Willie and Kenneth


“I have a death voice,” Kenneth Greene said after interrupting a conversation I was having with my fellow employees on break. Kenneth Greene was the manager of this restaurant, and the only time he interrupted our conversations in the breakroom was to inform us that the restaurant was so busy that we would have to cut our breaks short to help the staff out. When he first entered our breakroom we thought that’s what he was doing, but he looked so insecure about it.

Kenneth Greene operated from a baseline of insecurity. Kenneth didn’t think the staff took him seriously enough in the first few months of his tenure as our manager, so he grew a Fu Manchu. Kenneth’s Fu Manchu did not have handlebars, a la Salvador Dali, it was more late 60’s Joe Namath. Kenneth would never admit that he grew a Fu Manchu for the sole purpose of generating respect from his peers, but when that Fu Manchu grew to fruition, the psychological effect on his was all but emanating around his head. Kenneth Greene went from a greasy, overweight ginger with a mullet to a greasy, overweight ginger with a mullet and a Fu Manchu.

The psychological influence of the Fu Manchu became apparent when he progressed from a manager that asked his employees if they wouldn’t mind cutting their breaks short for business needs to a manager that instructed us to do so. Thus, when the new Kenneth Greene stepped into our breakroom, it appeared that the Fu Manchu might have lost its psychological influence. After a moment of hesitation, in which it appeared that Kenneth had something to say, he left without saying a word. When he returned, after apparently recognizing how vital this moment was to the new Kenneth Greene, he stared at me with renewed conviction.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I have a death voice,” Kenneth Greene said.

“What’s a death voice?” I asked.

“I front a death metal band,” Kenneth said. “In my off time.”

Kenneth Greene’s goal, I can only assume, was to display a talent that matched the subjects of the discussion he interrupted. In that discussion, a friend and I spoke about the various artistic talents of those on the staff, and Kenneth Greene wanted us to know that he had a talent equivalent to those that we were discussing. He wanted us to know that he was much more than a manager of a low-rent restaurant chain that would go out of business within a year, and he wanted us to know that this death voice was his gift and artistic calling.

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ is an expression that dates back, in various forms, to the Ancient Greeks. The reason such a notion exists, as Benjamin Franklin’s version of the expression states, is that at the core of one’s definition of beauty is an opinion.

I would never consider myself an arbiter of art, in other words, but I thought Kenneth Greene would have a tough road ahead of him if he hoped to convince those of us sitting in a restaurant break room that we should consider a skilled death voice for our conversation of artistic talents. I was, as I always am, eager to have another prove me wrong.

I didn’t know what to do with this information, however, so I assumed that he wanted to show us. After several attempts to goad him into it, Kenneth decided against performing his death voice for us. I think he saw something in our faces that suggested that the moment after one lets loose a death voice in the middle of a restaurant breakroom, they become the person that let a death voice loose in the middle of a restaurant breakroom. When he invited us to hear it in person, at one of his shows, I could tell he knew we wouldn’t attend, but he needed to say something to get out of the uncomfortable situation he created.

***

I thought Willie Bantner was a real character when I met him. Willie and I found that our backgrounds were similar, and I thought this was odd considering that our outlooks were so dissimilar. Willie’s worldview was foreign to my own, yet there was something about him I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This sense of familiarity became so hard to deny that it stirred feelings of déjà vu, until Willie revealed to me the actual character he was playing in life.

My initial inclination was the once one meets a significant number of odd characters in life they begin some overlap. There are only so many odd characters out there, in other words, and I thought Willie reminded me of one of them.

These odd, weird sensibilities were the reason I was so fascinated with Willie Bantner. It was the reason I would go to him with very specific scenarios. I wanted to learn what he thought, why he thought what he did, and how someone can arrive at such a notion. The funny, thought-provoking things he said were the reasons that we became friends. This friendship lasted for over ten years. Over the course of those ten years, I grew so familiar with Willie that his peculiarities were not so peculiar, but there was still that nagging sense of familiarity about him that plagued me.

When we began one of those lists that seem indigenous to the male gender, this one of the best television shows ever, we mentioned the usual shows that we considered the best of their day. When we entered into the list of what we thought should be on a list of honorable mentions, the list was lengthy. I mentioned the show Family Ties. Willie agreed that show should be on the list of honorable mentions. I added, “If nothing else, the show gave us Michael J. Fox, and the character Alex P. Keaton, and I think Alex P. Keaton was one of the best TV characters ever written.”

“I modeled my life after him,” he said. After some confusion, Willie clarified that he did not model his life after Michael J. Fox. He modeled his life after Alex P. Keaton.

Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the reasons young men swear so often is that they lack confidence. They don’t know how to articulate an opinion in a manner that will impress their peers. They are also unable, at this point in their lives, to provide detailed analysis of the subject of their opinion, so they choose to coat those opinions in superlatives that they hope will provide cover for any unformed intellect. If one person says that Marlon Brando was the best actor of all time, another may agree with that person. Rather than enter into a detailed discussion of that sense of spontaneity Brando brought to his roles, or the fleshed out nuances he brought to method acting that influenced a generation of actors, they say, “I’ve built a personal shrine to him in my bedroom.” When one person says that a movie was the scariest movie they’ve ever watched, another might say, “That movie was so scary that I didn’t sleep right for weeks.” In most cases, there were no shrines built or hours of sleep lost, but in the absence of detailed analysis, a young man thinks he has to say something over the top to pound the point home. I thought this was all Willie when he said he modeled his life after Alex P. Keaton. The more I chewed on it, however, the more I began to see a truth mixed into that admission.

I would watch him, going forward, with that admission in mind. The idea that the man modeled his reactions, his physical gestures, and his life after a situation comedy character became obvious once I had a conclusion for my search for that nagging sense of familiarity. Once I saw that elusive sense of deja vu for what it was, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it earlier. 

I was also disappointed that my initial assessment of Willie Bantner proved so prescient. I thought he was a character, and he was, but not in the general sense that I intended. I was disappointed to learn that individual experiences did not inform Willie Bantner’s personality as much as I thought, unless one considers tuning into NBC’s early to mid 80’s, Thursday night lineup at 7:30 central to be an individual experience.

Willie Bantner made me think, he made me laugh, and I thought he earned it all with ingenious, individualistic takes. After his admission, I began to wonder how many of those comments were off the cuff, and how many of them he lifted from Family Ties’ scripts. The unique personality that I wanted to explore became, to me, a carefully manufactured character created by some screenwriters in a boardroom on Melrose Avenue. The odd sense of familiarity plagued me as I wrote, but I can’t remember putting much effort into trying to pinpoint the core of Willie Bantner’s character. If I had, I probably would’ve over-estimated what influenced his core personality, but that’s what young men do. Even if I was able to temper my search to more reasonable concepts, I don’t think I would’ve considered something as banal as watching too much TV to be the sole influence for what I considered such a fascinating personality, until he admitted it.

Now, I have no illusions that I’ve scrubbed the influence of TV characters from my personality. I imagine I still have some remnants of the Fonz in my cavalcade of reactions, and I’m sure that Jack Tripper is in there somewhere. I also know that an ardent fan of David Letterman could spot his influence somewhere in how I react to the people, places and things that surround me, but I think it’s almost impossible to develop a personality without some degree of influence from the shows we watched every week for years. To model one’s entire life on one fictional, television character, however, speaks of a level of insecurity I think the American Psychiatric Association should consider in their next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

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Philosophical Doubt versus the Certitude of Common Sense


If philosophy is “primarily an instrument of doubt”, as Scientific American contributor John Horgan writes in the fifth part of his series, and it counters our “terrible tendency toward certitude”, can that sense of doubt prevail to a point that it collides with the clarity of mind one achieves with common sense? In an attempt to provide further evidence of the proclamation that philosophy is an instrument of doubt, Horgan cites Socrates definition of wisdom being the knowledge one has of how little they know. Horgan also cites Socrates’ parable of the cave, and it’s warning that we’re all prisoners to our own delusions.

“In Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave, Plato details how Socrates described a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality that is the shadows seen by the prisoners. The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison; for they know no better life.”

“In the allegory, Plato (also) likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see.” 

What does Socrates’ cave symbolize? This allegory has probably been interpreted a thousand different ways over the thousands of years since Plato first relayed Socrates allegory. A strict reading of the allegory suggests that the cave is a place where the uneducated are physically held prisoner. The people are prisoner in a figurative sense, in that they’re prisoner to their own ideas about the world from their narrow perspective. A strict reading would also detail that the philosopher is the one person in the story free of a cave, and thus an enlightened man that now knows the nature of the forms. One could also say that various caves litter the modern era, and that the philosophers have their own cave. One could also say that those that remain in that philosopher’s cave for too long, until it, too, becomes an insular, echo chamber in which they become a prisoner.

Socrates bolstered this interpretation when he informed a young follower of his named Glaucon that:

“The most excellent people must follow the highest of all studies, which is to behold the Good. Those who have ascended to this highest level, however, must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the prisoners, sharing in their labors and honors.”

A strict reading of this quote might suggest that the philosopher should return to the prisoner’s cave to retain humility. Another reading of it, could lead the reader to believe Socrates is suggesting that it is the responsibility of the philosopher to share his new insight with the cave dwellers. A more modern interpretation might be that the philosopher must return to the cave to round out his newfound intelligence by commingling it with the basic, common sense of other cave dwellers. Inherent in the latter interpretation is the idea that in the cave of philosophical thought, one might lose perspective and clarity, and they can become victims of their own collective delusions.

The philosopher could accept an idea as a fact, based on the idea that the group thought contained within the philosophical cave accepts it as such. This philosopher may begin to surround themselves with like-minded people for so long that they no longer see that cave for what it is. The intellectual might also fall prey to the conceit that they’re the only ones not living in a cave. The intellectual might also see all other caves for what they are, until they come upon their own, for theirs is the cave they call home. As Horgan says, citing the responses of “gloomy” students responding to the allegory of the cave, “If you escape one cave, you just end up in another.”

One of the only moral truths that John Horgan allows, in part five of his series, that trends toward a “terrible tendency toward certitude” is the argument that “ending war is a moral imperative.” This is not much of a courageous or provocative point, as most cave dwellers have come to the same conclusion as Mr. Horgan. Most cave dwellers now view war as something that we only utilize as a last alternative, if at all.

For whom are we issuing this moral imperative, is a question that I would ask if I were lucky enough to attend one of Mr. Hogan’s classes. If we were to issue the imperative to first world countries, I would suggest that we would have a very receptive audience, for most of the leaders of these nations would be very receptive to our proposed solutions. If we were to send it out to tyrannical leaders and oppressive governments of third world governments, I am quite sure that we would have an equally receptive audience, as long as our proposed solutions pertained to the actions of first world countries.

Former Beatles musician John Lennon engaged in similar pursuit in his “make love not war” campaign, but Lennon directed his campaign to first world leaders almost exclusively. Some of us now view this venture as a colossal waste of time. If Lennon had directed his moral imperative at the third world, and their dictators were genuinely receptive to it, Lennon could’ve changed the world. If these third world leaders agreed to stop slaughtering, and starving their country’s people, and they also agreed to avoid engaging in skirmishes with their neighbors, all of us would view John Lennon as a hero for achieving peace in our time. This scenario also presupposes that these notoriously dishonest leaders weren’t lying to Lennon for the purposes of their own public relations, and that the leaders did their best to live up to such an agreement while having to quash coups to take the government over by a tyrannical leader that has other plans. This is, admittedly, a mighty big asterisk and a relative definition of peace, but if Lennon were able to achieve even that, the praise he received would be unilateral.

What Lennon did, instead, was direct the focus of his sit-ins, and sleepins, to the leaders of the Britain and The United States. The question I would’ve had for John Lennon is, how often, since World War II, have first world countries gone to war with one another? Unless one counts the Cold War as an actual war, or the brief skirmish in Yugoslavia, there hasn’t been a great deal of military action between the first world and the second world since World War II either. Most of what accounts for the need for military action, in modern times, involves first world countries attempting to clean up the messes that have occurred in third world countries.

If Lennon’s goals were as genuinely altruistic, as some have suggested, and not a method through which he could steal some spotlight from his rival, Paul McCartney, as others have suggested, he would have changed the focus of his efforts. Does this suggest that Lennon’s sole purpose was achieving publicity, or does it suggest that Lennon’s worldview was either born, or nurtured in an echo chamber in which everyone he knew, knew, that the first world countries were the source of the problems when it came to the militaristic actions involved in war?

To those isolationists that will acknowledge that most of the world’s problems occur in the third world, they suggest that if The United States and Britain would stop playing world police and let these third world countries clean up their own messes, we would achieve a form of peace. To these people, I would suggest that the world does have historical precedent for such inaction: Adolf Hitler. Some suggest that war with Hitler was inevitable. They declare that Hitler was such a blood thirsty individual that he could not be appeased. Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did try, however, and the world trumpeted Chamberlain’s name for achieving “peace in our time”. Chamberlain’s nemesis in the parliament, Winston Churchill, suggested that Chamberlain tried so hard to avoid going to war that he made war inevitable. Churchill suggested that if Britain engaged in more diplomatic actions, actions that could have been viewed as war-like by Germany, such as attempting to form a grand coalition of Europe against Hitler, war might have been avoided. We’ll never know the answer to that question of course, but how many of those living in the caves of idealistic utopia of ending war, as we know it, would’ve sided with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and against Churchill, in the lead up to, and after, the Munich Peace Accords? How many of them would’ve suggested that Hitler signing the accords meant that he did not want war, and that heeding Churchill’s warnings would’ve amounted to a rush to war? Churchill has stated, and some historians agree, that the year that occurred between Munich and Britain’s declaration of war, left Britain in a weaker position that led to a prolonged war. How many of those that live in anti-war caves would’ve been against the proposal to form a grand coalition of Europe against Germany, because it might make Germany angry, and they could use it as a recruiting tool?

The point of listing these contrarian arguments is not to suggest that war is the answer, for that would be a fool’s errand, but to suggest that even those philosophers that believe they have the strongest hold on a truth may want to give doubt a chance. It is also a sample of a larger argument. The larger argument suggests that while the philosopher’s viewpoint is mandatory to those seeking a well-rounded perspective, they are not the only people in need of one.

If the only ones a person speaks to one day confirm their bias, they may need to visit another cave for a day. They may not agree with other cave dwellers, but they may hear different voices on the matter that influence their approach to problem solving. The point is if the only thing a student of philosophy hears in a day is doubt directed at the status quo, and that they must defeat that certitude, how far can that student venture down that road before they reach a tip of the fulcrum, and everything they learn beyond that progressively divorces them from common sense?

In the hands of quality teachers and writers, philosophy can be one of the most intoxicating disciplines for one to explore, and some are so fascinated they choose to follow it as their life’s pursuit. Those of us that have explored the subject beyond Philosophy 101, on our own time, have learned to doubt our fundamental structure in ways that we feel compelled to share. This period of discovery can lead some of us to question everything those that formed us hold dear. At some point in this self-imposed challenge to pursue answers to simple questions that are more well-rounded, some of us reveal that not only have we escaped the prisoner’s cave, but we’ve become prisoners in the philosopher’s cave. Few recognize when their answers to the forms dancing on wall reveal this, but those of us that have, have had an intruder inform us “It’s a goat.”

Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Unconventional thinking can be seductive, as it can be alluring to gain more knowledge than another has. Those that fall prey to this conceit should heed the warning that quantity does not always equal quality. There is only so much conventional knowledge available, but there are numerous avenues for those seeking unconventional answers to explore. Most of these avenues contain information that conventional thinkers have never considered before, and in some cases those arguments should be considered, but in my experience most of these arguments provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

One of the universal truths I’ve discovered about unconventional thoughts is that they are not always true. This may seem like such an obvious truth that it’s a discussion hardly worth having, but how many people put so much stock into unconventional thinking that they consider conventional thinkers naïve for believing everything they’re told? Unconventional thinkers are more apt to believe an alternative truth is out there.

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) they bring to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a police officer to have. Is it ideal, however, for a casual consumer of news, an employee with regard to their employer, or a friend listening to friends telling a story?

A top shelf reporter suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but when the press exhibits behavior that warrants skepticism, it should be undermined. The members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes skepticism from their audience and defeats it with performance. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of the subjects they cover? 

There is a point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism breeds holes in people that allow “other” information to fill it.

As an individual that has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, I’ve had friends introduce me to a wide array of alternative outlets. They’ve introduced me to everything from the definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. I also had one friend introduce me to the idea, by way of a book he read, that suggested that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

Within this book, were transmitted (or trasmuted) messages from aliens of another planet to earthlings. A thread emerged from the messages, that the tenets of my political ideology were wrong. The implicit idea was while we humans can argue over such messages, who do you think you are to argue against a superior life form. The first question this skeptic would love to ask this author of human psychology, by way of alien scripture, is why do we assume that aliens from another planet are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain corners of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but it’s more intelligent than anything meager humans can conceive. Sort of like the unlimited omniscience that the religious assign to their deity of choice. It would be just as foolish as those that suggest that there are no superior intellects out there, as it is to suggest that all other entities are of a superior intellect, but those that suggest the latter often have an agenda for doing so.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity that had a level of intelligence equal to our own, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect that could teach us a lot about human psychology? We should note that most alien transmissions align suspiciously with those of the author of such a work. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with humans being of equal to superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone X, and we have not found a way to duplicate that technology in our labs”), will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques (“We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co., to be awe-inspiring”) will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. For some reason, most aliens want us to know that the author of the piece, that characterizes their message, is correct about the dystopian nature of human beings.  

Another friend of mine has mined alternative outlets to such a degree that he thinks he’s found loopholes in our legal system, our financial system, and in the systems we use to maintain health. These arguments often devolve to him arguing from an inferior standpoint, and me guarding against sounding too superior. I don’t consider myself superior to him, in the strictest definition of the term, but when informs me that he informs me that he is going to risk it all based on the alternative information that he has attained, I feel the need to warn him. In that delicate warning, delivered with genuine intentions, I come off sounding superior. 

My friend suffers from “dumb guy” disease. He did as poorly in school as I did, and he decided to educate himself in his adult life to try and catch up with all of those that were more interested and engaged in school. The difference between the two of us can be explained in a scenario. If I were approached by a used car salesman, and that used car salesman began employing various sales tactics, I would either shut down the conversation or walk away. My friend, however, would begin using all the resources he’s discovered over the years for outdoing a salesman at their own game. He would attempt to better the used car salesman, whereas I would recognize the limits of my intelligence in this arena, and I would recognize that this is the used car salesman’s home turf. What I believe would happen to my friend, in this scenario, is that the used car salesman would begin using my friend’s confidence against him, and flip the conversation into one that centered on my friend’s intelligence, until he ended up paying more. 

The thing of it is that concerned parties cannot talk those that rely on alternative sources of information that they might be vulnerable to half-truths that lead them to put too much stock in unconventional beliefs. Many unconventional thinkers now consider themselves more knowledgeable than those that ascribe to truths that are more conventional, because they have different knowledge that they believe equals more knowledge. The problem for unconventional thinkers is that they place so little prominence on results. How many outlets, of this nature, provide straight verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of them can point to a comprehensive track record of being correct, as opposed to providing the anecdotal evidence that they promote? How many of their messages devolve into motives and round about speculation that no one can refute? It’s that kind of information, in my opinion, that leads to so much confusion.

Those of us that ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we discovered that just because a thought is unconventional does not mean it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some TV programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many beginning to convert to such thoughts that they become status quo, conventional thoughts. 

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having my mind changed on a subject. If their ideas do change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used as a challenge to my current worldview, and/or to bolster to my current view, as I attempt to defeat them. I do not then write of this discovery with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with unconventional thinking to arrive at what I consider a hybrid of the truth that neither party has considered before.

The best illustration of this methodology exists in a piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I documented the conventional thinking regarding an individual that would decide to have their hair cut in a thin strip upon their head. If that person grows the mohawk to eight inches, and dyes it blue, conventional thinking suggests that that person deserves any ostracizing they might receive. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner. This mode of thought suggests that it’s on the observer to accept the mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. They also suggest that the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eighteen inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have such a mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a mohawk? What happens to them when they grow older, and they go back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as others’ perceptions of them change? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut? Do they regret getting the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers stated. 

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair to be cut into a mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure on any given day. Some would say that mohawk wearers generate unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a mohawk wearer detested those that judged them for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a mohawk.

The people at this wedding party stated that they wanted to get to know the groom that used to have a mohawk, when he had the mohawk, in part because he had a mohawk. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a mohawk better –based solely on that man’s haircut– a little condescending. This groom, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

No one cares that a man with a sensible haircut is nice. A nice man with a sensible haircut fades in the background, unless he has remarkable characteristics that make him stand out. My guess, watching this groom emcee the various events of his wedding, was that this man did not have such remarkable characteristics, and that he probably faded into the background for much of his life. The man was not very funny. He was not the type that an observer would say was overly entertaining. He seemed like a shy, reserved man that was as uncomfortable in his own skin as the rest of us are. I wondered, watching him bomb on stage, if our reactions to his antics would’ve been different if he said all that he said, and did all that he did, with an eight-inch high, blue mohawk, and I wondered if he wondered the same? Say what you want about a person that wears a mohawk, that is blue, but he does generate expectations. When a man with an eight-inch, blue mohawk shatters expectations by doing silly things, or being nice, those actions stand in stark contrast to what we expect of him, and that leads an otherwise normal and probably relatively boring man, to stand out in our memory.

The point, as I see it, is that conventional thinking has potholes, and we should remain skeptical of everything we see and hear, but those that put so much energy into unconventional thoughts often end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that while we should remain skeptical in nature, we should also maintain an equal amount of skepticism for enlightened, unconventional thoughts. Yet, the seductive nature of unconventional thinking rarely calls for a ledger on which one can score their thoughts, theories, and ideas. 

Most people hate being wrong, and for unconventional thinkers one would think it incumbent on them to establish their bona fides. What often happens is that either the unconventional thinkers adapt a linear adjustment to their way of thinking on the issue when the facts come out, or they move on, and those that move on do so without reservations or recalculations. They move onto the next conspiracy theory, or unconventional mode of thought with the idea that comprehensive unconventional thought lends itself to invulnerability, for few in their audience are secure enough in their own being, or their own knowledge base, to ask them why they continue to believe in such things. Conventional thinkers also fear the naive title that is attributed to those that believe what they tell them.

It’s been my experience that if an unconventional thinker would chart and graph their thoughts on matters, as opposed to devoting so much energy on being the person with the most knowledge, they would find that more often than not, the conventional, generalized thoughts that their grandma believed are generally true.

Let Me Have Cake


An article I read detailed that eating food to sustain life was something of a miracle. For all the things we take for granted, sustained life has to be the most fundamental. Are you sustaining life as you read this? Have you ever considered the idea that food allows you to continue living?

ask-history-did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake_50698204_getty-eAn uncle of mine contracted a muscular degenerative disease at a young age. Throughout the course of his life, this degeneration progressed, until he lost almost all bodily functions. He reached a point, in this degeneration, where he was no longer eating well. He had coughing fits in the course of digestion that caused concern. I saw these coughing fits, hundreds of them, and they were difficult to ignore. The coughing fits caused such concern, to the workers at the care facility where he lived, they determined that my uncle should no longer be fed orally. The determination was that he would be fed through a tube going forward. Uncle John was so crushed by this, he had a lawyer draw up a letter that stated that neither John, nor any of his remaining family members, would hold the care facility liable for anything that happened as a result of oral feeding. But, the letter stated, he wanted to enjoy oral feeding once again. He also threatened to sue the care facility, in that letter, if they did not abide by his wishes. He then said, and this is the heartbreaking part, that “Eating is one of the last joys I have left, and I do not want this taken away from me.”

I had a boring, mindless job at the time. Throughout the course of my time at this job, I rebelled. I talked to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I did the work, and my scores were admirable, but management could not abide by all the talking. I assumed, at one point, that management was either trying to drive me out, or the job had become so awful that I couldn’t maintain the illusion that it was a decent job. I was miserable. I obsessed over those that had no talent, but were living the life I had always wanted to live.

A majority of my co-workers were obese. The first inclination I had was that these people ate the same as everyone else, but they were in a job that involved ten hours of sitting. My next guess was that eating was the only joy they/we had left. I, too, was gaining weight, and I was reaching a point where I didn’t care. I read an article that listed off the heinous deeds of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. One of the accounts detailed that Dahmer opened a hole in his victim’s head and poured acid in. He wanted to kill his victim’s brain, or that part of them that produced such sedition. The purpose was to allow Dahmer to enjoy having relations with them, without having to listen to their complaints. How different, I wondered, is that from the day to day life in my current job? My inability to prove my worth to anyone, much less myself, had landed me in a job where creativity is not appreciated. “Just be happy you have a job,” was the mantra fellow employees scream at the unhappy. “You’re in the greatest country in the history of the world, at what could be its greatest time, and you’re complaining? Just be happy that you can financially sustain life, and shut up.”

Routine has a way of killing the mind. Fear of the unknown has a way of convincing one that they are happy. Or they learn, over time, to just shut up!

Employers use fear as a motivation. They convince a person that they’re lucky to have a job, and they instill fear as a motivator. How often have I been informed that I’m meeting the required goals? A number of times, but it’s done in a lethargic manner. They would much rather inform their employees that they’re not, so that they’re motivated to do better. The one that achieves the goal is not the focus of concern, so they fade into the background. They allow their minions to focus on you, and destroy you with hyper critical edicts that chip away at your self-worth. Not only are you in a mindless job that eats away at any creativity that a person may use to prosper in some fashion that they cannot find by themselves, as non-self-starters, but they’re not making the grade.

We were not allowed to speak, in a casual manner, to our co-workers. All conversations were required to be work-related. We were not allowed to email friendly messages to our friends, and our Instant Message system was taken away from us. Food was all we had left, and we were all gaining weight. We were being paid to do this mindless job, and we were using this money to feed ourselves food that was killing us.

When a person sits behind a computer for ten hours a day, four days a week, the clock is a cautious bitch that won’t turn right on red. She drives twenty-to-thirty miles an hour under the speed limit, and we can’t help but notice that the other lane contains free flowing cars, speeding up to prevent entrance. We were in this position as a result of lack of talent, lack of drive, and the inability to take a risk. We felt lucky to have a job in a country that provides ample opportunity for ambitious risk-takers with an idea, but with so much available it’s hard to pick one lane to drive in. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course, but I felt I was planted in a field of weeds that inhibited my own growth. The alternative, of course, is stagnancy.

The complaints that I have/had were all sourced from a first world, privileged background, but I saw those around me grow and prosper, and I reached a point of frustration that probably should’ve led to some counseling. I witnessed firsthand, the end result of frustration so great that one doesn’t want to live anymore, but I have never been suicidal. I’ve always considered alternatives, and what greater alternative is there than change? I would explore my mind for anything and everything that could lead me to happiness. My definition of happiness, I calculated, could be attained. I could live free to explore my mind for every thought I had ever had. It was a privileged, first world avenue, but I had the means to do so. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of it?

People have definitions of the way in which one should conduct their lives. If an individual doesn’t fit those parameters, he is cast out. He is condemned for not living life the way they think he should. How should he live? He made a mistake somewhere around the first thirty years of his life. He sustained life. He entered the workforce with few skills. He developed some. He developed a work ethic. He never called in sick, and after a time, he became more serious, and he was never tardy. Once the latter was managed better, he fell into the background, but he was still employed, gainfully? That’s the question. Was he satisfied? No, he went to another place, and another place, and he discovered a cap on his abilities. He never interviewed well, his public speaking abilities were less than admirable, and he tested poorly. Analysis of his being made him so nervous that he developed a comprehensive form of test anxiety.

His role models, in life, were blue collar workers that did their job, went home, drank too much, and complained about the awful responsibility in life. These were people that focused on his shortcomings. “Where did you come up with that?” was a question they asked the aspiring young minds around them. I have gone back and forth on this relatively innocuous question. At the outset, one has to imagine that such a question arises in an adult mind when the child they’ve known for decades comes to them with a particularly ingenious thought. It has to be a surprise to that old mind to see a younger one outdo them, so one can forgive them for what may cause the young mind to question their base, but it defines that young mind in a manner that suggests that they should remember their station in life.

I’ve witnessed what I can only assume is the opposite of this rearing pattern. I witnessed young, ambitious, and adventurous minds believe in themselves. If they had questions about their abilities to accomplish great things in life, their insecurities paled in comparison to mine. They had such belief in their abilities that when I showed them awe, they swatted my awe away saying that their accomplishment was either not as awe-inspiring as I believed, or that it was but a rung on a ladder to an accomplishment I couldn’t even fathom pursuing.

I considered some of these people so different, I wondered if we were even the same species. How can one put themselves on the line in such a fashion without due consideration put into the fear of failure? They don’t mind the prospect of exposing themselves to ridicule. ‘What if it all comes crumbling down around you?’ I wondered to them. Their answer, in roundabout ways, was that they’d try something else. That wasn’t going to happen, however, for they had belief in themselves. Where does this unbinding faith in one’s self come from? Answer, it’s bred into them. They’re not afraid to try, to risk it all on something that would keep me up at night.

At some point after we spent so much time together, getting drunk and what have you, they ventured out and pursued matters that I didn’t have the confidence to pursue. They were self-starters, and they led, and they accomplished, and I look forward to eating something different in a day. The meal of the day became something to look forward to, nothing more and nothing less than my uncle had to threaten to sue to maintain in his life.

“Let them eat cake,” is an old line, purported to be delivered by the bride of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, that suggested that the unhappiness of the Frenchman in her empire could by quelled by allowing them to eat something delicious. Some have also interpreted it to be an illustration of Marie Antoinette’s detachment from the common man, based on an idea that if they could not afford bread, to sustain life, they should eat cake. Whether or not she actually delivered that line, the import is that we, peasants, derive pleasure from food. Some of us hate our jobs, our family, and our lives, and if we can just find one semi-pleasurable meal, we can find some measure of happiness. If that single meal doesn’t do it for the talent-less minions that neglected to develop an ambitious plan for life, we can look forward to the next day, and thus not only sustain life, through the miracle of food, but achieve some sort of sensorial pleasure through the routine of it.

Eating to sustain life. Eating for pleasure. Too much pleasure? Too much eating? What else do we have?

Impulsive vs. Reflective


I have learned, the hard way, to avoid the impulses that drive one to make impulsive purchases. I have learned to define my desire for said product through separation. Take a step away from it, I say to myself, and try to take the newness element out of the product and imagine it on you, in you, or under you one month from now. The problem with these impulses I have is that they drive me to purchase shocking, ridiculous, and useless products that satisfy a short-term desire to be different.

Craftsmanship means as much to me as anyone else, but when it comes time to purchase products, the subtlety of a craftsman’s curve in a rocking chair has never spoken to me on a personal level. I much prefer a new-age piece of furniture that has some innovative sex appeal with a couple exclamation points behind it. I want a piece that causes people to ask questions that have no suitable answers.

Had I followed the impulses that have controlled me at various points in my life, I would now be driving a bright orange Jeep with black trim. I might even have a bright yellow colored living room with equally bright orange furniture, and some kind of multicolored carpet that accentuates the overall theme. I might also have a visually striking painting of a screeching gargantuan, gold eagle, with beaming blood red eyes, flying above shadowed villagers scampering to safety on a red felt background. Those products would fulfill a definition I have for the immediate, shocking, discomfiting, and shocking elements of beauty. It’s a definition of who I was, and who I am, that I know would shock my visitors into thinking there might be something we need to sit down and discuss before it gets out of hand.

Two things currently prohibit me from following these impulses: A wife and a child. A wife, or any person on the inside looking in, tempers such impulses with rational refutation. When a single man, with no children, follows his impulses, people sort through the psychological damages he must have accrued throughout his life, and they laugh it off as a bachelor pad. When that same man has a child, however, that child has extended family members that care about that child and worry about their well-being when they see that one of his primary role models has created a living room that requires sunglasses. When one of that child’s primary role models also has a painting of a bloodthirsty eagle flying above doomed villagers, above the hearth, they might question his ability to raise a proper child.

The other thing that prevents me from following these impulses now is that I’ve been there, and done that. I’ve been the person that others tried to understand, and I’ve been a person that others gave up trying to understand, until they conceded that the person they thought they knew is a lot weirder than they ever thought. I’ve purchased a shockingly bright, baby blue pair of shoes that I considered an expression of my personal definition of beauty. I tore these shocking baby blue pair of shoes off the shelves on sight and without thought. I figured I was in for a psychological pummeling from those that consider anything different a source of ridicule, but I was willing to ride it out for the effect I thought the pair of shoes would have on my essence.

Others echoed these fears by informing me that I should expect the worst from my classmates, if I had the temerity to wear these shoes to school. “People do wear such shoes,” they warned, “when they workout. They don’t wear them at work, in school, or on the path to and fro.”

Hindsight maybe 20/20, in this case, but I remember tingling with anticipation over the effect I thought this would have on my classmates. I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the new me. I then made a statement about the old me, by throwing away my old, sensible shoes.

Those that tried to prepare me for the psychological pummeling that would follow, would have been shocked at how successful my attempt to shock people was. I lost loyal friends over it, as they attempted to distance themselves from me to avoid having shrapnel rain down upon them. The experience was such that I thought of a short story called The Boy with the Bright, Baby Blue Shoes. I remembered a nature documentary in which a pack of hyenas brought a zebra down bite-by-bite, and my sympathy for that beast churned to empathy after this moment in my life. For those that abhor judgments of any kind and seek the karmic effects on those that do judge, this was one of the many for me. It did not feel good, and the pain I experienced changed me. If you’re going to judge others, however, you should prepare for them to judge you. I wasn’t then. I am now, thanks to memories like this one.

I did not have the confidence, or temerity necessary to stare these people down back then, and they broke me. I did learn that when one dares to be different, there are whole bunch of guidelines and borders, and most of them are superficial. I also learned one golden rule of life that I would pursue for much of my life to arrive at a final answer, and that was that most people consider it a worthy goal to dismiss as many people as possible in life. A wearer of bright, baby blue shoes becomes a wearer of such shoes, for example, until that person becomes a barometer of agreed upon truths that need to be agreed upon in the most brutal fashion possible.

At some point, I did find the subtle beauty of a craftsman’s curve in the gap of others’ writings, in certain lyrical phrases, and in the margins of dialogue and characterization. I discovered something in the intended, and unintended, philosophical truths of various artistic expressions of organic craftsmen. In those phrases, lines, paragraphs, and comprehensive thoughts, I discovered a shockingly different beauty that replaced my need for superficially shocking modifications.

My need for character-defining purchases also led me to be a sucker for innovation. My impulses drive me to purchase the latest and greatest technology my fellow man created for my convenience, and it led me to spend a great deal of money in the “As Seen on TV” aisles of prominent stores, and the “As Seen on TV” stores in malls. I purchase these products in the hope that they will simplify otherwise arduous and mundane tasks, but I’ve purchased these types of products so often that I now know that whatever short-term convenience these products provide pale in comparison to their suspect long-term durability. These innovations do sell, of course, because people, like me, get amped up on the idea that a collapsible garden hose will free up so much space on my back patio. The question I ask myself, now, when wrestling with the impulses that drive me to purchase anything that will make my life easier is, if this “new and improved way of doing things” product were in fact better than the more traditional products in the main aisle, wouldn’t the new products would replace those traditional products that my dad and my grandfather used in the main aisle. It wouldn’t take long, I would suspect, for those stores that sold such products to put the more traditional products in the end cap of the aisle, for those that insist on using the more traditional and less convenient products.

For those that still can’t rationalize their impulses away, I have one piece of advice when attempting to define your desire by separation. Those bright, baby blue pair of shoes that look so deliciously freakish sitting in that aisle will eventually become nothing more than a pair of shoes over time. A Jeep will become nothing more than a mode for transportation, and a chair will eventually become nothing more than something to sit in, once the effect of being shocking wears off, and you’re left looking at a pair of shoes that you’re now embarrassed to wear to school, to the office, and to and fro. The person that makes these impulsive purchases also realizes that these products provide onlookers data about the person that purchases them in a manner that the purchaser will likely regret long term. I hoped that by purchasing a pair of bright, baby blue tennis shoes that I would make a statement that no one in my vicinity would soon forget, and they didn’t, and I realized that I allowed them to dismiss me as a person that wore bright, baby blue shoes. I learned that every day beauty requires a study of the subtle forms of beauty that will grow on a person, and when the otherwise impulsive learn this they will decide to purchase the white Jeep with black rims.

Honor Thy Mother and Father


“The commandment (Honor Thy Mother and Father) is about obedience and respect for authority; in other words it’s simply a device for controlling people.  The truth is, obedience and respect should not be granted automatically.  They should be earned.  They should be based on the parents’ (or the authority figure’s) performance.  Some parents deserve respect.  Most of them don’t.  Period.”  –George Carlin

Had famous comedian, and social critic, George Carlin left this argument in the realm of adults conducting themselves in a manner worthy of respect and obedience, a counterargument would be impossible to make, but Carlin went ahead and added a pesky punctuation mark to his argument that opened up a need for qualifiers.  I loathe most qualifiers almost as much as I loathe “But it’s for the children!” arguments.  I prefer bold, provocative statements that shock the collective into rethinking their ideas on a given matter.  My limited experience with children has informed me, however, that children have an almost unconditional need to respect laws and rules, and that they want to respect those that are in roles of guidance, for the structure it provides them amidst the chaos and confusion they experience while attempting to learn how they are to conduct themselves in life.

o-GEORGE-CARLIN-facebookOne would not use the words imposing or authoritative figure to describe me, yet when I am around a child that is lacking in the stability that decent parenting can provide, they gravitate to me.  This is made most apparent when I mention to them that I may leave the room.  To the other kids in the room, this amounts to them having an adult-free moment of their life, and the ability to cut loose.  The kids that are more accustomed to playing without much adult supervision or the degree of authority an adult may provide, worry that I may not be coming back.  ‘What are you talking about,’ the more adjusted kids in the room all but scream.  ‘Let him go!’

Contrary to what may be a natural instinct, this is not a moment for laughter.  This is a vulnerable, revealing moment for kids without a consistent view of authority, as they seek some sort of definition for how to act.  The adult in the room is left with confused by this display of a child not only needing an authority figure in the room, but actually wanting it.  It makes no sense to those of us that spent our childhood attempting to escape any semblance of authority.  It’s sad, and it enhances the need for this qualifier to Carlin’s argument.

As much space as has been given to the respect we should give to a child’s curious mind, their limitless capacity for fantasy, and their ability to view without filter, they’re still doughy balls of clay waiting to be formed.  They have individual opinions, but are those opinions worthwhile?  Fully formed minds have the luxury of scrutinizing authority figures, rebelling to them, and out and out rejecting them based on their performance, because they have less need for those authority figures.  A child needs a definition of respect regardless if their parents have earned it or not.

I would’ve jumped for joy, decades ago, to read a learned mind, like George Carlin, echo this sentiment of mine.  The more I age, and the more I see the other side of the argument, the more I understand that respect for parents is a benefit to both parties.  As a child ages, experience leads them to need authority less, and the onus falls on the parent to live a life that commands respect from their progressed mind.  Parents are people too, of course, and they’re subject to the same failings, missteps, and lifestyle choices as any other adult.  When that adult become a parent, and they continue to display such failings, they present a challenge to a child that wants to respect them.  It’s important for parents to do whatever they can to fulfill what was once unconditional respect and make better choices.  In the respect arena, children are forgiving, blessed with a short-term memory, and imbued with a desire to respect their parents for the purpose of having something to respect, and to have parents that their friends can respect.  Parents can serve as a lighthouse in a dark sea of confusion and chaos, and this is made most apparent by children that have been guided through their youth by suspect parenting, but I don’t think it’s debatable that a parent, coupled with a child’s obedience and respect of that parent, will play a role in that child’s life that will last well into adulthood.

No matter what my dad did or said, during my younger years, he reminded me that I was required to respect him.  I considered that self-serving.  I, like George Carlin, thought he needed to do more to earn my respect, but like a politician that lies and later informs the public that they’ve “always been consistent on the matter”, my dad’s constant demands for near unconditional respect worked.  He was human, and he had his moments, but no matter how hard I tried to do otherwise, I respected him, and it ended up benefiting me by giving me a base of respect, and a foundation from which I would venture forth in the rest of my life.

Of course there are qualifiers to this qualifier, as we’ve all witnessed stable, large families produce one black sheep in a family of otherwise well-adjusted children, and we’ve all witnessed well-adjusted, under-parented children display a sense of independence that they carried into adulthood.  As much as I focused on these exceptions of the rules, as arguments to be had in my youth, my own experience with the youth that now surround me, is that these are exceptions to the rule.

The aspect of the oft repeated refutation of the commandment that confuses me, in regards to George Carlin, is that by the time he wrote this piece, in his third book, he was older and wiser, and I would assume that he had reached an age where the benefits parental respect could have on a young person were made clear to him.  It sounds great to repeat the line that the age-old “honor thy mother and father” line is B.S., because that speaks to that rebellious side of us that have lived a full life in direct opposition to our parents’ wishes, and perhaps we even hated our parents, but Carlin had children at the time of this writing, grown children, and his perspective on this matter either didn’t change, or it flipped back.  The only light in the tunnel of my confusion is that his children have stated that they often thought they were the parents in the Carlin home, a statement that leads this reader to suspect that George Carlin was probably a relatively chaotic adult in private.  He had to have witnessed the deleterious effects this had on them, and it probably formed his belief that obedience and respect should be conditional and earned period.  Perhaps, he wrote it with the knowledge that he failed his children in this regard.

The Thief’s Mentality: The Compilation


1) The Thief’s Mentality

The Thief’s Mentality examines the comfort some seek to explain their variables by suggesting that if everyone is as bad as they are then no one is. The idea of this all-inclusive mindset arrived in the form of a mower. The stolen mower was on its last legs, but it had a top of the line chain lock on it to prevent anyone from stealing what the owner stole. The owner’s hyper vigilance suggested that he viewed the world from his own inescapable perspective.    

Has a thief ever accused you of stealing from them?

You are not alone. They do this to everyone they know.

The best thief I ever knew accused me of stealing from him so often that I began to question my integrity. The woman who cheated on me more than any other would, accused me of cheating on her so often that I spent most of our relationship defending myself. The individuals who lied to me more than others were often quick to accuse me of being dishonest. Were these ploys intentional diversions, or did they result from an ingrained mentality?

2) He Used to Have a Mohawk

There’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept a mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. The import of that latter provides a subtext that suggests that the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions, or conventional thoughts, of a person by finding out that a person with a thin strip on their head is actually a beautiful person. He Used to Have a mohawk combines this mode of thought with the traditional reactions we have to the mohawk from perspective of an individual that used to have one.

3) That’s Me in the Corner

How many of us participate in the events of our lives? How many of us prefer to sit on the sidelines watching those that do. How many of us attempt to rewrite the tale of those events in such a manner as to redefine our actual involvement for the listeners who were not there? I witnessed a young child attempt such a crossover at his mother’s wedding. While watching the kid, I discovered the first chapter of my life and how it characterized so much of what followed. This led me to wonder about the fruits of active participation versus the role of observer.

4) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

How does the average person deal with those that experience greater challenges in life? What if the subject before us descended from a plane higher than we could ever imagine to an equally unimaginable depth? How would we explain it? How would we deal with it?

Everyone in The Family Liquor Store knew the story of a man of excessive talent that went crazy “Like That!” they would say with a snap of their fingers. The Family Liquor Store rested on the corners of despair and failure, and David Hauser was their effigy, but no one knew how a man could fall as far as he did. We did have an answer, and it made us all feel better about ourselves to know it.

5) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore!

The adult baby could not exist if not for his enablers, but his species might not exist if he saw the purpose of his involvement. These two elements result in the carrier finding comfort in mental adolescence. Yet, he finds ways to establish value and importance, even when it affects those around him.

6) And Then There’s Todd

Todd had no discernible value in the dating world, as far as I was concerned, yet his stature among the ladies was unquestionably better than mine was. Todd was a member of our ‘not ugly’ club, but unlike a majority of our members he was not clever. Prior to Todd, I thought clever humor was the key to success for ‘not ugly’ people in the dating world.  What made Todd’s unparalleled success so frustrating and inexplicable was that Todd was an oaf. As a nineteen-year-old young man, Todd had yet to learn how to tie his own shoes, and he feared cotton balls, but he somehow managed to date the most beautiful women in the establishment we worked in together. What was his secret? I am sure Todd was as confounded as we all were.

7) When Geese Attack

Those of us that have watched an episode of Shark Week –or one of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now– have witnessed what happens when animals attack humans. Those of us that have watched enough of these videos know the formula. We know that the victims will discover that the one consistent truth about nature is that there are no consistent truths. There are methods to handling animals that those more accustomed to handling animals will relay to an audience to lessen the risk, but even the most experienced handler will state that there are no steadfast rules if a person hopes they can use rules to prevent a wild animal from ever attacking. Those of us who watch these videos often enough also know to expect the survivor state they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos.

8) Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud

The field we now know as psychology was not Sigmund Freud’s first choice as a career choice. He chose to search for what, at the time, was considered the holy grail of scientific discovery the testicles of the eel. He failed to find what other premier scientists of his day could not find, and Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles asks the question if this failure defined the rest of Freud’s career in a manner I’ve never heard historians ask before.

9) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse

It was a shock for me to hear that some assume Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert are gay. When I first heard that, I thought the statement, true or not, was provocative, insurgent, and hilarious. I don’t remember who first made the claim, but I do recall thinking the individual was on the cusp of something new, something insidious, and transcendent.

10) Most People Don’t Give a Crap about You

I asked a professor of mine a detailed question regarding whether it was better to view humanity from an optimistic worldview or a cynical one. The professor told me that it didn’t matter how I viewed them, or if I was structurally prepared for their malfeasances, or deviance. He said that they don’t prepare for the manner in which we might view them, because they don’t notice us half as much as we think they do, because they don’t give a crap about us.

11) BusyBody Nation

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday, but a couple of begrudged busybodies interrupted my otherwise uneventful day. They could not permit my dog to chase a couple of ducks into the lake without making wild threats against me. I decided that the rest of us should push back against the tide of busybodies attempting to restore their definition of order by exposing them for who they really are.

12) The Balloonophilia Conflict

“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense the wonderful employ.

“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply, “but if it’s true 50.001% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”

Make a general assessment about a noun (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, and the assessor is bound to encounter a wonderful defense of that noun. The wonderful defense centers around the idea that all assessments are generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that all generalities are based on general rules, and while it is true that there are exceptions to general rules, the exceptions do not nullify the idea behind a general rule. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses.

13) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias

There’s a reason that the “No Fear” ad campaign worked as well as it did. We are empowered women and manly men that believe fear is a sign of weakness. We have precedent for the unexpected anomalies that might buckle our peers. The idea that fear is a warning message sent from the brain for self-protection is to be ignored and fought, because fear is fiction, and fear is propaganda to the well-traveled and experienced individuals that have lived in other locales far more tumultuous than the silly city you two now live in, and no silly weather anomaly can compare to what their cosmopolitan metropolis offered. This message is brought to you by those that had no fear, and it ended up resulting in their demise.

14) Conquering Fear: A Few Tips from Psychopaths

Is it possible to live a life without fear? Is there anything we can learn from a psychopath? How often do fears, large and small, govern our thought process and regulate our lives? A psychopath might admit that living a life without fear has resulted in their incarceration, but when they look out at the rest of us, and how we’re unable to accomplish the simplest task without fear altering it some manner, they think they have probably received an unhealthy dose of an otherwise good thing.

15) The Unfunny 

I’m not funny, I’m not ugly, and I was also not dating as often as I should have. I knew plenty of not funny and not ugly fellas who were dating, and some of them, like Todd, managed to date some beautiful women. I was not happy. I decided to explore clever. I found out that clever does not always translate to laughter, but it relies heavily on ingenuity and originality. Some might argue that those two words are synonyms, but I was an original personality that didn’t apply it well or often. “Oh, you’re original,” some of my closest friends have said in various ways over the years, “I’m not sure if that always works for you, but you are original.” The ingenuity occurred in the application process. I knew girls would not claw each other’s eyes out for clever, for that was an activity reserved for handsome, funny men, but years of experience with women whittled me out of that group. The question was how could I incorporate my unusual nature, that bordered on the obnoxious, with my irritating personality that some considered idiotic. I used the comedic stylings of Andy Kaufman as my template.

We dedicate this piece to the unfunny that think they’re funny. We know humor is relative, but we’ve always been able to make our brother and dad laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to universal material. When we, the unfunny, took our humorous anecdotes out into the world, we ran into a wall. No one knew what we’re talking about, and we wanted to be funny. People like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy a humorous analysis of the people, places, and things that surround them. Some of us have never been able to locate this universal definition of familiarity, and some of us don’t care. We dedicate this piece to us.

16) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art

Walking through an art gallery, the ubiquity of the anti-consumer theme struck me. How can every piece that focuses on the same theme be considered bold, daring, and a tour-de-force? One would think that an aspiring young rebel would acknowledge this ubiquitous theme by sticking a middle finger up in the parody that the theme has become by producing an anti-anti-consumer theme. Doing so, however, might land the piece the artist works so hard on in the dreaded land of pro-consumer and pro-corporate.

17) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes

A friend provided us an excellent restaurant recommendation. She became our go-to-gal, for restaurant recommendations. We developed a bond with her, and it went to her head. She went from a foodie to a foodist. She began to regard those who didn’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. She detailed for us her preferences and made two things quite clear. The first was that she obviously put a lot of thought into her recommendations, perhaps too much, and that led to her to begin branding other people. She branded people wearing inferior clothing, those than drank an inferior coffee bean, and those that didn’t know the difference. She knew that most people prefer McDonald’s coffee, but she found comfort in the idea that those people were probably Americans, and they were probably truckers from Iowa. She led me to wonder if her progression was natural, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something.

Why is a dining experience at a Thai restaurant superior to one at Chucky Cheese? This piece is not about the quality of food at either locale, it’s about the superiority one feels informing another that they ate exotic food at a particular locale. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience the informed consumer must have and, and, detail for their friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, blind taste tests judge McDonald’s coffee to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the crowd at the water cooler will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.

18) Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine

How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?

19) Esoteric Man

I found it difficult to properly evaluate an advertising executive that was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school. I knew I was being unfair, but “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Certain aspects of the way things are, are complicated by the way things were in our lives, and we cannot escape that fact.

The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many arch rivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my arch rivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my arch rivals. The ad exec wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif. He was also a people person that knew how to relate to the folks, and I hated him before he said twenty words.

20) I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to Be Disgusting Too?

Seinfeld might be my favorite show of all time. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that one particular person, familiar to the three of us, was gross, and they agreed that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool of germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last.

21) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

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

We’ve all heard this line from informed consumers, and we usually hear it when we have a delectable morsel dangling before our mouth. Those who condemn our dietary habits are informed consumers who order yoke free eggs and tofu, with a side of humus, yet they glance at our dangling morsel with some confusing variation of envy.

22) Eat Your Meat! How Can You Show Appreciation for Life, If you Won’t Eat Your Meat?

Convincing children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen. When the caveman’s children stated how they were tired of eating Mammoth, their mother probably felt compelled to remind them of the sacrifice and danger their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.

23) Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence

What do you think of that guy in high school that loved Wham and Genesis? Do you still think less of him? Our particular, individualistic taste in music defines us, and it provides our peers definition. Some of us still view those that listen to Led Zeppelin as superior. Why have we arrived at that particular notion is an interesting question, but how we arrived at it might be a far more interesting one. In high school, our favorite music artists changed by the day, dictated to us by the prevailing winds of cool. We might believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us, as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.

24) Find Your Own Truth

“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer the helps us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feels like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.

25) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard

“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.

The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. We can guess that aspiring comedians have asked Rodney various forms of this question so many times that he’s grown tired of it. Thus, when this comedian approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have this comedian leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it.

26) Know Thyself

Philosophers, bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and reported to the world by a writer named Pausanias.

It was what modern day philosophers might call the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, and what a previous generation would call a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement, and the Ancient Greeks achieved it with two simple words:

“Know Thyself.”  

Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.