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.

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The Thief’s Mentality: The Compilation


1) The Thief’s Mentality

Has a thief ever accused you of stealing from them? Have they accused you so often that you’ve begun to question your own integrity?

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

Has a significant other ever falsely accused you of cheating on them? Do you have a friend who constantly accuses you of lying? Have you ever considered the idea that such accusations say more about the accuser than it does us? In the heat of the moment, most of us don’t, and we don’t recognize that they are inadvertently teaching us what we should do to keep them honest. Some might call such techniques psychological projection, others might say that it involves deflection and obfuscation, but the author believes these Jedi mind tricks fall under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella he calls The Thief’s 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.

          

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 before the door of their home. This type of greeting was not unprecedented for her. I received it whenever I drove to the Finnegan home to pick up their son, and she had a topic that she wanted to discuss that day. I called it her headline hello.

It’s possible that Mrs. Finnegan greeted me at the door in a more traditional way in the beginning, but I don’t remember it. She may have greeted other, less familiar people in that manner, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the family discussion of the day, in a manner similar to a lede used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.

“Hey, it’s mister smoker!” she said to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion of the day, regarding my smoking habits. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day, to introduce the discussion about my decision to wear a denim 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, Mrs. Finnegan informed me, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that the state of my home suggested that I required some guidance.

The ‘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)”. I write the word ‘girl’ here, in place of the more provocative P word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe the other party in Greg Finnegan’s act of infidelity.

Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman who rarely used profanity or vulgarity. She reserved those words for moments when she needed to wound the pride of the object 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 made me do!’ 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, however. 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. She loved teaching me and I was an eager student, and I viewed that assessment in that light, in the beginning. As the years went by, however, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every other word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest she correct me, but I did enjoy our respective roles in this relationship.

My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. Prior to that presumed faux pas, I thought I caught her violating the conventions of language, but she always assured me that she was correct. I would go home and look them up, only to find out that she was correct.

Even during the most tumultuous Finnegan family discussions, 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 she intended the slip 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 was sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I entered the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They sat in the manner a Puggle sits in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.

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

“Mr. Finnegan decided to go out to Las Vegas and get him some (girl)!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I did not have enough time to sit when she said that. 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 look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on a spot on the carpet.

France was the name Mrs. Finnegan grew up with, and she hated it. It was a name only her most immediate family members called her. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Frances. 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 one that permitted informalities.

“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had the room contained an actual Puggle, it would’ve scampered from it, regardless if it were the subject of her scorn.

“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 their evil ways.”

An actual display followed this one, carried into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular event as she had all of those that prompted previous family discussions. 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 supports out so that it could stand without manual aid. 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. The display was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. Greg Finnegan purchased the triangle to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids, but it didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid. When the daughter pulled the supports out, however, the frame rested at an angle. At that angle, the frame appeared to be one fourths of a pyramid.

Sometime before this discussion began, Mrs. Finnegan managed to secure enough unique photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the open 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 small 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.

An inopportune knock at the door interrupted the proceedings. The construction of the Finnegan duplex was such that when the drapes were open the inhabitants could see the knocker if they were in the right-facing furniture. The knocker was Andy, the third participant in the adventure James and I planned for the evening.

“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet, as if to beat everyone were racing to the door. No one was racing her to the door. We were scared and shamed into staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.

Andy turned around, walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped what I felt compelled to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting, and he didn’t go out of his way to show any signs of respect, or disrespect for that matter. 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, after hearing Mrs. Finnegan’s headline hello, and Andy knew it too. To my mind, his departure was not only unprecedented it was inexplicably bold. I didn’t know we could do that.

 “How could you do that?” I asked him later.

“I just didn’t want to go through all that again,” he answered.

“Well, of course,” I said. “Who would?”

Andy further explained his reaction, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to sit through another Finnegan family discussion. His impulsive reaction was so simple that if he planned that reaction, and he told me about it beforehand, I would’ve countered that it would never work, ‘and, besides, you won’t be able to do it.’ When he did it, and it did work, I realized that I would have to do a much better job evaluating my options in life.

When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family discussion began –a phase that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he did– I looked out that window and imagined that Andy’s display emboldened me. I imagined that I stood up, gathered my belongings and followed Andy to his car. I imagined the two of us driving away, laughing at the lunacy of these people. I imagined calling the Finnegans platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and how that might end our laughter, until I explained it.

‘What is a platypus,’ I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, ‘but an animal that defies categorization. One study of 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 in the air in futility. Imagine what the Finnegans might do to field of human psychology.

‘At its introduction, naturalists considered the platypus another well-played hoax on the naturalist community,” I would add. ‘I say another well-played hoax, because it happened before. Some enterprising naturalists stitched together body parts of different parts of dead animals to lead the scientific community into believing that they discovered an entirely new species. Thus, many believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in this vein.

‘Those that guarded themselves against falling for future hoaxes, even had a tough time believing the platypus was an actual species when they saw one live,’ I would tell him.

Even though it violated my beliefs in random occurrences versus the orchestrated, I stared out that window Andy once darkened, wondering if there might be a greater purpose behind the situation I was in, listening to a grown man confess his transgressions to me. Was I a small-scale example of natural selection, because I didn’t have the guts to pivot on a heel and run the way Andy did, or was this event a gift that I couldn’t appreciate in the moment? Were the Finnegans such an aberration that they might confound the scientific community that thinks they have a firm hand on human psychology in a manner equivalent to the platypus confounded other fields of science?

Even when I had all of the sordid details of this ‘Finnegan Family as platypus people’ story to tell, I didn’t think anyone would believe me. My penchant for stitching facts and fabricated details into a great story might come back to haunt me. They might not even believe it if Andy stuck around to corroborate the details of it, and they might not even believe it if they saw it live, I realized while Mr. Finnegan offered me the details of his sordid weekend.  

Mrs. Finnegan interrupted this confession to inform me that Mr. Finnegan already confessed this transgression to his children. She then informed me, and thus Mr. Finnegan, that he would be required to offer this confession to the mailman, a traveling salesman, or any others that happened to darken their door that day. She instructed us to look at her when she said this, and we did.

After the uncomfortable confession met Mrs. Finnegan’s requirements, following a Q&A that further explored humiliating details that Mr. Finnegan would not reveal without prompting, she forced us to acknowledge the primary reason the Finnegans married in the first place. “No one would play with Mr. Finnegan’s [reproductive organ],” she said, except she didn’t say reproductive organ.

“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 [reproductive organ] when no one else would.”

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

“Do you play with your [reproductive organ]?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s pleas. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imagining that someday someone will come along and want to play with it.”

Of course, I had no idea how this family discussion would play out, but Mrs. Finnegan’s normal confrontational demeanor was building. I didn’t think I ever saw the woman attempt to conceal her hostility or bitterness before, but the building tension provided contrast to everything I thought I knew about her. She was all but spitting her questions out between bared teeth, and her nostrils flared in a manner of disgust that suggested she was directing that hostility at me.

 “You think it’s about love?” she asked, aghast at an assessment I never made. She also had a huge smile on her face when she asked that that might have been more alarming than the manner in which she asked all of those embarrassing questions. The smile seemed so out of place with the building tension that I wondered if she was in full control of her emotions.   

“You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss?” she continued. “Go rent a gawdamned love conquers all movie if you want all that and once that it’s over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and I’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 [reproductive organ]. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, as he finally mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her question, she took off after him.

Mrs. Finnegan moved across the room quick, which for anyone that spent any time around the otherwise sedate woman knew was a little startling, troubling, and those of us in attendance should have considered foreboding.

Pushing her husband down a flight of stairs was not the feat of strength that some might consider it. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he might have been off balance, resulting from his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. She was screaming things at him from behind, and her intensity grew with each scream until we couldn’t understand what she was saying. Mr. Finnegan continued to refuse to turn around and face her, but he should’ve suspected that his wife’s progressing intensity would lead to a conclusion against which he should guard himself. Thus, he was in no position to defend himself or lessen the impact of his wife pushing him down a flight of perhaps twenty steps.  

When we ran to the top of the stairs, after the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all instinctually put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves, we witnessed Mrs. Finnegan pulling her husband up the stairs with one hand.

Mrs. Finnegan’s final scream, that which proceeded her pushing her husband down the stairs, led us to believe that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she clung to for much of her life just snapped. I could not hear what she said as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. The screams of her children, and her husband, drowned out those grumblings.

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

When I saw Mrs. Finnegan’s contorted facial expression, it transfixed me. In their attempts to either help her, or break her hold on Mr. Finnegan’s hair, her children blocked my view of her face. I bobbed and weaved to get a better look at it. I didn’t know why my need to see her face drove me to such embarrassing lengths, but I all but shouted at those obstructing my view.

I’ve witnessed rage a couple of times, prior to Mrs. Finnegan’s, but I couldn’t remember seeing it so vacant before. This almost unconscious display of rage was one that I can only guess 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 Mr. Finnegan, but I assumed that he was back stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner. I also think he was putting his hand on the handrail in a manner that assisted her in pulling him up. Regardless the details of this moment, it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.

She was in such a state, once she was atop the stairs and standing in the kitchen with her children trying to calm her that she couldn’t speak. Her lips were moving but no sound was coming out, and when that initial brief spell ended, the master of language could only manage gibberish. She suggested that that gibberish resulted from her being overcome by spirits. Once she escaped the state she was in, she stated that the gibberish we all heard was her speaking in tongues. She believed that divine intervention prevented her from further harming her husband, in the same manner divine intervention prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first and 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 entered the Finnegan home again. I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I’m sure that Mrs. Finnegan thought that had something to do with that divine intervention too. I’m also sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s assessment of the situation, they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” headline hello to introduce them to that Finnegan family discussion of that day. If those future visitors were to ask me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.

Why Adults Hate Their Parents


I am so glad I don’t have to go through all that anymore, is a thought I have when I hear an adult talk about how they still hate their parents. When they say it with such animosity and rage, I remember everything that drove me to say such things, and I’m glad that I’m so far removed from it now that I can reflect on it. When I hear someone say that their parents are bumbling fools, idiots, or backwater hicks from the 1950’s, I remember saying such things, and I regret some of it. As has been said of regrets, there is little that we can do about them now. Yet, I have also heard others say that the struggle to correct past errors defines us.

The primary question I would love to ask those of us who continue to hate the ‘absolute morons’ who happen to be their parents is, “Why is it so important to you that they still be wrong?”

“I’m smarter than my dad,” wrote a twenty-something blogger. “I really wish I wasn’t. It’s like finding out Santa isn’t real.” 

That isn’t an exact quote, but it is a decent summary of her snarky blog. The blogger goes onto rap about how intelligence and cultural sensitivity are a cross that she must now bear in her discussions with her parents. She never states that she hates her parents. She states that she, in fact, loves them a great deal, but she characterizes that definition of love with an element of pity, bordering on condescension, that appears to be endemic in twenty-somethings.

Some carry this teenage hatred well into their thirties and beyond. The teen years are a period of cultivation, containing rebellion, learning, etc., that occur before our minds fully form. As we age, our mind matures, and for some of us our rebellion to them follows suit, until it manifests into either full-fledged hatred, or a condescending pity that recognizes their backwater modes of thought for what they are. This matured rebellion is also based on the fear that our parents still have some authority over us, and the time we spend around them as adults reminds us of those days when our parents had total authority over us, and how they “abused it to proselytize their closed-minded beliefs on us.”

When we finally reach a point when they’re no longer helping us pay for tuition, a car, or rent, and we’re able to flex independent muscles, we spend the next couple of years fortifying this notion that they were wrong, all wrong, all along.

By the time we reach our thirties, circumstances reveal to us some of the logic and wisdom our parents attempted to pass down to us, and the idea that it does apply in some circumstances. (Some will never admit this. Some remain stuck in a peak of rebellion.) Their advice may not have applied in all circumstances, of course, but it applied in so many that some of us took the ‘bumbling fool banner’ down. Then, when we reach our forties, we begin to think that they’re idiots all over again.

I wrote the last line to complete a joke I read somewhere. It’s a funny line, because there is an element of truth in it, but in my experience the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The truth is a hybrid of the lifelong recognition we have of our parents’ failings combined with the points we begrudgingly give them on some matters. Forty-somethings also develop a level of respect for them that we never had for them in our younger years, because we now have our own kids, and we view them as fellow parents that tried to lead us down a path most conducive for happiness and success in life. We might maintain that they were inept in some ways, but we now recognize how difficult and trick it can be to be a parent. 

This specific timeline may not apply to everyone, as we all go through these stages on our own time. The word hate may be too stark a term for the adults still experiencing some animosity towards their parents, but anyone who has been through the roller coaster ride knows that the peaks and valleys can be one hell of an emotional roller coaster ride.

Theory formed the foundation of much of my rebellion, and real-world circumstances revealed to me that some of the archaic and antiquated advice my dad offered me had some merit. These circumstances, as I said, included having my own child and my own attempts to protect the sanctity of his childhood, in the same manner my dad attempted to protect mine. As evidence of this, I once thought my dad committed some errors by sheltering me too much, until some know-it-all said that means my dad did his job. “How so?” I asked. I was all ready to launch into a self-righteous screed about how this person knew nothing about my childhood, until he said, “By allowing your childhood to last as long as possible.”

Another circumstance arrived when I tried to get along with my co-workers, and I tried to appease my boss. My father warned me that this would be more difficult than I assumed, and he was right, but I regarded that as nothing more than an inconvenient coincidence in my path to individuality.   

It’s not debatable to me that I was right about some of the things I planted a flag in, but these circumstances led me to understand that my dad lived a rich, full life by the time he became my mentor, and some of my impulsive, theoretical thoughts about the world were, in fact, wrong. (Even after gaining some objectivity on this matter, it still pains me to write that line.)

Having my own job, my own money, and my own car did a great deal to provide me the independence I desired, but I wanted more. Having my own home, and friends, and a life completely devoid of my dad’s influence gained me even more, but it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to be free of the figurative shackles being my dad’s son implied. Every piece of information I received about history, the culture, and the world was exciting, and new, and mine, because it stood in stark contrast to everything my dad believed. The information I received, that confirmed my dad’s wisdom, bored me so much I dismissed it. The new age information coincided with everything I wanted to believe about the brave new world that my dad knew nothing about, and it confirmed my personal biases.

I didn’t ask myself the question that I now pose to the blogger when I was a twenty-something, regarding why I still needed my dad to be wrong. I probably would not have had much of an answer, even if I searched for it. I probably would have said something along the lines of “Why is it so important to him that he cling to those age-old, traditional modes of thought?”

This redirect would not have been an attempt at deception or evasiveness. I just did not have the awareness necessary to answer such a question. Moreover, as a twenty-something, new age thinker, I was rarely called upon to establish my bona fides. All parties concerned considered me a righteous rebel, and the old guard was, by tradition, the party on trial. They often felt compelled to answer my questions, as opposed to forcing me to define my rebellion, and I enjoyed that because on some level I knew I couldn’t answer those questions.  

My twenty-something definition of intelligence relied on emotion, theory, and very little in the way of facts. I thought they were facts, however, and I thought they provided me evidence to back up my claims. I thought I was intelligent, more intelligent than my dad was, but the question I did not ask is what is intelligence? The answer is it depends on who you ask.

In Abraham Lincoln’s day, the ability to drop a pertinent reference from Shakespeare and The Bible in any given situation formed the perception of one’s intelligence level. My generation believed that dropping a well-timed, pertinent quote from Friends and Seinfeld defined intelligence, coupled with a thorough knowledge of the IMBD list of Bruce Willis. To the next generation, it has something to do with knowing more than your neighbor about Kim Kardashian and Lady Gaga. (I concede that the latter may be an epic fail on my part.)

My dad knew nothing of Seinfeld, or Bruce Willis, so he knew nothing as far as I was concerned. He knew nothing about computers, or devices, and a third party introduced him to gold records (These gold records were CDs, compact discs, LOL! Gold records?) shortly before his death. This lack of knowledge about pop culture and technological innovation transcended all matters, as far as I was concerned. I believed my dad was a bumbling fool, traditionalist trapped in 1950’s traditionalist modes of thought, and that he could’ve never survived in our current, more sensitive culture. He was backwater, hick, and whatever other adjectives we apply to one trapped in a time warp of the sixties, maybe seventies, but definitely not nineties, the noughties, or the deccas.

The question that we in the smarter-than-our-parents contingent must ask ourselves is how much of the divide between our parents’ level of intelligence and ours is in service of anything? I, like the snarky and provocative blog writer, can say that I knew more about more than my dad did, but I defined that divide and most of what I used to inform that divide involved inconsequential information that I will never use for any substantial purpose. The conditions of my dad’s life were such that he didn’t receive what most would call a quality education, but he used whatever he learned to prosper on a relative basis. One could say that the difference between my education and my dad’s, and the education of the snarky contingent versus their parents’, could be whittled down to quantity versus quality.    

In the Workplace  

Much to my shock, I began quoting my dad to fellow tenured employees, well into my thirties:

“Everyone has a boss,” and “You can learn everything there is to know about the world from books, but the two words most conducive to success in life are going to revert to either: ‘Yes sir!’ and ‘No sir’.” 

I loathed those words for much of my young life, as they implied that even after escaping my dad’s management of my life –a level of authority that turned out to be far more macro than I ever dreamed possible– I would always have a boss, and the bosses that followed my dad taught me the difference between his level of macro management, and my boss’s definition (Hint: micro) when I was out on my own, and out from under his totalitarian thumb. I would also learn that my boss’s moods would forever dictate whether my day would be a good one or a bad one, in the same manner days under my dad’s moods affected me, only tenfold.

Dad derived his knowledge from workplace experiences, but that experience occurred in an era that required reverence of a boss. Thanks to the new age ideas of boards and panels conducting arbitration cases for those who have been fired, the various wrongful termination lawsuits, and the threat thereof that gave life to the Human Resources department, the reverence requirement was no longer as mandatory in my era. 

I also learned that my newfound freedom would contain a whole slew of asterisks that included the idea that no matter how much free time I had, I would spend a great portion of my life in a workplace, under the watchful eye of authority, compromising my personal definition of freedom every step of the way.

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve met those who never went through these stages of rebellion. If you find this as incomprehensible as I did, all I can tell you is I’ve met them. They say rational things like this, “I never thought my parents were perfect, but I know that they always tried to steer me into what they believed the right direction.”

As soon as I picked myself off the floor from laughter –believing that I was on the receiving end of a comedic bit– I realized they were serious. The fact that their upbringing was so much healthier than mine, caused me to envy them in some ways, but after chewing on that for years I realized that all of the tumult I experienced, self-inflicted and otherwise, defined my character and my current individual definition of independence.

We are our parent’s children, and at times we feel trapped by that. Therefore, we focus on the differences. We might acknowledge some of the similarities, but we take those characteristics for granted, and we think all parties concerned do too. Even when we reach a stage in life when we begin to embrace some elements of that trap, somewhere in our thirties and forties, we cling to the idea that we’re so different. The answers as to why these dichotomies exist within us are as confusing to us as the fact that they are a fait accompli.

When immersed in the tumult of the younger brain, trying to make some sense of our world, we may fantasize about what it would be like to have other parents. Our friend’s parents seem so normal by comparison. We think most of our problems could be resolved if we had their parents, or any normal people as parents. We might even fantasize about what it might be like to have been free of all patriarchal influence. We consider how liberating it might have been to be an orphan, until we recognize how confusing that must also be. Those without parents lack this particular frame of reference, or a familiar foundation from which to rebel. When we consider this, we realize that our whole identity involves pushes and pulls of acquiescence and rebellion to our parents.

We all acknowledge ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ dictum when we receive advice from our parents, our rebellion operates under the “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” principle when we process that advice and apply it to our era. When we acknowledge that knowledge of innovations and pop culture are superfluous, that removes a substantial plank of our rebellion, until politics takes its place. We then sit down at our proverbial dinner table to resolve the political and geopolitical problems of the day, for our nation, in a manner we deem substantial. It fires us up. We deliver nuke after nuke, until we realize that the effort to persuade our parents is futile. We also recognize that nestled within this effort was our juvenile, sometimes snarky need to prove them wrong. While a more substantial plane than pop culture, political discussions can be just as silly for us, as it was for our parents when they discussed such issues at their parents’ dinner table, and they considered their parents to be bumbling idiots who offered nothing new to the discussion and stubbornly resisted the winds of culture change. The one import that they may have taken from their discussions with their parents, as we will with ours, over time, is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and human nature doesn’t change as much as we may believe it does with innovations, cultural advancements, and social awareness. A kiss is still a kiss, a boss is still a boss, and the fundamental things still apply, as time goes by.

Epilogue

One final piece of advice this former rebel turned-individual offers to the provocative, parent-hating rebels is that we should all thank our parents for raising us. Thanking them could be one of the hardest things we ever do, as we may lose most of the provocative, parent-hating points we’ve spent our whole life accumulating, but it might turn out to be one of the best things we ever do.

I thanked my dad for everything he did for me, and I did not add all of the qualifiers and addendum I would have added years earlier. I managed to put all grievances behind me for the ten seconds it took me to thank him.

Was it hard? I will not bore you with the details of my rearing, but suffice it to say my dad could be a difficult man, and he played a significant role in the anger, frustration, and the feelings of estrangement I experienced for much of my life.

I could go into further detail to ingratiate myself further with those currently struggling with the idea that I don’t understand their dilemma. To display my empathy, I have a quote that served me well throughout the traumatic years: “Not every person who becomes a parent is a good person.” Parents are people too, and some of them are as misguided, confused, immoral, and selfish as the rest of us are. Yet, we are people too, and some of us are susceptible to making the mistake of amplifying their faults in our myopic view of them. If we were able to shake that myopic view, I think most of us will see that our parents were essentially good people who tried to move past their limitations to make us better than they were.

I dedicate this addendum to those who acknowledge that there might be anecdotes in this post that provide clarity on this subject, and they might even admit that thanking their parents would be noble, but the wound is too fresh and raw to forgive or thank them today. I empathize on a relative basis, but all I can tell my fellow angry offspring is that it would not have sat well with me if I waited.

As I sat in a pew staring at the proverbial pine box, I realized that no matter how obnoxious, narcissistic, and angry my father could be at times, he was a member of an endangered species comprised of those who truly care what happens to me. How many people truly care what happens to us? Our closest friends may say they do, but they have their own lives to live. We know our parents care, but some of them show it by seeking constant updates, harping, and telling us how to live our lives, long after the tie that binds us has been broken. As impossible as this is to believe today, expressing some level of gratitude in whatever manner your relationship with your parents require might be the best thing you have ever done. We might not see it that way, today, but my guess is that even the most obnoxious rebel will see it one day, and my hope is that this epilogue will convince someone, somewhere that waiting one more day might be one day too late.

Art is Dog. Dog is Art


Art is a dog. Dog is art.  

Nothing that can make one feel like a stranger in a strange land more than witnessing a homeowner release a rooster in his backyard. The homeowner spotted me walking my dog after opening the backdoor to let his rooster out, and I tried to look away so quickly that he might consider it plausible that I didn’t see him do it. By avoiding eye contact, I hoped to avoid embarrassing the man. I also didn’t want to feel the need to comment, and I didn’t want to share that uncomfortable smile that occurs shortly after witnessing another act in an inexplicable manner. When the homeowner spotted me, he offered up a pleasant smile and warm, small town that informed me there was no reason to stress out. The man’s smile and the wave suggested that letting a rooster out in the backyard was routine for him. I returned the smile, waved back, and continued walking my dog. The rooster did not relieve itself after the man retreated inside, but it did rush the fence when it saw how close my dog and I came to its territory. The rooster eyed my dog. It felt like a menacing eye. The rooster did not cockle doodle doo us, but its actions suggested that that was the next logical course of action.

The brief series of events involving a man and his rooster were odd and uncomfortable for me, and I found them noteworthy, but I didn’t think they had much value, until I began telling the story so often that it became my story. I told it so often during the next year, that when I returned to the locale I began telling it again without sufficient foresight.

“That’s my brother Harley,” a man said. “He has a pet rooster.”

For those that love to tell stories, getting locked up in full story mode can be painful. It’s the equivalent of driving down the street at eighty miles an hour and slamming on the brakes. My favorite types of stories are the “strange but true” varieties that don’t require creative additions or guidance. Stories like the rooster that thought it was a dog are my favorites, not because they’re hilarious, but because they’re so true that they leave the listener with that “All right, but what do you want me to do with this?” reaction.

I was in full story mode when this man mentioned that the rooster owner, Harley, was his brother. I had a finger in the air, and a smile on my face, as I prepared to launch into my critically acclaimed punchline. This man’s intimate familiarity with the rooster’s owner brought me to a screeching halt. I froze. It locked me up so bad that for the next couple of guilt-ridden moments I wondered if there was a colloquial antonym for verbal diarrhea. I considered the term verbal constipation, but I wasn’t sure if that captured it.

“Harley had two dogs,” this man added. “They died. The rooster is the only thing he has left.”  

There was compassion in the man’s words, and I assumed he directed at his brother. The more I thought about it, however, the more I began to believe that he might have been directing his compassion at me, and the mean case of verbal constipation he gave me. He might have noticed how much I enjoyed telling this story before his interruption, and he might have recognized that he had taken one hell of a good story away from me.

Whatever the case was, the man provided me an answer for why a homeowner would release a rooster in his backyard. The rooster grew up around dogs. The rooster thought it was a dog. I did not ask if the rooster scratched at the door when it wanted to go outside, or if it saw my dog and I approaching and began doing canine circles around Harley, until Harley picked up on whatever visual cues the rooster learned to give him when it wanted outside. I didn’t ask about Harley, and if Harley participated in this because he missed his two dogs so much that continuing the routine was therapeutic for him? I didn’t ask if Harley thought the rooster’s actions were kind of cute, or funny in the beginning, and he ended up doing it so often that whatever drove him to do it in the beginning was gone by the time I saw the routine of the act on his face. I wish I asked some of these questions, just to fill out the details of this story, but Harley’s brother caught me so off guard that I had a mean case of verbal constipation.    

The Art of the Nod 

A speaker began speaking about himself. He began informing us of his talents, what he planned to do with them, and all of his subsequent dreams and expectations. His life story was interesting in the beginning, but he spoke for too long. I did manage to maintain a polite intrigue for the speaker, and this led me to become the center of his attention. When that happened, maintaining interest became more of a chore for me.

My friend, a third party in this conversation, was not as successful in her efforts to purport interest. She nodded off. I was, presumably, the only one that saw her nod off, and I was the only one to witness her artistic recovery.

When she nodded off, her head went down and some instinctual part of not wanting to appear so bored that she fell asleep took over, and she jerked her head up. The art of this nod occurred a second later when she nodded down again. This second nod was not a result of falling asleep, but an attempt to rewrite any theories we might have had about her falling asleep in the first place. She performed the second, voluntary to re-characterize the first one as nothing more than the first in a series of nods of agreement.  

She even added a “Yep!” to characterize the hearty series of nods further. 

She had no idea what she was agreeing to, but she got away with it. I looked out at the faces of the others in the room. No one else saw it. I was impressed. I looked back her, and she had not only maintained her agreement, she strengthened it, until she was garnering more attention from the speaker than I was.

In the halls of social protocol, I considered this art.

I all but applauded her for this reaction when I asked her about it later. I mentioned that I didn’t think a person could carry something like that off once, that it was too artistic, and that it required practice. I wanted to know if she did this to me. She said she hadn’t. She said I was never that boring. I was grateful for that comment, but I had to know how often she did that. She said as far as she was concerned it was the first time. She had no other explanation for it, other than the fact that she was trying to avoid appearing rude. She tired of my questions after a while, and she stated that the moment embarrassed her, and she asked that we move onto other subjects.

Old People

Old people? Old people? Let me tell you something about old people. Old people set the parameter. If it weren’t for old people, your nuance would have no contrast. All that rebellion you cherish, that avant garde comedy, would just be blather. Old people. Have you ever watched the movie Caddyshack? Did you find it humorous? Uh huh. Ask anyone that knows anything about comedy, and they’ll tell you that that movie would not have been half as funny as it was, were it not for the old person in that production, Ted Knight, providing contrast. Without contrast in comedy, the movie is just a bunch of buffoons standing around reciting lines to one another. Contrast provides the pivot point for comedy, and that old man in Caddyshack, that fuddy duddy as you call him, set the standard for the role that straight men would play in comedy for the next four decades. The straight men set the parameters for other players to bounce off, and that’s what we old, boring types do. We set the parameters for the rest of you to be funny, cool, hip and sexy. Try writing a cool, hip, funny scene without a Dean Wormer, and we’ll see how far you get.

Like Boxing for Writers

Some writers believe that what they write is witty, humorous, or a display of their as of yet undiscovered talent in the art of comedy? We’ve all watched them write about clouds and trees, and we’ve all let that go, because we know all writers have to preen themselves every once in a while, but when they attempt comedy some of us think these writers need an intervention. One of the dangers inherent in comedy is that it’s relative, and every audience member should acknowledge that before they castigate another’s attempt at being humorous, but some attempts at humor are so bad that I want to say that we can all see the writer’s haymaker coming. When the author writes about a disagreement they had with their daughter about what television show to watch, we know to put our laughing galoshes on. We also know that every author, if they are male, will provide exhaustive detail about how they regard their daughter a superior intellect. They will provide us with eyewitness testimony of their daughter’s brilliance, and for some authors this will last for about a quarter of the story. At this point, many of us envy those that can start a story and ‘X’ out of it when it fails to intrigue them. Those who are able to find their way through the maze of the author’s shame, apologies, and qualifiers are introduced to a flurry of jokes that are intended to impress the judges. There’s no power behind the punches, because the author doesn’t want to offend the reader, their daughter, or any judge that might happen upon their story. We see their effort dangling, and as the joke plays out we all learn what not to do when we’re looking for a laugh. The author is the butterfly that floats merrily through our head without the fear, or the need to fear, the bee sting. They’re the Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Floyd Maywhether of the writing world that gets points from the judges, but bores those of us that don’t understand the art of boxing. We want something exciting to happen, the judge can call it blood lust if they want, but if the reader wanted to witness the majestic art of dance, they would’ve attended the ballet.

The Other Side of Talent


“He has a talent,” one person said of another. “I don’t know what it is,” she furthered, “but he has a real knack for taking photos.” The subject of that compliment beamed in the afterglow. The compliment was vague, but she used the ‘T’ word, and very few can avoid the gush that follows having a ‘T’ word thrown at them.

It was a nice photo (not the one pictured here), but the ‘T’ word? The compliment suggested that this photo was but one of a long line of photos that you had to see to believe, but it was still just a photo.

Most of us reserve our use of the ‘T’ word for athletic and artistic accomplishments, but we know that many use it in broad terms. We know, for example, that an engineer can display a wide array of talents for his craft that others may not have, but we often say that that person is good at what he does, a master craftsman, or expertly skilled, but the use of the word talent is not often used in conjunction with most skills.

Some could say that a grown man’s ability to outdo his young peers in a game of hopscotch is a display of talent, but most fellow adults watching this man hop from square to square would suggest that he should consider finding a more constructive use of his abilities, if he wants others to consider him a talent.

Merriam-Webster defines talent as “a special ability that allows someone to do something well.”

Philosopher Ayn Rand steadfastly refused to recognize photography as art, but she did concede that it requires a skill, a technical skill, as opposed to a creative one.

We all know that definitions, such as these, can be broad, but most of us have personal definitions that fall on stricter lines. If the definition of talent is as broad as Merriam-Webster described, and photography requires some technical skill, then we should concede that taking a quality photograph does require some talent. One could also say that a talented photographer uses discretion and selectivity when he selects his shot, but could this ability to capture a moment be more of a right place, right time decision making process that this man has over even the broadest definition of talent?

If one takes a thousand photographs, for example, and only one of them is of an exceptional quality, is that a display of the photographer’s skill? Yes it is, in a broad sense of the term. If that’s the case, we could that if a man takes a thousand free throws, and he makes one, he has a talent for shooting free throws, if that one free throw is so perfect that it barely touches the net.

If a photographer purchases a top of the line camera, and he uses the best photo-enhancing software available to produce evidence of his prowess, and he lays that photo down on a table next to the photo another taken with a disposable Walmart camera, and no enhancements are permitted, does his superior photo reveal God-given talent on his part, or does it contribute to the lie that a skilled, talented photographer is artistic in any manner?

The Truly Talented

We’ve all witnessed the effect truly talented people can have on a room, and this effect often makes us a little sick. “He’s just a human being for God’s sakes!” is one of the snarky, coping mechanisms we’ve developed for dealing with “the gush” to adore the talented.

The adoration of talent varies with the skill required to accomplish the feat, of course, but if you’ve ever met truly gifted people, you know that most of them are not interested in being better today than they were yesterday. Most of them enjoy the potential they have to be better than they do the work involved in becoming better. “We’re talking about practice!”

Those that become obsessed with being better, and enjoy the benefits the rigors of practice can produce, often end up having their names etched into something by the time they’re finished. For these people, their talent is but a starting point and a gift that they end up honing to perfection, but even for these people talent can be a curse and a burden, and it can lead to acceptance, love, worship, and being scrutinized, ostracized, hated, and ridiculed. The idea of their talent, i.e. their potential, can also haunt them when they encounter its limitations.

An edition of 30 for 30 called Of Miracles and Men portrayed the other side of talent. It depicted the other side of the Miracle on Ice story that we all know of a ragtag group of American amateurs defeating the most talented Russian hockey team ever assembled. Some would argue that this Russian team might have been the greatest assemblage of hockey players ever to tie skates on their feet. This team had already won four Olympic gold medals in hockey, by the time they took to the ice against this American team, and some of them would go onto win a fifth after the 1980 defeat. To hear this group of talented men speak of their careers, the 1980 loss to a group of American amateurs, in a medal round, sits in their system like a kidney stone that will never pass. This Russian team beat an assemblage of Canada’s best that included probably the greatest hockey player that ever lived Wayne Gretzky. They also beat the 1980 American team in a match that preceded the 1980 medal round upset, and those two matches were not even close. This team was so dominant that they could not be beat, until they were.

Some would think that such an historic upset might serve to highlight the Russian team’s greatness, if one could say that one defeat in the midst of a record of total annihilation is a blip in the overall dominance this team displayed over the hockey world for two decades. Listening to these men speak, however, the listener gets a taste for the other side of talent when the only story anyone wants to hear from them involves the one time they didn’t succeed, and how that has haunted them since.

The point one could take from this 30 for 30 episode is that these men spent an excruciating amount of hours of their young lives in cold, dank gyms honing their God-given gifts, trying to improve on the smallest details of the game, only to fall to a bunch of ragtag Americans that may not have spent one-fifths the amount of time honing their gifts. Even with five gold medals (including the 1984 Olympics), the only thing we want to talk to them about is that one match they failed to win thirty-five years ago.

If you’re acknowledged as the most talented person anyone you know has ever met, and the only thing anyone wants to discuss is the one time you failed, why would you want to raise their expectations? Why would you want to endure the marathon practice sessions that focused on the minutiae your coach informed was going to be vital when you encountered the wall of your God-given abilities? Why would you want to invest more of your life becoming better at something other people hate you for being so good at? We’re talking about desire here.

We’re talking about the desire to be better today, than you were yesterday. “We’re talking about practice!” We’re talking about preparing for that day, that every talented person experiences, when they meet their personal wall.

The wall, for those that have never read about it, involves going up against other people that were the most talented people anyone they know had ever met. It involves seeing what the gifted person is made of when they encounter the another person loaded with so much talent that talent is afterthought.

To read the former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner’s examination of the natural talents that fail to succeed on the NFL level, it’s about having a coach, or mentor, early on that recognizes the person’s talent level, and challenges them in a brutal, heartless manner, to reach within themselves to find various other methods of succeeding beyond the talent level they’ve always known. This heartless mentor also helps the talented person in question determine if they have the desire to succeed on a level they may not have even considered to that point.

The Less Than Talented

“My talent has always been, and will always be, and it should be written with a capital ‘P’!” –Your potential

What if your talent has never taken you the places you thought it would, but you’ve always known you had the potential you had to succeed. What if your talent lays somewhere between being as talented as anyone that you’ve ever met, and perhaps more, but that untapped potential to be more has always remained at a frustrating distance?

We spoke of ‘the wall’ that every recognized talent experiences, but there is another wall that can be more formidable: the wall of self-imposed expectations. The talented might encounter this wall in moments considered inconsequential to other participants, and observers, but to the person that has lived with the idea that they’ve always had the potential to succeed it is but another example of their ineptitude. Most of them do not know that this is the source of their frustration, or if they do, they won’t acknowledge it.

As the Kurt Warner story informs us, the primary difference between those that will succeed and those that won’t occurs soon after an example of they experience ineptitude. Moments of adversity can be large and small, but they all reveal whom we are, and who we are going to be.

A young Kurt Warner may have dealt with moments of adversity throughout his largely undocumented young life, but we can guess that none of them would compare to the adversity that the adult Kurt Warner would experience in his adult life. The most talented person in his area received so few scholarship offers that he ended up playing quarterback for the University of Northern Iowa. The NFL draft did not draft him, following that college career, and the only team that gave him a try-out, cut him before the season even started. He ended up stocking shelves for a supermarket chain. He then played quarterback in the Arena Football League, and he had a stint in NFL Europe before an injury to a starter allowed him to lead a NFL team to a Super Bowl victory. He was MVP of that Super Bowl and MVP for the season. That Super Bowl team cut him a couple seasons later, and he went onto play for another NFL team for a couple of unproductive seasons, and he ended up with a team that he, again, guided to the Super Bowl. After Kurt Warner’s career was concluded, he was considered to be the best undrafted free agent to ever play the game.

Kurt Warner’s story is one of not living up to his self-imposed expectations. It’s a story of what he did after failing to succeed on many levels. It’s a story that should be held out as an example to talented people, but for most of those that are more talented than anyone they’ve ever met, talent and work have always been a zero-sum game: The more talent one has, the less work they think they should have to do.

Warner states that most coaches and mentors coach to the talent, and they let the talent do what they do well in a manner that the coach hopes will reflect the coach’s ability to harness talent. They coach for the next game. They coach to keep the talent happy.

If we’re talking about practice, however, one of a coach’s duties should be to put talented people in uncomfortable positions to reveal to them what they must do when talent alone may not be enough get them out of scrapes.

It also allows those talented people –that have always used their talent as a picket sign to avoid the rigors of practice– to learn how to finesse the minutiae of their abilities and hone their desire.

As anyone that has displayed an ability to do anything knows, there is always a ceiling, and when one hits their head on that ceiling it can be quite humiliating. Some of the times, it’s more rewarding to hide in a cloud of potential. Those of us considered lesser-thans don’t understand what it must feel like to have so many consider us a true talent, and we never will, and that can provide the talented a comfortable space between the reality of their talent and the potential we believe they might have.

If you’ve ever witnessed a display of YouTube-worthy temper tantrum in a bowling alley, on a miniature golf course, or at a softball field, and you’ve wondered why a person would attempt to gouge their own eye out for missing a two-foot putt, I can tell you –as a former wild temper tantrum thrower– that there’s something more to it than the fact that the ball won’t go where we want it to go. We thought we spotted something at a very young age, we thought we were going to be a somebody, a contender, and the obnoxious five-pin that will not fall no matter what we do is not just a configuration of rock maple wood to us, it is the eye of fate staring at us, mocking us for what we’ve become.

These eye-catching temper tantrums are borne of an inability to deal with even the most inconsequential moments of adversity, because we never had a heartless mentor in our lives that cared enough not to care that we were tired, that our feelings were hurt by something they said, or that we wanted to quit the game because “it’s just not fun anymore”. One could read this post, and think it’s all about sports, until they witness a guy that has no capacity for dealing with the obnoxious five-pins of life, and in the moment that captures his frustration in life for all to see, he does something to the ball return that causes parents to shield their kids’ eyes. For an overwhelming majority of those that would have their names etched into something by the time their career is over, their mentors would spend countless hours teaching them how to deal with such adversity, how to overcome walls –self-imposed and otherwise– and how to become successful people, and yes, talented photographers, I guess.