn’t understand the finer points of the elusive art of persuading another of our inferiority until Kaufman came along, broke that door down, and showed us all his furniture.

For those who’ve never watched Andy Kaufman at work, his claim to fame did not involve jokes. His modus operandi involved situational humor. The situations he created weren’t funny either, not in the conventional sense. Some were so unfunny and so unnerving, in fact, that viewers deemed them idiotic. Kaufman was so idiotic that many believed his shows were nothing more than a series of improvised situations in which he reacted on the fly to a bunch of idiotic stuff, but what most of those in the know could not comprehend at the time was that everything he did was methodical, meticulous, and choreographed.

 

Being Unfunny in Situations

 

Like the knuckleball, the manner in which situational humor evolves can grow better or worse as the game goes on, but eventual success requires unshakeable devotion to the pitch. Some will hit home runs off your knuckleball, and you will knock out an occasional mascot with a wild one, but for situational jokes to be effective, they can’t just be another pitch in your arsenal. These pitches require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to you will have a difficult time understanding.

“Why would you try to confuse people?” they will ask. “Why do you continue to say jokes that aren’t funny?” 

“I would like someone, somewhere to consider me an idiot,” the devoted will respond. “Any idiot can fall down a flight of stairs, trip over a heat register, and engage in slapstick comedy, but I want to achieve a form of idiocy that leads others to believe I am a total idiot who doesn’t know any better.”

For those less confident in their modus operandi, high-minded responses might answer the question in such a way that the recipient considers us more intelligent, but they obfuscate the truth as to why we enjoy doing it. The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and primetime sitcoms, but some of us reach a point when that master template bores us. Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery that friends employ, particularly those friends with gameshow host personalities. For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around traditional modes of comedy. Some employ these tactics as a means of standing out and above the fray, while others enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base this mindset procures. The one certain truth is that most find themselves unable to identify the exact reason why they do what they do. They just know they enjoy it, and they will continue to continue it no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

An acquaintance of mine learned of my devotion to this method when she overheard me contrast it in a conversation with a third party. What she heard was a brief display of intellectual prowess that crushed her previous characterization of me. When I turned back to her to continue the discussion she and I were having prior to the interruption, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were wide. The remark she made in that moment was one she repeated throughout our friendship.

“I am onto you now. You are not as dumb as you pretend to be.”

The delicious moment occurred seconds later, when it dawned on her that what she thought she figured out made no sense in conventional constructs. Most people pretend to be smart, not the other way around. No one pretends that they are dumb or inferior. As she looked at me, her expression changed, as it dawned on her that her revelation was not as comprehensive as she first believed.

The pause before her second sentence gave birth to an expression every idiot strives to achieve, as the pride of figuring me out faded, and she realized that everything she thought she figured out only brought more questions to the fore. I imagined that something of a flowchart developed in her mind to explain everything I did and said to that point, and that each flowchart ended in a rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning. She pursued me after that, just to inform me that she was onto what I was doing, until it became obvious that she was the primary audience of her pleas.

I’ve never thrown an actual knuckleball with any success, but watching her flail at the gradual progression of my situational joke, trying to convince me that she was now above the fray, cemented my lifelong theory: Jokes can be funny, but reactions are hilarious.

The point is that if you devote yourself to this mindset, and you try your hardest not to let your opponents see the stitches, you can convince some of the people, some of the times, that you are an idiot.

The Idiostory

Some present and future idiots purchased every VHS tape, book, and album that carried Andy Kaufman’s name, and we read everything we could find about him online, trying to unlock the mystery of his effect on us. We wanted those who knew him best to tell us why he chose to go against the advice of those in the know and if it was possible for us to follow his indefinable passion to the end. We followed his examples and teachings in the manner of disciples, until it became a lifestyle. Andy Kaufman led us to believe that if we could confuse the sensibilities of serious world just enough, it could lead to some seminal moments in our pursuit of the idiotic life.

If our goal were to be funny, we would’ve attempted to follow the trail laid by Jerry Seinfeld. If our aim was only to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted weird-funny voice Steve Martin used in The Jerk. If we wanted to be sardonic or satirical, we would have looked to George Carlin for guidance. We knew we weren’t as funny as they were, but we reached a point when that didn’t matter to us. When we discovered the unfunny, subversive idiocy of Andy Kaufman, however, it filled us like water rushing down the gullet of a dehydrated man.

Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they detonated. Some didn’t see any humor inherent in our bits even then. Some of them didn’t want to have anything to do with us after repeated displays, and others were so confused and irritated that they found themselves confronted, once again, by the question of why we do it. It’s possible that the majority of us will never be able to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all our own, but we know we like it, and we know we will continue to do it.

 

The Disclaimer

 

If the goal of the reader is to have others consider them funny, following this advice will only lead to heartache and headaches. Instead, they should put acute focus on the beats and rhythm of their delivery and learn how to incorporate them into their responses. Quality humor, like quality music, must offer pleasing beats and rhythms that find a familiar home in the audience’s mind. To achieve this level of familiarity, there are few resources as great as the sitcoms and standup comedians everyone knows and loves. If the joke teller leads into the punchline with a familiar rhythm and lands on the line in a familiar beat, the audience’s reward for figuring out that beat will be a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller’s reward is the resulting laughter. 

If, however, the goal is to be an unfunny idiot that receives no immediate laughter, the joke teller still needs to follow the rules of comedy regarding the beats and rhythm of humor, and they may need to know them even better than truly funny people do. As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell those willing to listen, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy the perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by it. This takes practice and practice in the art of practice.

The rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between. If we achieve total destruction or distortion of what others know to be the beats and rhythm of humor, a sympathetic soul might consider us such an idiot that they might take some time out of their day to advise us about our beats and the rhythm of our delivery. For the most part, however, the rewards idiots receive are damage to their reputations as potentially funny people. Most will dismiss us as weird, and others might even categorically dismiss us as strange. Still others will dismiss us as idiots who know nothing about making people laugh. “We don’t,” we will confess. “That’s why we’re here.” Most will want to have little to nothing to do with us. Women, in particular, might claim they don’t want to date us, declaring, “I prefer nice, funny guys. You? I’m sorry to say this, but you’ve said so many weird things that … I kind of consider you an idiot.”

Busybody Nation


“Busybodies learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” – Timothy 5:13, Holy Bible (NES) –

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that many Omaha, Nebraska residents will inform anyone willing to lend an ear that this would be an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, albeit unmemorable and uneventful, and our walk through the park should have ended that way, but I’d had enough.

Without intending to do so, I initiated what would eventuate into a confrontation by allowing my leashed dog to chase some ducks into the water, an apparent crime against nature.

“Don’t do that!” a female voice shrieked from somewhere in the distance. 

After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore where their webbed foot stood seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away for a couple seconds, then casually walked away, his mission complete.

If my wife asked, “Did you hear that woman shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve played dumb and pretended that I had no idea what she was talking about. The woman’s shriek was that faint and distant. The park wasn’t densely populated, but it was plausible that any of the other attendees could have earned such a reaction. I could have assumed I was not the subject of her scorn, and I could’ve simply walked away from it. I could have pretended that I didn’t hear her, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known any better. My pride was not on the line, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did consider all of that, while my dog sniffed the shore and my wife voiced her concerns, unrelated to the matter at hand, in the background, but I’d had enough.

Some confrontations produce rewards. If a person’s character is on the line, they need to come out swinging, with the best vocabulary in their arsenal. Sometimes, confrontation breeds the type of definition we should not allow others to define for us. We cannot sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. We do make mistakes, however, when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. This need for respect can be such a driving force that we might engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains for either party. Sometimes, we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves. Other times, we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve allowed so many slights and inconsequential confrontations slip by without response that we reach our threshold, and a breaking point.

Consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate, and both parties of an interaction would do well to remember that before reacting, for most people don’t consider how their actions might affect others. There is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, but our perception drives the two together. When we read into the motivations of the inconsiderate, we see our own. We think everyone is as considerate as we are and that others choose to violate the unspoken, social contracts we have with one another to the point of being rude.

Most of us simply move on, ignoring perceived slights. On most days, we find a way to walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting attorney friends (whom we will discuss later), preferring uneventful, non-confrontational days. We do so without losing one minute of sleep, because we know most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum or the life lessons they should know by now.

Those of us who choose to live peaceful, uneventful, non-confrontational lives often have an outlet most busybodies lack. We have a support group at home who will kiss us and love us after we experience confrontations with the miserable. We can inform our loved ones of the near confrontation, and then boast about how we managed to avoid overreacting. We do this with the knowledge that those who do overreact to every perceived slight have something bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to be unleashed. We even avoid confrontation on those occasions when we know we’re right, because we know that doing otherwise might turn out to be a decision that affects our happy lives in ways that are unalterable, depending on who the recipient of our response is. We don’t know who the person on the other end of the confrontation is, on most occasions. We don’t know how miserable they are, and to what extent they might go to resolve this otherwise inconsequential confrontation. It isn’t fear that drives our decision to let it go, however, we just prefer to let this inconsiderate person have their way, so we can return home to play with our kids, love our spouse, pet our dog, and move on in our otherwise happy lives. We realize, at some point, that this means far more to them than it does us.

There is a tipping point, however, when the inconsequential, inconsiderate actions of others begin to pile up. Even the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth has a threshold. This moment will not cause the affected to become an irrational person that seeks confrontation, but even the most peaceful reach a point when they believe they need to aid the inconsiderate in reconsidering their definitions.

After spending years listening to shrieking busybodies notifying authority figures of the perceived slights heaped upon them or their children I hit that threshold in the park. The list of these perceived slights, filed under national catastrophes, is now so long that a compendium the thickness of War and Peace would require a Volume 1 subtitle. I reached my threshold of tales about shrieking busybodies calling out mothers and fathers for the manner in which they treated their children. I’d had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails and instant messages, searching for material for their next “To whom it may concern” report. Shrieking busybodies hold government seats now, and they occupy our judicial system, our hard drives and message boards, even our minds trying to ferret out motives we might have had when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

Shrieking busybodies have no problems telling others how to dress, what beer to drink, where to eat, and what to think of the corporations that sell such products. They ask consumers, “Have you tried to quit smoking?” in the checkout line at the pharmacy. They tell us that our child needs to be in a Federal Aviation Administration approved car seat, until he reaches forty-four pounds. They inform us that our lawn looks “Absolutely horrible” when it exceeds the neighborhood association’s recommended height of two inches. They remind us what our body mass index should be and what we should feed our children, whether we should drink coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency- approved vehicles we should drive, and how much money we should have. We are content with this advice, because we believe busybodies have the best of intentions, but busybodies don’t see it that way. They see it as a launching point. 

If the sole motivation of these busybodies was to be an information resource, a we-report-you-decide outlet, those of us on the other side of the velvet rope might have less of a complaint. We know that everything in moderation will provide a quality life, better health, and overall wellbeing. We know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and some do need information outlets to remind them of what we already know. If their sole motivation were to provide nothing more than information, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park, at a stranger who has decided not to follow their edicts.

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizens with little in the way of greater concerns. They’re typically a begrudged segment of the population, one that holds a lifelong grudge against those who allegedly got away with alleged transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries, and busybodies are not exception, but they don’t remember ever getting away with anything. They saw classmates disrespect authority in a manner that made the busybody resentful and envious. The authority figures listed off the consequences so many times that the busybody could recite them, yet others ignored the rules acting as if they didn’t care. This happened so often that, in the mind of the busybody, a percolating anger began bubbling beneath the surface.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, or she’ll tan your hide,” the busybody informed us when we were in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little to nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed Ms. Johnson was a fierce authoritarian, and that was the primary reason the busybody didn’t engage in the activity in question. Thus, the busybody grew confused and resentful when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations of fire-and-brimstone punishments for the disorderly to preserve order. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear authority and the consequences of acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody provided explicit details of it. When Ms. Johnson ignored Exhibits A through X and did nothing, a festering boil of begrudged feelings was born in the mind of the busybody that they would spend the rest of their lives treating. They leave school with the bitter idea that they are the lone sentry, tasked with guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe. The busybody doesn’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

“That’s not fair!” becomes their battle cry, and they say it to assist the various authority figures in their life commissioned with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood when their life mission transitioned to assisting office managers, supervisors, and lawmakers with their very difficult task of imposing a sense of what should be everyone’s very strict definition of order. They write letters to the editor, their parent/teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and their one-on-one meetings with management fall just short of screaming matches. They want order, they demand perceived fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they dare not try.

These are our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to protect the vulnerable from perceived vicious assaults.

As a side note, for those who weren’t alive or didn’t watch television during the 1970’s, Gladys Kravitz was the fictional embodiment of the busybody. Her eye was ever watchful of her neighbor, the supernatural witch Samantha Stephens, on Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional embodiment for many of this generation of those neighbors who peer through drapes to document the goings-on of those in their neighborhood. Gladys Kravitz-types know when their neighbors arrive home, who accompanies them, and how long they remain home. To the Gladyses of our world, everything a person does affects the perception and, thus, the property values in the neighborhood. They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.

Abner Kravitz, the folk hero of those who have simply had enough, was the first responder to his wife’s eyewitness testimonies. Abner closed his newspaper and casually walked to the window to see what caused his wife’s shrieking. At that point, the punchline arrived in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens home. After that, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say, “Why don’t you just mind your own business, Gladys?”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitzes telling to tell us all how to live reached a threshold in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that instructed me to stop doing what I was doing. Ultimately, I decided to let my still leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks. I knew I was the target of that faint, anonymous shriek, and I knew that repeating the action that sparked it would only exacerbate the situation. I also knew I could have avoided it without anyone knowing, but I had enough.

“Watch your dog,” a fisherman on a different shoreline called out to initiate the confrontation, after I allowed my dog a second go.

“He’s all right,” I informed the gentleman. “He’s just having a little fun. I keep him on a leash at all times, but I do allow him to chase ducks a little.”

“Be careful,” the man said. “I’m a prosecutor, and people run sting operations in this park all the time.”

I must admit that this put me back a step. Was that a threat? It was, and it stoked my ire.

“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “but I do thank you for your concern.” I then offered him a genuine smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a genuine smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The “Don’t do that!” shrieker stepped to the fore from her place about twenty yards ahead on the park trail. She waited there, I could only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats affected me. When she determined it had no effect, she began to tremble with rage. In a much higher volume than was necessary, she informed me, “The ducks are scared, and they cannot fly.” She then added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a speed that I feared she might be exhibiting the early warning signs of cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the walking trail, for a moment, caught off guard by the intensity of her venom, until I realized the faux pas of remaining frozen in place. She was standing in front of me, inadvertently blocking my path, but I walked forward, toward her. I did my best to make it clear that I was not charging her, or nearing her in any confrontational manner, yet I refused to remain standing back in a manner that might lead her to believe her vitriol paralyzed me in fear.

The woman then developed a scenario for me. “What if a large, menacing dog came after your little pooch there? Wouldn’t you be just as scared as those ducks are?” she asked.

“Not if that dog were leashed,” I said.

“Yes, you would,” she said.

The uninteresting uh-huh-yes-huh portion of the confrontation lasted for another couple seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still muttering things over her shoulder, but her venom diminished a tad.

Some have accused me of being a last-word person, but I’ve found that those who accuse me of this often have a need for the last word that surpasses mine. They enjoy trapping the recipient in a state of flux, and their last words are typically an accusation that the other is seeking the last word. This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we even begin such an argument, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I will concede that if more than five to seven people make such an accusation, there may be something to it. If that is the case, it may have something to do with the fact that draws and defeats don’t settle well in my digestive system. I prefer to think I can accept draws and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways, but I admit that I always put some effort into making sure the other side hears my words, last or not. I will admit that these characterizations of my point of view are relative to my definition and that I don’t provide the most objective perspective on me.

“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I informed my wife, at high volume, to initiate my last word. “It’s filled with busybodies who don’t know how to mind their own business!”

“Get out of the park!” this woman said, shrieking again. She then shrieked something about calling the Humane Society, and she punctuated it with anything and everything she could to defend her position. I allowed her that final word.

It was such a meaningless confrontation. I didn’t feel any better or worse when it concluded, and neither party proved our point, unless one considers the goal of proving to one member of this busybody nation that I was not going to abide by her edicts in silence. In my own subtle way, I did at least inform one busybody, of the busybody world, that sometimes they can engage in overreach.

I know that 99.5 percent of the American public would never allow a dog, leashed or not, a second run at the ducks after the initial shriek. That would make the perpetrator of such an action a bad guy, and no one wants to be a bad guy. In this particular scenario, the subject would’ve been engaging in a confrontation with an elderly woman, defending their right to let a thirty-pound dog chase helpless ducks enjoying a leisurely swim in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5 percent who overreact to every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro-dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. A person who wants to be a nice guy would view this whole thing as a no-win proposition.

My only defense –one that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to declare that I am not pro-dog-chase-duck. I’m a man-stop-busybody guy, more focused on informing these people that we would appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind when people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live their lives. It’s a first step in a movement I would love to spearhead. We would be the “Enough already!” movement that would inform federal, state, and local busybodies of their new limitations.

If they nominated me for this role, I would inform my followers that we must engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park. We must, if we are to roll the tide back effectively, on the busybodies who involve themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible. Rather, the objective is to begin a non-violent rebuttal that involves planting proverbial, “Mind your own business Gladys!” flags in the terra firma of city parks, just to let the no stress/no conflict/no turmoil busybodies know they’re not going to receive their righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go on living our inconsequential lives without consequence!” we should scream as we plant our proverbial flags in the confrontation.

To those members of our group who wouldn’t dare commit a so-called crime against nature by allowing their children or dogs, a run at the city ducks, I would challenge them to do so. I would ask them to look back over their shoulder after the purported crime against nature has been committed, to watch the ducks fly right back to the exact same spot on the shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off moments earlier. Insecure bullies who experience some joy in scaring innocent, little ducks might perceive this return to the shoreline as a direct challenge to their manhood, and they may do something else to flex their muscle. Our movement would not support that. On the contrary, our goal would be to serve as an information outlet. We would inform our group members that, as in the scenario involving the ducks, that ducks have listed these purported crimes committed against their sanctity as an acceptable consequence of living among humans. We would state that this happens to the city ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I imagine that this procedure has become so routine for them that they fly away and back without so much as a pause in their sentence.

I should’ve asked the elderly shrieker to detail for me the trauma that my supposed crime against nature caused the ducks. I should’ve said, “If such actions cause them the trauma you suggest, why don’t they live elsewhere? In the wild, they would face actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty-pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct the canine has never executed to completion. He wouldn’t know what to do with it if he did,” I could’ve said.

I also could’ve added, “If the trauma of the Puggle threat was so severe that the ducks opted to forgo the world of gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity –which is what threatens their ability to fly and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them by the way– they would opt for an existence that might result in them going hungry for the night. If they were to survive it.”

Of course, I don’t know how advanced or informed the decision-making process of the city lake duck is. I’m guessing the wariness they have for the little beings such as children and pets that tend to accompany larger beings trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world that mankind has not preserved for their comfort and well-being.

 

The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation

 

Even those of us who despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their existence sprang from the ashes of the previous generations.

“What a man does in his own home is his business,” declared the previous generations that believed that respecting others’ privacy was, at the very least, a preferred method of dealing with neighbors, if not the honorable one. Thus, even when faced with extreme situations, good and honorable people deemed it the preferred course, if not the honorable one, to do little to nothing.

A concerned citizen might have persuaded a good and honorable person to have a word with the one perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if the accused informed the honorable person, “It’s none of your business” a good people would back off and say, “I tried, Mildred. I tried.” The next course of action would involve either a physical altercation or a call to the police, and most did not follow up to that extent.

The current generation witnessed the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless incurred irreparable harm that would affect them for rest of their life. Good and honorable people realized that there was a call-to-arms to provide defense and comfort for the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations. They may go a little overboard at times, in the interest of protecting the helpless, but they feel that it is sometimes best to say something early, before a situation escalates. There is also some foggy notion in their head that if they do overreact in some situations, perhaps they might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation who decided to do little to nothing.

The problem with this call-to-arms mindset is that extreme situations don’t come around as often as others lead us to believe. This problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice and the belief that the situation before us is an extreme that requires action.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight. “What’s that principal’s phone number again?”

Even if the situation is not of an extreme nature, it is possible that it could evolve into one. Who knows how these things progress? Isn’t it better to act now, rather than to allow it to fester? We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless from further mistreatment, even if there was no real, definitive mistreatment in the first place.

“It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight regretting the fact that I said nothing. If I’m wrong, big deal. My motivations were pure. If I say something when a mother is scolding her child too harshly, most will regard my intentions as righteous. If the mother is a little more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public, in a manner that might result in the child being more prone to act up in public, it’s all an acceptable error on my part, right? If I managed to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

There are varying degrees of busybody intrusion, of course. Some, as noted above, carefully intercede on behalf of another in a moment they believe has, in some way, spun out of control. They might say something, and then they move on. They might concede they didn’t know the whole story, but they believed the situation called for advice from someone who’s been there before. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they intercede without concession. The difference occurs in the aftermath, when busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is what true busybodies do. They’re proud of their busybody nature, as that is precisely how they attain their badges of honor. They love when others deem them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

We should also note that in most cases, the audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling often knows little to nothing of what actually happened during the incident in question, so they might perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating them for stepping in. Rarely does a listener prod a righteous warrior for more details on the matter.

“Did you know the totality of what happened before you intervened? Did you make sure you were at least apprised of most of the details involved, or did you make a leap of faith?”

“What do you mean, did I know what happened?” the busybody will ask in their defense. “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner I deemed to be unwarranted to the extreme! It’s just a child for gosh sakes! There was no need for that!”

“But how many times have you been wrong though?” a bold questioner may ask. “How many times have you stepped in on a situation of this nature and done more harm than good?”

The honest righteous warrior would admit that they didn’t know all of the details all of the time, and if they were brutally honest and reflective they would admit that they probably don’t know the pertinent details most of the time.

“Look, I’m not going to play this game,” is the more common response from righteous warriors, as most of them act on impulses as opposed to pertinent information. “I may be wrong some of the times, I’ll grant you that, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to create a more just world where the helpless of our society receive some protection. I see it as doing my part.”

“But you don’t know that to be the case all the time. That’s what I’m saying. I’m saying that some of the times, you should mind your own business, unless you know for sure.” 

This is why some of us loathe busybodies and why we are willing to go to extremes to roll back the tide. As anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point of no return. The sins of the past generation and the numerous movies and TV shows that have documented them have led us to believe that extreme situations lurk around every corner, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of a duck being scared into a lake by a dog, a completely natural crime against the natural.

I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but my guess is that there was some irony involved, a joke played on the world, a widely accepted oxymoron. Most busybodies are anything but. If we were to confront a busybody with the idea that they should get out more, they might provide a lengthy list of activities, and groups they’re involved in, a list that would likely surpass ours. “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” we might say. “If it was, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck. Not only that, but some past transgression must be eating away at your soul, one that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”

If the confrontation that occurred on a Thursday in the park was solely about protecting duck, why did one of them hit me with a veiled threat of a fine and possible prosecution? If the focus was on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, the shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside- voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a few quick words, “Don’t scare the ducks. You’re a grown man, for gosh sakes. Do you get some kind of perverse joy out of it?” If she expressed her fears with some measure of restraint, in a measured tone, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs. What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the first’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened from years of overreacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts. I am also sure that the partners in the second shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in otherwise meaningless moments. Most busybodies have no authority to say anything that they’re saying. This, I can only assume, frustrates them to a begrudged point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve, and they hope that will, in turn, ruin your day in the manner so many of their days have been ruined.

Scorpio Man


The next time I’m in an office elevator with some nosy, busybody that badgers me for my date of birth, I’m just going to lie. The non-verbal shrieks I hear, the attempts you people make to hide your children, and the not-so-subtle attempts you make to escape my company when I mention that the Sun positioned itself in the Scorpio in the birth chart has beat me down. Scorpions are people too, with all of the same hopes and dreams as everyone else. We want to have friends, and people who love us very much for who we are, but those of you in the twelve other sectors of the ecliptic have created a climate where the only way a Scorpio male can feel comfortable in his celestial phenomena is to lie about his Sun’s positioning at the time of his birth.

“I mean you no harm,” I want to say, as if that would do anyone any good at this point in human history. “I do not want to hurt you,” I do say, at times, when I see how shaken people are by my revelation. That line appears to do more harm than good. 

Rather than go through that all that, yet again, I’ve decided that I’m just going to start telling anyone that asks about my sign that my date of birth happens to fall under a Virgo Sun, and that nothing, not even an Aquarian Mars coming down on me hardcore, can disturb my Zen. If they continue to question me, stating that they can smell the darkness on me, I’m just going to say I’m a Pisces, because they can be whatever the hell they want to be. 

I’m just so tired of the prejudicial reactions I receive after telling people that I happen to be a man, born of Pluto, the god of death and mystery and rebirth that lying about the essence of my being, and all that I stand for, is now preferable. Is this what you all want? It appears as though you do. I’ve thought about fighting it. I’ve thought about telling you about all of the peace-loving Scorpio brethren that litter history, but it’s an unwinnable war.

Some of you and you know who you are, have decided that it’s acceptable, in this age of supposed enlightenment and acceptance, to call Scorpio men a dark force! I’m sorry, but that’s a pejorative term that my people have been forced to deal with since the Hellenistic culture exerted its influence on Babylonian astrology, and just because a few bad eggs have gone rotten since that point does not mean that the whole basket out should be thrown out. In this era of enlightenment, one would think that we would all make a more concerted effort to see past whatever constellation the Sun happened to be in at the time of our birth.

Even those of us that have undergone extensive, and I add expensive(!) training to achieve the evolved state of a Scorpio man, still get that look from you troglodytes that happen to have crawled out of the womb during another, superior positioning of the Sun, when you suggest that we “Can be total trips sometimes.” Then to have that air of superiority that comes from some of you (I’m looking at you Cancer Sun women!) that know that we will either get murdered (statistical samples show that most Scorpio males may get murdered in their bed) or murder (statistical samples state that Scorpio males “Can be most high rated criminals” (sic)). And just because statistically trends suggest we are prone to become serial killers that “Thrive on power and control because they (Scorpios) are so insecure, and if they loose (sic) that power or control they go crazy” does not mean that it’s going to happen in the immediate aftermath of the revelation of our birth date, on that particular elevator ride we share with you. We don’t know when it’s going to happen, if you want to know the truth, and some of us have been able to control our Scorpio man impulses through extensive and expensive “Scorpio man” evolvement courses.

It’s obvious you don’t care about any of that though. You’re not even curious enough to ask. You can say you are, but we all know what you say about us when we’re not around. We know you think we’re “Sadistic in our ability to bring out the worst in others.” We realize that no matter how hard we try to prove that we might, might be exceptions to these rules, you’re still going to say things such as, “There may be exceptions to this (Scorpio man) phenomenon. Would not want to rule out that possibility, however, they are rare.”

It’s this kind of talk that has led even us tweeners (i.e., those so close to other signs that they may share astrological characteristics with another sign) that have taken classes to diminish the power of their dark half, to decide that we’re just going to lie about our date of our birth from this point forward. We didn’t want it to come to this, and our intention is not to deceive you, as most of us are quite proud of the position of the Sun in the constellation at the time of our birth. The climate you have all created, with your prejudicial reactions, is now so toxic that it’s become almost impossible for some of us to live normal lives, and we’ve reached a point where it’s just easier for us to conceal that aspect of our identity that was, at one time, such a proud heritage to some of us.

{Update: For those interested in charting my progress, this is the first of three testimonials. The second testimonial is listed here, and the third and final testimonial is listed here. If you would like to drop a line and tell us how much you’ve enjoyed reading these, we’re always receptive to a kind word or constructive criticism. If not, thank you for reading.}