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.”

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Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts


Unconventional thinking can be seductive. It can be alluring to gain more knowledge than another has. To those that fall prey to this conceit, I have a warning. Quantity does not always equal quality. There is only so much conventional information 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. Some of the times, those arguments place the subject matter, at hand, in a different light that 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 tell us? They believe the truth is out there.

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) 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 those 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 a wide array of alternative information outlets. They 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 and loved, that suggested that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

Within the transmitted messages, aliens from another planet send to Earth, is a common subtext that suggests that the tenets of my political ideology are wrong, but who am I to question the superior intellect of an alien species? The first question this skeptic asks the author of human psychology by way of alien scripture is why do we assume that they 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 we 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 as much intelligence as we do, 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 the author’s agenda and ideology. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with humans being of superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone seven plus, 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.  

Too much reliance on alternative sources of information leads us to be vulnerable to half-truths that cause us to put too much stock in the more 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. I would have no problem with the purveyors of unconventional information if their consumers sought results. How many outlets, of this nature, provide straight verifiable points that pass peer review? 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 it. 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 truth that neither party might have considered before.

The best illustration of this M.O., 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 eighteen inches, and dyes it blue, conventional thinking would lead one to believe 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. 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 alter? 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 him 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. 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 characteristics, and that he probably faded into the background. The man was not very funny. He was not the type that an observer would say was overly entertaining. He seemed like a shy, normal 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 shatter expectations by doing silly things, or being nice, those actions stand in stark contrast to what we expected of such a man, and that leads an otherwise normal and probably relatively boring man, to stand out in our memory.

The crux of the argument, as I see it, is that conventional thinking may have some potholes, and we should remain skeptical of everything we see and hear, but some put so much energy into unconventional thoughts that they 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 maintain an equal amount of skepticism for unconventional thoughts. Yet, the seductive nature of unconventional thinking rarely calls for a ledger on which one can tabulate how often they have been wrong. Most people hate being wrong, and for unconventional thinkers one would think it incumbent on unconventional thinkers to prove their bona fides on an issue. What often happens is that either the unconventional thinkers adapt a linier adjustment to their way of thinking on the issue, or they move on. The very nature of unconventional thinking lends itself to invulnerability, for few in their audience are comfortable enough with their knowledge on issues to call them out on their record. It’s been my experience that if an unconventional thinker would chart and graph their thoughts on matters, as opposed to focusing so much energy on excuses, they would find that more often than not, conventional, generalized thought patterns on a given idea 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.

Tennis Shoe Thomas


“They’re nice, don’t get me wrong,” a kid named Thomas said of the shoes I wore, “but why do you insist on wearing tennis shoes?”

Thomas was the only son of my dad’s friend, and his question came so soon in our introduction that it was almost a part of his greeting. He said the word tennis shoes with such disgust that I felt like a second-class citizen in them, before I knew what a second-class citizen was.  His question was framed in a manner that suggested he had known me for years, but this was the first time we met. His question also laid a depth charge that would detonate throughout the course of this evening in the form of a theme: There was something I had missed out in this whole definition of the pre-teen years, and in the preparation for the life beyond.

imagesThis kid’s confidence was difficult to mirror, and I didn’t.  I was caught off guard.  Had I been better prepared for his assessments, I would’ve mentioned the fact that I had no say in the matter.  I didn’t pick these shoes out, and I’d never given much consideration to preferences. I was a kid, my parents bought me tennis shoes, and I wore them. Second, I didn’t place much focus on what other kids wore, and I didn’t think anyone else our age did either.  That would’ve been wrong, of course, for there was always a “cool factor” to the shoes one wore.  The idea that tennis shoes were now deemed uncool as to be a tired element of the kid ensemble, however, had never occurred to me, or anyone else I knew for that matter.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my identity would be challenged, nor would it be the last, but this kid did a masterful job of placing me in a state of flux.  As soon as I formulated some half-hearted answer to one of these questions I had never been asked before, he was onto something else.  The purport of our conversation was that he had little time for me, because I was a kid, and even though I was only one year younger than him he preferred speaking to adults.

I took it as a personal insult that he preferred to speak to my parents, and that he gave the impression that my parents were more his speed, until my parents asked him how he was doing. I can’t remember the exact question my parents asked him, but it did not divert much from the typical “How do you like school?”  “Do you have a girlfriend?” questions adults ask pre-teen kids.  The typical response to such a question, we learn from our cool contemporaries, is to be polite but dismissive, with a heavy dose of the latter.

Not only was this kid respectful, he appeared to prefer the company of my parents before knowing anything about them. He also appeared to want to have them approve of him. It was so out of the realm of my experience that I was fascinated, after I determined that this kid was in full control of his facilities. His answer to my parents’ typical question consisted of a verbal flowchart of his path for life, built on various contingencies that he could not foresee at that point. It was impressive in a cute kind of way that suggested that his whole life had been geared toward getting his father to muss up his hair with pride. The tennis shoe question became clearer in that light. I thought he was trying to impress my parents to impress his all the more. Until, that is, he commented on my hairdo.

“That bangs thang isn’t working for you anymore,” he said after his mother all but shoved him out of the room. There were no adults around when he said that. He was the first boy I recalled meeting that had a hairdo. As I said, he was one year older than me, and I wondered if this kid was emblematic of what I’d be facing in a year.  He also had a girlfriend.

The girlfriend thang damaged the whole profile I had been building on him. I had been planning to tell all my friends about him, so we could laugh at this kid, and they could help me believe that he was the aberration that I thought he was. I knew the girlfriend thang would damage that presentation, for in the pre-teen world, having a girlfriend nullifies all prior deficits of character, unless he cherishes her.

If a kid our age was lucky enough to have a girlfriend, he was to be dismissive of her.  She was to be a fait accompli.  No one wanted to hear about the process you had to go through to get her, and those revelations often did more harm than good.  Her role in a young boy’s life, was one of adornment.  She should be nothing more than a badge of prestige that that boy wore on his sleeve.  Saying one had a girlfriend was more important than actually having one, in other words.  This Thomas kid loved having one.  He cherished her, a fact made evident by the fact that he enshrined her love letters in a central location, on a dresser, in his impeccably clean bedroom.

“She must really have it bad for you,” I said, looking at the size of that stack of letters.

A dismissive “yeah” may have been called for at this point to keep it cool between the fellas, but this Thomas kid didn’t say anything of the sort.  He said those letters were mostly responses to his love letters, and his plans with her. He informed me that the two of them were in love. He said he thought about her all the time, and he had a smile on his face when he said that, that my Great Aunt Mary Louise would’ve considered sweet.  He talked about the fact that he wanted her to be his wife one day.  He said that most of his letters detailed those long-term goals, and her letters were a positive response to that.  If that day never happened, he said in response to whatever doubts he perceived from me, he informed me that he would be just as happy with one kiss from her.

He had a deeper voice that he reserved for conversations with adults, a voice I presumed was an affectation he had developed to garner more respect from them.

“I prefer Thomas,” he said when I asked him if he went by Tom or Tommy. “My birth certificate says Thomas,” he said when I asked him what the fellas at school called him. “So, I prefer Thomas.

After his mother had all but physically pushed him out of the living room “So, the adults could talk”, and he was forced to play with me, he informed me that he did not want to play with his Atari 2600.  He then shot me a glance that suggested that I shouldn’t be so reliant on it for my entertainment purposes.

Thomas was such a violation of everything I held dear that I couldn’t tell if he had something I had missed out on, or if he was stuck in the same quadrant of self-defined cool that all the nerds in my class were.  This Thomas kid’s violations of everything I held dear went deeper than the nerdiest nerd in my class however.  He basically stated that he thought it sucked to be a kid.

Kids I knew hated being subjected to authority, going to school, eating vegetables, and some semblance of the idea that we weren’t older, but this kid hated everything about being a kid, even the good stuff.  This kid envied maturity, and the greater responsibilities that come from being older, and the whole idea of being older.  In me, I thought he saw all the trappings of being a kid, trappings that consisted of wanting to play, laugh and have fun.

I never saw Thomas after that day, so I have no idea if one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, but we spent most of that evening discussing how much Thomas had going on, and how much I’d missed out on by being such a kid.  My guess, now that I’m old enough to reflect on the people that shaped my life, both large and small, is that Thomas suffered from a debilitating case of only child syndrome.  My guess is that the reason the two of us focused on how much I missed out on was, in part, a defense mechanism he had developed to prevent us from focusing on how much he had missed out on.  My guess is that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, when fools, like me, may have been able to teach him how fun it was to be foolish at times, in these ever dwindling years in which it’s acceptable to be foolish. My guess is that he got so wrapped up in his solitude that he forced others out before they could approach his door.  My guess is that I was the reason that our family was invited over to their house, based on the need Thomas’ parents thought Thomas had for another kid to teach him there was another way of conducting one’s self as a child, a way other than the one his parents had taught him.  My guess, not knowing how Thomas’ life panned out, is that soon after one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, and he addressed all of the variables that he couldn’t foresee as a kid, he began wearing tennis shoes, playing Atari 2600, or whatever game system he had, to the point of immaturity, and that he began chasing all the youth he missed out on in his pursuit of responsibility, maturity, and greater impressions.

Platypus People


“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood at the door of their home. This was not an unusual greeting from Mrs. Finnegan. It was the greeting I received whenever she had some topic of the day to cover. I called it her headline hello.

Mrs. Finnegan may have met me at the door with more traditional forms of greeting in the beginning. If she did, I don’t remember it. She may have used the more traditional, “Hello!  How are you doing?” greeting with other people, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the discussion of the day. A provocative introduction similar to those used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.

VDufSSB“It’s mister smoker!” she said to introduce me to the discussion the Finnegan family would have on that day, regarding my smoking. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion that would involve my decision to wear a jean jacket, a t-shirt of whatever band I was listening to at the time, and jeans, or as she put it ‘my heavy metal dude gear’. I was fair game for these family discussions, she informed me, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that with the state of my home, I was in need of some guidance.

This ‘Your best friend’s dad is an infidel’ greeting informed me that the Finnegan discussion of the day would involve a detailed account of her husband’s recent business trip to Las Vegas, in which “he happened to get himself some (girl)”. The word ‘girl’ is written here, in place of the more provocative ‘P’ word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe Greg Finnegan’s act of adultery.

Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman that used profanity or vulgarity sparingly. She reserved those words for those moments when she needed to wound the pride of the subject of her scorn, and those times when she felt she needed to pique the ears of the listener. She used these words with a ‘look what you’ve caused me to do with your actions!’ plea in her voice to further subject the subject of her violation to greater shame.

Hearing her use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. I took this as the compliment it was, in the beginning, but as the years went by, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every word that came out of my mouth.  There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest I be corrected, but for the most part, I was an eager student of her mastery of the language.

My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment had caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. She spoke in a manner, at times, that I thought violated the conventions of our language. I would go home, look it up, and see that she was correct. Even during the most tumultuous moments, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus, when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed that the slip up was intended to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparing use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that, I thought, or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, in that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God.

My friend James had been sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I was allowed entrance into the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They looked like Puggles, sitting in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.

James mouthed a quick ‘Hi!’ at me. He pumped his head up momentarily to issue that greeting, and he then resumed his shame position of looking at one spot on the carpet.

“Mr. Finnegan, decided to go out to Vegas and get him some (girl)!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I had not had enough time to sit at that point. When I did, I sat as slow as the tension in the room allowed, an air that did not permit quick motions.

“Tell him Greg,” she said.

“France, I don’t think we should be airing our dirty laundry in front of outsiders,” Greg Finnegan complained. The idea that he had been crying prior to my entrance was evident. His eyes were rimmed red, and they were moist. He did not, however, look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on a spot on the carpet.

France was the name she grew up with, and she hated it. It was the name her immediate family members called her, and her husband. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Francis. To everyone else, it was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not a person that permitted informalities.

“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had there been any actual Puggles in the room, they would’ve raced from it, regardless if they were the subject of her scorn or not.

“No, he has to learn,” she said pointing at me, while looking at her husband. “Just like your son needs to learn, just like every man needs to learn the evil ways of their nature.”

This display was followed by an actual display, brought into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular event as she had all the events that occurred in the Finnegan home.  She was more of an observer to the goings on in the Finnegan home than a participant. She rarely offered an opinion, unless it backed up her mother’s assessments and characterizations, and she was never the subject of her mother’s scorn. She was the dutiful daughter, and she walked into the room, carrying the display, in that vein. She carefully positioned it on living room table and pulled the supports out so that it could stand without manual support. After completing that action, she sat.

Mrs. Finnegan allowed the display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. It was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was also constructed in a manner of a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. It was a triangle that was intended to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids.  It didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid, but the supports behind it allowed it to rest at such an angle that it appeared to be one side of a pyramid.

Before this day began, Mrs. Finnegan had managed to gather enough unique photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the compartments in the pyramid, so that the bottom level had five photos, the next level up had four, and so on, until one arrived at a single photo at the top. Each photo had a votive candle before it to give the shrine of Greg Finnegan’s shame an almost holy vibe.

“It’s the pyramid of shame,” Mrs. Finnegan informed me with a confrontational smile. “What do you think of it? The frame was Greg’s gift to me on my birthday. Isn’t it lovely? I’m thinking of placing it in our bedroom. I’m thinking of placing it in a just such a position that if Greg is ever forced to have sex with me again-” (Except she didn’t say sex. She said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.) “-he can look at those picture while he’s (sexing) me.  Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.

There was an inopportune knock at the door. The Finnegan duplex was constructed in such a manner that when the drapes were open, those inside the Finnegan home could see the knocker. We saw the knocker. It was Andy, the third party of the adventure James and I had planned for the night.

“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, the adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet to beat all the people that were racing to the door, except no one was racing. We were all ensconced in the shame of our gender. We were all staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.

Andy left. He just turned and walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped all that I was forced to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting. He didn’t go out of his way to be respectful to one of his elders, but he really wasn’t disrespectful either.  He just turned and left.

I didn’t know we could do that, I thought watching Andy leave.

I knew what I was in for, before I entered the home. Andy knew what he was in for. His departure was not only bold, as far as I was concerned.  It was unprecedented. I didn’t know we could do that.  I would ask him about it later.  I would say “Why did you do that?” when my greater question was how could you do that?  He informed me that he didn’t want to go through all that again with her.  I gave a “Well, of course, but …” response.  His reaction wasn’t any more complicated than that, and I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family conversation began –a confessional that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he had done– I looked out that window and imagined that I had evaluated my options as well as Andy had, and the two of us were now in Andy’s car driving away, laughing at the lunacy of these people.  I imagined that I would call them platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and that that would eventuate into a laugh riot at the Finnegan family’s expense.

What is a platypus, I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, but an animal that defies all categorizations. One look at them, informs the world of science that they should fall into a category, until they do what they do to prove the scientific community wrong. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up.

The platypus was even thought to be a joke when it was first introduced to the world. It was introduced in an era when naturalists would regularly stitch together body parts of different animals to leave the curious world with the notion that the naturalist had discovered an entirely new species. When the platypus was introduced to the world, it was believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in that vein.

Those that wouldn’t fall for this platypus hoax, even had a tough time believing it was an actual species when they saw a live one. I figured that I might have a tough time selling the ‘Finnegan Family are platypus people’ joke to Andy, for he may have considered my tales to be creative stories with stitched together details, or a story I enhanced with exaggerated details for the purpose of telling one hell of a story. He might not even believe it if he saw it for himself, I imagined while listening to Mr. Finnegan’s confession.

The introduction of Mr. Finnegan’s confession involved Mrs. Finnegan informing me that Mr. Finnegan had already confessed his transgression to his children, and that he would be required to offer this confession to any other friend, mailman, or traveling salesman that happened upon their door that day. I was informed to look at her when she said this, and we did. I was forced to acknowledge that the only reason the Finnegans married in the first place had to do with the fact that no one else would play with young Mr. Finnegan’s penis.

“He was lonely,” she said with tones of derision. “Mr. eighty dollars an hour consultant fee, and Mr. professional student with eight degrees would be nothing without me, because he was nothing when he met me. He was a lonely, little man with nothing to do but play with his little computer products, designs, and his little penis, because no one else would.”

“That’s enough France,” Greg said standing.

“Do you play with your penis?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s act of defiance. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imaging that someday someone will come along and want to play with your penis.

“You think it’s about love?” she asked. She had a huge smile on her face. She was aghast at a statement I hadn’t made. “You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss? Go rent a gawdamned Meg Ryan movie if you want all that. And once that love conquers all movie is over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and she’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you the tales of men, grown men that marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their penis. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, once he mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her, she took off after him.

It was not a feat of strength for Mrs. Finnegan to push her husband down a flight of stairs. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he may have been off balance, as a result of his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. He was not expecting to be pushed down the flight of about twenty stairs. We did see her pull him up the stairs, however, as we all came running to the top of the stairs when the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves.

We did hear Mrs. Finnegan’s scream when she pushed Mr. Finnegan down the stairs, and it was a shriek that let you know that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she had clung to for much of her life, had just snapped. We could not hear her obscenity laced grumblings, as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. Those grumblings were drowned out by the screams of her husband and her children.

“France!” Greg screamed in pain. “France, for God’s sakes!” he screamed over and over.

I saw her face, as she approached us at the top of the stairs, and it was a display of rage that I can only guess that those not engaged in some sort of civil service work see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair, with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Greg Finnegan, but I had to assume that he was back-stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner, and thus assisting her in pulling him up, but it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.

She was in such a state, once she reached the top step, and she was standing in the kitchen, with her children trying to calm her, she couldn’t speak.  The master of language couldn’t think up a word to say, and when she finally did, it came out as gibberish.  She would later say that that gibberish was as a result of her being overcome by spirits. She believed that that gibberish that came out of her, once she escaped the catatonic state, was her speaking in tongues.  She believed that that divine intervention had prevented her from harming her husband further, in the same manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first, in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I had just witnessed my first psychotic episode.

I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, in the Finnegan home, as I never went to the Finnegan home again, but I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I can only guess –based on what I knew of Mrs. Finnegan– that it was all about that intervention, the divine one, as opposed to the one by the civil servants.  And I’m quite sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted that they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” to introduce them to the Finnegan family discussion of that day, and if those potential visitors were to come to me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.