The Future of Sci-Fi Tropes and Dystopic Hopes


Roads will still exist in the future, but if the “figurative schemes of thought” of the architectural images of futuristic sci-fi movies are to be believed, they will be miles above the ground. These future sci-fi roads will sprout from an enormous, corporate monolith in the manner of an octopus. The import of this sci-fi trope is that we will no longer have cars in the incarnation we now know. These cars do not even require a runway, they lift off the ground, which begs the question why will we need roads? The unspoken answer is that while roads may no longer be constructed for human travel, they are necessary to provide a foundation of stability for the evil, corporate structure.

The corporation, in question, is often an intangible, ominous main character in the story, with an ominous name. This begs the question why would the founder choose a name for his creation that potential clients might associate with evil? Answer: It is implied that the corporation did not originate from human idea. This corporation, is, was, and always will be, springing to life from some sort of primordial, evil ooze. If the corporation did originate from a they –those humans that sat on its corporate boards, and worked in its departments, and divisions– it evolved into a self-serving “It” that no longer has a need for employees, much less customers, or any actual goods and services.

TMLandThe few humans still involved in the corporation are made all the more faceless by the fact that the corporation requires them to be in full battle gear even while tasked with the most mundane chores, such as inputting data into a computer, and their prime directive (much like the drone bee) is to chase and/or kill anyone that dares to question It. And the It (as forecast by those that know) will find a way to progress into our neighborhoods, put us in pods –as opposed to suburban housing– take away our need for Puggles, and parakeets, and drain us of every vestige of humanity, until It can achieve an end game.

This end game often gets muddled in a loose group of references, but most sci-fi fans don’t require a great deal of detail regarding It’s evil plan. (This viewer also thinks the specifics of the corporation’s evil plan end up on the cutting room floor with a “too preachy” note on it from the monolithic, evil production, Hollywood chieftains.) The average sci-fi fan cares more about chase scenes anyway, the battle scenes, the CGI, and how the movies’ gorgeous heroes will overcome the final obstacle, the manifestation of It (often a monster that drools). The details of this plan would be redundant anyway, for as all sci-fi fans know the sole purpose of all corporations is to end humanity as we know it, so the corporation can franchise out to a chain that will exist for the sole purpose of being evil and ending humanity as we know it, unless our unassuming, swashbuckling, and gorgeous heroes can put a stop It.

The website The Millions states that the word trope has taken on a different incarnation through the years:

“‘Various scholars throughout history … have argued that a great deal of our conceptual experience, even the foundation of human consciousness, is based on figurative schemes of thought.’ The writer also notes that Tropes (in the sense of figures of speech) do not just provide a way for us to talk about how we think, reason, and imagine, they are also constitutive of our experience.’” Modern language has it that the word trope has come to mean: “a common or overused theme or device: cliché.”  

The origin of the trope for the octopus road coming out of the monolith, corporate structure may have occurred long before The Jetsons, but most of us (of a certain age) saw it displayed there first. To our minds, therefore, when sci-fi movie makers feel compelled to add the octopus road, they are either paying some sort of tangential homage to The Jetsons, or they are attempting to appeal to our “figurative schemes of thought that are constitutive of our experience” of what the future will look like by way of The Jetsons, or the sci-fi novels and comic books that preceded it.

The unspoken reason behind these miles high roads, is based on the idea that we’ll run out of the space necessary for more traditional, ground bound roads. For some reason, however, pedestrians keep falling off these roads that are created miles above the terrestrial plain. We have roads and walkways that were constructed high off the ground, in the present, but they’re often enclosed, or they have substantial guardrails that prevent people from falling. There is no apparent need for guardrails in our shared “figurative schemes of thought” of the future.

If guardrails become passé in the future, one has to wonder how the original architect of the evil monolith (often composed of shiny crystal) will manage to avoid federal and state zoning codes that governments throw at every project prior to construction. If this architect is crafty enough to evade government intervention, or he has enough money to bribe government officials, one has to imagine that he will see financial ruin by way of personal injury lawyers looking to cash in on the mental duress their clients experience when thinking of falling from these roads, and from those families of the victims that do fall.

If this architect manages to develop some patented safety measures that thwart most of the personal injury lawsuits that hit him, and he manages to avoid getting bogged down in all of the bureaucratic red tape from government officials –expressing alarm for public safety with one hand pointing at the inherent danger and taking payoffs for their silence with the other– this architect will probably go broke as a result of litigation brought by patent lawyers scouring the finer details of architect’s patent to help the lawyer’s clients siphon as much cash off the original architect as possible, until no future architects, seeking to create evil, corporate monoliths will follow the original architect into this minefield.

The future, as cynical, non-sci-fi fans see it, is not one of crystal cities, miles high roads, and constant innovation, but of government-mandated open spaces and wide open plains as far as the eye can see. One has to guess with the current path we’re on –of government officials and lawyers destroying creators’ plans and finances– that our current course dictates that the future will not be one of architectural brilliance and innovation, unless an ingenious mind comes along and discovers a way to bubble wrap the world and have gelatinous bubble guns at every portal to protect anyone from ever being harmed again.

Until that day arrives, a more realistic dystopian, sci-fi movie would depict our future being one of wide open plains and prairies that mirror Kansas and Nebraska where a screaming fall of a couple miles before one makes contact with terra firma –from an octopus roads that sprouts from a monolithic corporation– becomes nothing more than a trip over a piece of loose soil. This movie would not provide us the stunning visuals our “figurative schemes of thought” have come to expect from big budget sci-fi movies that project our future, of course, but with the course we’re now on it would be a lot more realistic.

Advertisements

The Real Back Pain Solution


How many of you woke with the same back pain I experienced the other day? It’s excruciating. It can ruin an entire day. It doesn’t matter to us that other people might be in more pain. Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter that others may experience chronic back pain, where ours could be called occasional and temporary. Pain is pain.  It makes us irrational, emotional, and cranky, and it disrupts our lives.

The first culprit we seek for interrogation is our sleep. Did we sleep on too many pillows, or in some other way that caused our head, neck, or back to be at an odd angle the night before? Sleep is often a hostile witness, however, never answering our questions, or if it does those answers are often incoherent and incomplete. Out next step, is to retrace our steps in the day leading up to the moment we fell asleep to see if any of our actions could be determined to provide undue stress on our head, neck, or backs. Whatever the cause of it, temporary back pain happens to us all, and it can be memorable.

Woman-With-alot-of-Back-Pain-walking-tall-chiropractorTo deal with that pain, some take pain meds, others heat or cool the affected areas, and if it becomes a recurring pain we may take a trip down to the fine massage therapists at BalanceWorks Massage to have them work it out until it’s gone, and to provide us tips to prevent it in the future.

When we’re immersed in that pain, we may vow to develop a routine at the gym that will strengthen those particular muscles as a form of preventative medicine, but that vow often lasts about as long as the pain does. If the reader is serious about solving recurring lower back pain, a therapist at Balance Works Massage informed me of her opinion on the cure of my problem: The leg press. There are a variety of methods to avoid in the procedure, and a variety of optimal methods to use that appear to be relative to the person, but as one that experienced recurring, lower back pain, this machine has proved to be a cure all for me. There is no one fix for all, as they say, but this worked for me.

The next, and more prominent, question is how often does back pain occur in our lives? The answer to this question gets to the heart of why we should not complain about intermittent, minor, and temporary back pains as often as we do. We all complain when it happens, but some of us complain in a manner that suggests that God and nature are somehow against us. Some of us even act like our body has failed us in some manner for which we are not to responsible, and we go to a doctor to tell them to fix it.

On the situation comedy, Louie, Louis C.K. complains to his doctor, a Dr. Bigelow, about the temporary back pain he is experiencing.  Rather than treat Louie in any manner, Dr. Bigelow informs Louie why he has back pain.

“You’re using it wrong,” Dr. Bigelow says.  “The back isn’t done evolving yet.  You see, the spine is a row of vertebrae. It was designed to be horizontal. Then people came along and used it vertical. Wasn’t meant for that. So the disks get all floppy, swollen. Pop out left, pop out right. It’ll take another. I’d say 20,000 years to get straightened out. Till then, it’s going to keep hurting.

“It’s an engineering design problem,” he continues. “It’s a misallocation. We were given a clothesline and we’re using it as a flagpole.

“Use your back as it was intended. Walk around on your hands and feet. Or accept the fact that your back is going to hurt sometimes. Be very grateful for the moments that it doesn’t. Every second spent without back pain is a lucky second. String enough of those lucky seconds together, you have a lucky minute.”

The human body may be a marvel in many ways, in other words, but it also has structural flaws. The back, for instance, has structural flaws, and it functions for most of our lives from a flawed premise. So, rather than complain about our temporary back pains, we should take a moment, consider our age, and calculate the number of days when our back was defying nature and providing us with a pain-free existence. We don’t appreciate the back until it fails us, of course, and now that it has, we should take that opportunity to thank it for supporting all of the innumerable actions we’ve asked it to perform for all those years. If Dr. Bigelow’s assessment of the back’s design flaws is to be believed, those days of peak performance shouldn’t occur as often as they do, and that’s the marvel of the back.

When you’re in pain, however, logic is about the furthest thing from your mind. Pain is pain, and when your back pain is so severe that you can do nothing but crawl on the floor, you’re not going to be comforted by the idea that the sole reason that your down there is a structural flaw that human evolution has yet to iron out. As for the idea of being grateful to your back that you’re not down there more often, as a result of its flawed design, that’s about as irrational as being grateful that at least you’re not being attacked by a big brown bear. As a former ground bound, back pain sufferer that has never been eviscerated by a bear, I can relate, but I still have to imagine that being attacked by a predatory, brown bear would be worse.

At maximum size, a brown bear can weigh 1,500 lbs., and they reach a height of ten feet when standing erect. On all fours, some brown bears have even been measured to be five feet high, near the height of the average human. After imagining the hysteria one might experience with something that large racing at them, the victim should know that bears aren’t known to go for the throat in the manner wild cats will, and the nature of their attack is such that they often don’t employ tactics that would lead to a more instantaneous form of death. If they are protecting their young, or acting in a manner that could later be determined to be defensive, they may let most humans off with a warning. That warning may land you in the hospital for a year, and leave lacerations on your head and face that have you looking like the elephant man for the rest of your life, but it is just a warning.

I would have to guess, however, that in the aftermath of a defensive bear attack, fruit will taste better, and the victim will begin to say ‘I love you’ to their loved ones more often, after park rangers inform them that the bear was not acting in a predatory nature, and all that that implies. If the victim is witnessing a bear acting in a predatory manner, and they don’t believe in guns, they might find it interesting that a brown bear can sprint at speeds of up to thirty miles an hour over short distances, and that they can break a caribou’s back with a single swipe of one of their massive paws.

If a potential victim is unsure as to whether an oncoming bear is acting in a predatory nature or not, they should know that there is no substantial proof to suggest that bears prefer us alive. Cannibals have refuted the notion that the adrenaline that courses through our system, as a result of fear, unnecessary suffering, and pain, makes humans taste any better. So, even though playing opossum may be the only tactic for a victim to explore at one point, it may not do any good if the bear regards us as food. Bears appear to have little regard for the state of consciousness of their victim while feeding.

Due to the fact that bears are forced to store food for their long hibernation periods, most of their dietary needs involve fat content. What this means to you, if you are being attacked as a food source, is that they’re prone to go after intestines, and other internal organs. To get there, of course, they will have to claw away at the skin casing, and the rib cage, while you lay conscious, trying to fight for your life, with one paw holding you down, as they rip these fat-laden morsels from your body.

“That still does not help me!” screams the victim of agonizing back pain. It may not, I’m forced to admit, but it may answer the question why God can’t hear your cries. Some people are screaming louder.

Wearing a Mask the Face Grows Into


The subtext within Shooting the Elephant describes our ongoing struggle to find an authentic voice in the midst of ceding to authority and group thought. Shooting the Elephant is about a moment in Eric Arthur Blair’s (George Orwell) young life when he was forced, by a number of forces, to shoot an elephant. The task of a great writer is to take such a relatively benign moment in their life and translate it into a meaningful moment, and they do so by attempting to dig into the depths of why the players involved acted the way they did. In the course of discovery, an author may also become obsessed with why they acted the way they did. What was my motivation at the time, a writer may ask, and what does it say about me, or what does it say about humanity as a whole? 

As a standalone, i.e., listing off the events that took place, I’m guessing that the aspiring Eric Arthur Blair considered the story incomplete and without purpose. I’m guessing that he probably wrote and rewrote it so many times, and introduced creative bridges, that he couldn’t remember which details took place and which details he created to support the bridge between actual events that took place and that which would make the moment transcendent.

We can also guess, based upon what Blair would achieve under the pseudonym George Orwell, that the search for the quality story, supported by a quality theme, was the driving force behind his effort. If the driving force behind writing a story is to achieve fame or acclaim, so goes the theory, you’ll have neither the fame nor a quality story. The mentality most quality writers bring to a piece is that fame and acclaim are great, but it should be nothing more than a welcome byproduct of a well-written piece. Shooting the Elephant is a good story, but it’s the fact that it has a fantastic purpose-driven, central message that led Eric Arthur Blair to achieve fame as George Orwell.

It’s also possible –knowing that Shooting the Elephant was one of Orwell’s first stories– that the theme of the story occurred in the exact manner Orwell portrays, and he built the story around that theme, and he then proceeded to build a writing career around that theme. The actuality of what happened to Orwell, while employed as the British Empire’s police officer in Burma is impossible to know, and subject to debate, but the quality of the psychological examination Orwell puts into the first person, ‘I’ character is not debatable, as it relays to the pressure the onlookers exert on the main character, based on his mystique. It’s also the reason Orwell wrote this story, and the many other stories that examine this theme in many different ways.

The first person, ‘I’ character of George Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant was a sub-divisional police officer of the town of Burma. Orwell writes how this job, as sub-divisional police officer, brought him to a point where he began to see the evil underbelly of imperialism for what it was, a result of the Burmese people resenting him for his role as the one placed among them to provide the order the British Empire for the otherwise disorderly “natives” of Burma. Orwell writes, how he in turn, began to loathe some of the Burmese as a result, while secretly cheering them on against the occupiers, his home country Britain. It all came to a head, for him, when a trained elephant went must<1>. Orwell’s responsibility, to those he swore to protect, and to those who commissioned him to protect, as a sub-divisional police officer, was to shoot the elephant.

Orwell describes the encounter in this manner:

“It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism – the real motives for which despotic governments act.”

The escaped elephant gone must wreaked some carnage in his path from the bazaar to the spot where Orwell came upon him. En route to the eventual spot where Orwell came upon the elephant, Orwell encountered several Burmese people that informed him of the elephant gone must. Orwell then discovered a dead man on the elephant’s destructive path that Orwell describes as a black Dravidian<2>coolie in one spot of the story, and a Coringhee<3> coolie in another. Several witnesses confirmed, for Orwell, the fact that the elephant had killed the man.

When the ‘I character’ finally comes upon the elephant, he sees it “peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow,” Orwell then describes the Burmese throng that surrounded him:

“It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib<4>. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing – no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.”

Orwell states that he did not want to shoot the elephant, but he felt compelled by the very presence of the thousands of “natives” surrounding him to proceed. He writes:

“A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that (coolie) up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh.”

In the aftermath of the shooting of the animal, Orwell describes the controversy that arose, and he concluded it in the following manner:

“I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.”

The Hard-Ass Boss

Our supervisor enjoyed the mystique of being a hard-ass. He enjoyed having those of us under him believe that he would do whatever it took to get maximum efficiency out of his employees. If we did well, he took credit for it. He was proud to take credit for it, and we were to feel proud that we made him look good. If we did poorly, in whatever time we had to correct our errors in the probationary period, not only did he deflect 100% of the blame to the accused, but he had them unceremoniously stricken from the record in some stylistic homage to Josef Stalin. We had a friend sitting next to us, laughing at our jokes and telling us stories from their life one day, and we had an empty desk sitting next to us the next. If he didn’t choreograph the chilling effect that had on the team, he might have taken credit for it if we asked him about it.

In a corporate world where a subpar employee has so many chances to recover from past performance that it’s an ongoing joke among employees that they could set the building ablaze and nothing of consequence would happen, our immediate supervisor stood out. In a corporate climate of managers defining supervisors on their creative abilities to retain employees and receive quality, employee review scores from those employees, our supervisor was an aberration. I do not know if the numbers we produced for him placed him above reproach among his superiors, or if my fellow employees were afraid to score him low on their reviews of his tenure as their boss, but he managed to remain a supervisor of a team that hated him. If the reader knows anything about the corporate climate of America today, they know that is a near-herculean chore. 

The walk to an unscheduled, closed-door, one-on-one with this supervisor was equivalent to a criminal suspect being frog marched into a courthouse. The audience finds themselves caught between trying to see the emotions on accused’s face and trying to look away to preserve the accused’s dignity. These moments informed us that in a world of supervisors claiming to have our back, in closed-door sessions with Human Resources and their managers, we had one that had so little concern for us that he did not even try to fake the support our other supervisors likely did.  

Those of us that worked under this hard ass boss knew he would not defend us, even if we had verifiable reasons that warranted a defense. We figured that if we had that reason that we might have to go to our Human Resources department to mount our own defense, and there was also a sneaking suspicion that we might have to mount a defense against him in that meeting.

This resulted in most of us believing that he cared little about us and only about advancing his mystique, until it advanced him within the company. Was this a fair characterization? It might not have been, but it was pervasive throughout the team, and he never did anything to dispel us of this notion.

Thus, when I was frog marched into my first unscheduled one-on-one session with him, I was astonished to find out that not only did I not receive the most severe punishment possible, but I didn’t receive the punishment specifically proscribed for my alleged offense. He informed me of the charges against me, and he provided print outs of my action in the event that I might mount a defense, and then he cut my punishment in half. He did so in a congenial manner that I found unsettling, and his unassuming smile of sympathy was so shocking that I experienced an inexplicable disappointment.

Another inexplicable emotion I experienced was a diminished respect for him that I couldn’t avoid pursuing. My characterization of him, compiled data furnished by him and the group thought that pronounced such characterizations after all of his actions, left me with blanks to fill that included pleasant and unassuming characteristics.

He offered me another pleasant and unassuming smile in the silence that followed.

“See, I’m not such a bad guy,” he said.

Had he had asked me what I thought of this new side of him, before I left the boardroom, I would’ve told him that he would have been better off refraining from all that smiling. “Smiles look weird on your face,” is something I might have said. I would have added that there was nothing unusual, or unattractive about that smile, it just looked odd on him. I also would have informed him that we both would’ve been better off if just gave me the proscribed punishment for my offense. I would’ve told him that the mystique he had a hand in creating that which was so firmly entrenched, by the time we spoke in this one-on-one, and that he was in a no-win situation … If it was his hope that I like him, or that we begin to think that he’s not such a bad guy after all. I would’ve informed him that once you establish a firm, hard-ass leadership mystique, doing otherwise will only lead the recipient of your leniency to believe that you are flexing an authoritative muscle in a condescending reminder to those under your stewardship that they will forever be subjected to your whims and moods, until they leave the room loathing you more than they had when they entered.

I would’ve ended my assessment by informing him that he’s worked hard to foster this image, and sustain this mystique, that he should probably just sit back and enjoy it. The employees on your team are now working harder than they ever have, because they fear what you won’t do anything to help them if they don’t. They are also putting a great deal of effort into avoiding anything that could even be reasonably perceived as wrongdoing, based on the idea that if they get caught up in something that you won’t defend them. I would tell him that by firmly establishing yourself as a hard-ass boss you’ve given up the freedom of latitude in your reactions. We’ve adjusted our working lives to this mask you created, and any attempt you make, going forward, to foster a “nice guy” image will be perceived as weakness, and it will not redound to the benefit of any of the parties involved.

It’s too late for you, and your current mystique, I would inform him, but if you want to escape this cycle in your next management position, clear your desk library of all of these unread “how-to lead” guides that you have arranged for maximum visibility and pick up a copy of Orwell’s Shooting the Elephant. In this story, you will find the true detriment of creating a hard-ass boss mask, until your face grows into it, and while it may impress your superiors to be this way, the downside will arrive when you try to impress upon the natives” the idea that you’re not such a bad guy after all, and you spend the rest of your days trying to escape the spiraling duality of these expectations.

<1> Must, or Musth, is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones.

<2> A Dravidian is described as any of a group of intermixed peoples chiefly in S India and N Sri Lanka

<3> A Coringhee coolie” refers to such an Indian immigrant working in colonial Burma as an unskilled laborer in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

<4> Sahib –A name of Arabic origin meaning “holder, master or owner”.

The Conspiracy Theory of Game 6, 2002


I am not a conspiracy guy. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, I think Elvis is dead, and Paul McCartney is not. I don’t believe Colombian drug lords took the lives of Nicole Simpson and Ron Brown, and I don’t believe that the American Government had any involvement in the terrorist incident that occurred on 9/11/2001, but I do believe that the officiating in game six of the Western Conference Finals, in 2002, was either so incompetent, or so biased, that it invited this unfortunate ‘C’ word into the conversation.

I don’t know if the two NBA officials, in question, missed calls or made multiple bad calls that led to twenty-seven Laker free throws in the fourth quarter, on May 31, 2002, for the purpose of getting one more game out of this heated, popular series, or if they just wanted the Los Angeles Lakers to win. I don’t believe the conspiracy, if there was one, reached into the upper echelon of the NBA or NBC, or that these two NBA officials had any money on the game. I do think, however, that these officials had a bias towards the Lakers, reflected in the calls they made, that ended up affecting this game, and I think that latter point is near irrefutable. I also think it’s plausible that the officials may have been trying to make up for the “bad, or missed,” calls that some complain happened to favor the Sacramento Kings in game five of the series. Whatever the case is, the officials of this particular game, made a number of calls that provided an insurmountable advantage to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It can be very enticing to be that guy that defaults to conspiracy theory any time their team loses. Doing so prevents a fan from having to deal with the fact that our team may not have been as skilled, as clutch, or as lucky as the other team in those decisive moments when their team lost.

Poor officiating is poor officiating, and most rabid sports fans need to take a deep breath of fresh air to reboot. Most sport fans need to accept the idea that until we load these games up with computer sensors, or mobile robots, there are going to be bad calls, and missed calls that cost one team a game. It’s the human element of the game that results in the fact that game officials –even in the age of instant replays– are going to make bad calls.

I’ve dropped the ‘C’ word in the past. It’s what die-hard fans do in the heat-of-the-moment, but at some point, we all realize that more often than not, our team is going to lose. It’s hard to be rational in the heat-of-the-moment and realize that even though the bad call happened to be a bad call, it was nothing more than a bad call. Age and experience have taught me that more often than not, the ‘C’ word is often better left in the hands of the screaming drunk at the end of the bar, watching his team get annihilated.

There is one conspiracy charge, however that I may never be able to shake. If I live for another forty years, and I become twice as rational as I am now, I may still be decrying the unfairness that occurred in Game 6, 2002 of the Western Conference Finals. To say that I’m not alone with these concerns would be an understatement, as this game has become one of the most popular games cited by those conspiracy theorists that claim that the NBA will do “whatever it takes” to get its most popular teams in the championship.

To attempt to put all of these Game 6, 2002 conspiracy theories to rest, Roland Beech, of 182.com, provided an in-depth analysis of the game. After this exhaustive review, Beech found that the:

“Officiating hurt the King’s chances at victory.”  He also declared, “No nefarious scheme on the part of the refs to determine the outcome.”

Sheldon Hirsch from Real Clear Sports expounded on Beech’s findings, commenting that the Kings:

“Were clearly unlucky, (but) that’s not the same thing as being cheated.”

After reading, and rereading Beech’s analysis, I’ve found Beech’s findings to be meticulous, and objective. These findings, however, have done little to quell my irrational condemnation of two of the three referees that handled Game 6, 2002, and a Game 6, 2002 cloud has loomed over every NBA game I’ve watched since, and will continue to be there in any NBA games I might watch in the future.

Corroborating Evidence?

When former NBA referee Tim Donaghy received a conviction for betting on games in 2007, my first thought went to Game 6, 2002. He was not an official in that game, it turns out, but he did submit a letter, and later a book, that suggested a collusive effort on the part of two of the three referees did affect that game’s outcome. This letter does not mention the teams involved in Game 6, 2002, but the Kings v. Lakers series was the lone playoff series to go seven games in 2002.

“Referees A, F and G (Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney, and Ted Bernhardt) were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 (Kings) and 6 (Lakers) in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 (Kings) victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim (Donaghy) learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F favored Team 6 (Lakers). Personal fouls [resulting in injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”

Then-NBA Commissioner David Stern denied the allegation Donaghy made in this letter, stating that they were a desperate act of a convicted felon. Stern said Donaghy was a “singing, cooperating witness”, and Stern has since referred to any, and all, Donaghy allegations as those coming from a convicted felon.

It is true that Donaghy is a convicted felon. He received a conviction for betting on games he officiated. Does that mean everything he wrote in this particular letter is false? How many times has a convicted felon provided evidence that that others have later corroborated? At this point, however, there are no corroborations for Donaghy’s allegations, and a cynical outsider could say that Donaghy picked this particular, controversial game to serve up as a sort of plea bargain either to the FBI, or to the society that holds him as the lone, proven corrupt official of the NBA. Some have also said that Donaghy’s explosive allegation was made soon after the NBA required Donaghy pay them $1 million dollars in restitution.

It’s oh-so-tempting for scorned Kings’ fans to believe everything Donaghy wrote, and deny everything the former lawyer Stern said to protect his product, but it is difficult to deny the “desperate act” characterization Stern uses when referencing Donaghy’s allegations. Especially when we put ourselves in Donaghy’s shoes and we imagine how desperate he had to be in his efforts to salvage the reputation of being the lone NBA official convicted of throwing games.

Corroborating Outrage!

In the absence of corroborating evidence, the outraged King’s fan can find solace in the corroborated outrage that resulted from the game by consumer activist Ralph Nader, the announcer of the game Bill Walton, and the numerous, prominent sportswriters that watched the game. The latter called Game 6, 2002 one of the poorest officiated important games in the history of the NBA, and that characterization is almost unanimous.

At the conclusion of the game, consumer advocate Ralph Nader wrote an email to then-NBA Commissioner David Stern:

“You and your league have a large and growing credibility problem, Referees are human and make mistakes, but there comes a point that goes beyond any random display of poor performance. That point was reached in Game 6 which took away the Sacramento Kings Western Conference victory.”

As evidence of his charge, Nader cited Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon who wrote that too many of the calls in the fourth quarter (when the Lakers received 27 foul shots) were “stunningly incorrect,” all against Sacramento.

After noting that the three referees involved in Game 6, 2002 “are three of the best in the game”, Wilbon wrote:

“I have never seen officiating in a game of consequence as bad as that in Game 6 … When (Scott) Pollard, on his sixth and final foul, didn’t as much as touch Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal). Didn’t touch any part of him. You could see it on TV, see it at courtside. It wasn’t a foul in any league in the world. And (Vlade) Divac, on his fifth foul, didn’t foul Shaq. (These fouls) weren’t subjective or borderline or debatable. And these fouls didn’t just result in free throws, they helped disqualify Sacramento’s two low-post defenders. And one might add, in a 106-102 Lakers’ victory, this officiating took away what would have been a Sacramento series victory in 6 games.

“I wrote down in my notebook six calls that were stunningly incorrect, all against Sacramento, all in the fourth quarter when the Lakers made five baskets and 21 foul shots to hold on to their championship.” 

Wilbon discounted any conspiracy theories about an NBA-NBC desire for Game 7 etc., but he then wrote that:

“Unless the NBA orders a review of this game’s officiating, perceptions and suspicions, however presently absent any evidence, will abound and lead to more distrust and distaste for the games in general.” 

In his letter to Stern, Nader also cited the basketball writer for USA Today, David Dupree, who wrote:

“I’ve been covering the NBA for 30 years, and it’s the poorest officiating in an important game I’ve ever seen.”

Grant Napear, the Kings’ radio and TV play-by-play man the last two decades, still labels Game 6:

“Arguably the worst officiated playoff game in NBA history.”

When LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke asked Commissioner David Stern about Game 6, 2002, in person, during the NBA Finals that year, Plaschke states that Stern turned defensive:

“He looked at me,” Plaschke said, “pointed his finger, and said, ‘If you’re going to write that there is a conspiracy theory, then you better understand that you’re accusing us of committing a felony. If you put that in the paper, you better have your facts straight,” Plaschke said. Plaschke alluded to the fact that he (Plaschke) didn’t have any facts, and as a result he did back off, but that he had just wanted to ask Stern about aspects of Game 6, 2002, that Plaschke had witnessed. 

Bill Simmons, of ESPN, called the game:

“The most one-sided game of the past decade, from an officiating standpoint.”

Nader concluded his letter to Stern:

“There is no guarantee that this tyrannical status quo will remain stable over time, should you refuse to bend to reason and the reality of what occurred. A review that satisfies the fans’ sense of fairness and deters future recurrences would be a salutary contribution to the public trust that the NBA badly needs.”

The point that I believe Nader and Wilbon are alluding to is that there has long been a conspiracy among NBA fans that the NBA wants the Lakers to win. The Lakers are showtime. They are West and Chamberlain, Magic and Kareem, and Kobe and Shaq, and the reasons that the NBA might favor a Lakers team in the championship begins with the word money and ends with a whole lot of exclamation points. This point is not debatable among conspiracy theorists, and non-conspiracy-minded fans, but how much the NBA would do to make that happen has been the core of conspiracy theories for as long as I’ve been alive.

Conspiracy theory exists in all sports, of course, but they are more prominent in the NBA, because most officiated calls in the NBA are so close, and so subjective, that they invite more scrutiny, more interpretation, and more conspiracy theories than any other sport.

What was Stern’s reaction to Nader’s letter?

“He spoke like the head of a giant corporate dictatorship,” Nader said.

The Point Beyond the Random

Some may see it as a populist play for a consumer advocate, like Nader, to cover an insignificant basketball game in such a manner. I do believe, however, that Nader was right to warn Stern that public sentiment could turn away from his product, the NBA, when such a point arrives that the normal conspiratorial whispers crank up to screams of indignation. I know that those whispers gained more prominence for me, after Game 6, 2002, and in every game I watched thereafter.

“There comes a point that goes beyond any random,” Nader wrote.

There comes a point that no fan can pinpoint when disappointment becomes outrage, and outrage progresses into conspiracy theory, and conspiracy theory becomes such an outright lack of trust. There comes a point where those that still believe in a fair NBA where outcomes are not predetermined, and victories are granted based on merit, are laughed off, in the same manner WCW fans are laughed at for still believing the same of their sport.

“The Kings could’ve won that game,” is the usual response to charges that the officials decided the game, “And if they had secured a couple more rebounds, made a couple more field goals, and free throws, they would’ve. The Kings had numerous opportunities to win that game, no matter how many free throws the Lakers were awarded in the fourth quarter (27) of game six. And … and, if the Kings had won game seven, at home to boot, this whole matter would be moot. They didn’t, and the rest is history, Laker history!”  

This response often quells further talk of bias and conspiracy theories, because it is true. It’s also true that the two teams in the 2002 Western Conference Finals series were so evenly matched that that the series went seven games, and of those seven games, one game was decided by more than seven points, and the two games that preceded Game 6, 2002, were both decided by a single point, and the final game of the series couldn’t be determined until overtime. It’s also true that when two teams are so evenly matched, anything can provide a tipping point … even officiating.

An “Oh! Come on!” often follows this and what follows that is a statement like: “Your team’s job is to make it so the refs cannot determine the outcome.” Again, this is all true, but outraged Kings’ fans would admit that their 2002 team wasn’t that much better than the 2002 Lakers, and if they were better, it was by a smidgen, and that smidgen was wiped out in game six by the Lakers having twenty-seven free throws in one quarter –the fourth quarter– after averaging 22 free throws throughout the first five games.

I am not a conspiracy guy, and I’m often on the other side of this argument, informing the conspiracy theorist that there isn’t more than meets the eye. Most of the time, the truth is the truth, the facts are the facts, and scoreboard is scoreboard. Facts are stubborn things, and they’re also pretty boring. It’s boring, and anti-climactic to say that one common, ordinary man could take down a president. There’s little-to-no literary value in stating that a bunch of ragtag losers could take down one of America’s greatest monuments to commerce without conspiratorial assistance, and it does nothing to ease our pain to admit that a team beat our team based on superior athletic talent alone. And raised in a pop culture that feeds into our idea that there has to be more than meets the eye, we end up believing that there is, as we stare at those zeroes on the scoreboard, and we watch the other team celebrate, and we listen to the post-game interviews with a lump in our throat. This dream season can’t just be over, we think. There has to be more to it, but most of them time there isn’t. Most of the time one team loses and another wins, and the conspiracy theorist becomes more ridiculous every time they attempt to say that there has to be something more to it.

Having said all that, those of us that try to avoid the ‘C’ word as often as we can, ask those that offer bemused smiles to our conspiracy theories if it’s just as ridiculous to suggest that these moments have never happened. To which, the rational fan will say, “I’m not going to say it’s never happened, but it didn’t happen here.”

If it didn’t happen here, even the most objective analysis would find that two of the three officials involved in Game 6, 2002, made an inordinate amount of calls in favor of the Lakers, and because these two teams were so evenly matched, those calls provided an insurmountable advantage for the 2002 Lakers. We’ll never know whether or not these “best officials in the game” were just incompetent for one game in their careers, or if they were acting in a nefarious manner, but those of us that watched every second of the May 31, 2002 game –and slammed the “off” button as hard as we’ve ever slammed an “off” button before, or since– believe that it was a point beyond the random that damaged the reputation of the game in a manner that the NBA might never be able to retrieve.

Brutal Honesty in the Age of Being Real


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of being real, it was the age of delusional thinking, it was the epoch of honesty, it was the epoch of lies, it was the season of transparency, it was the season of illusions, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going to achieve, what we had already achieved, what we would never achieve – in short, it was a period of time that needed to exist to rectify a period that may never have existed to the superlative degree of comparison that some of its noisiest authorities defined for the era.

It was the age of being real. It was the age of reality TV. Did reality TV bring about the advent of being real, or was reality TV a byproduct of it, in the manner a body puts out byproducts it can’t use? Did art imitate life or reflect it? Or, was reality TV a refraction of a very small sampling of the culture that the shows’ producers projected out into the society as a measure of realness that wasn’t ‘real’ to the superlative degree they portrayed?

"Lars and The Real Girl"

“Lars and The Real Girl”

How many times in one episode, of one reality show, did one participant say, “Hey, I’m just being real with ya” to assuage the guilt they might otherwise have associated with insulting another person? How many times did one of these shows’ participants gain a certain degree of realness on the back of the individual they were insulting? How many times was being real used as a confrontational device to belittle those people that were less real, until the real participant managed to gain some sort of superior definition?

One could be real without any substantive reflection in the era of being real. Being real, in such instances, was nothing more than a cudgel used to diminish another’s values. It was used as a weapon to castigate its victims into being more real, or more like the speaker, until the viewer of this exchange was left reflecting upon the disparity involved in their thinking. At that point, the viewer was supposed to accept that thought as real thinking, if they ever hoped to gain greater stature in the real-o-sphere. Most of us now reflect back on the being real era, and see it as an intellectually dishonest era, designed to promote the drama of the interactions, and the proselytizing of the speakers.

Being real was supposed to, at the very least, have a conjugal relationship with brutal honesty, and some of us used some nugget of that message to put more brutal honesty in our personal presentations, regardless if anyone thought we were more real or not. Those of us that attempted to present ourselves in a manner that could be called brutal honesty, in regards to how we thought we should be perceived, encountered a number of surprising reactions.

The most surprising reaction we received was no reaction. Our audience took it in stride, because they thought they were just as honest with themselves as we were. They lived with the idea that they were so honest that most people couldn’t handle their special brand of honesty. It didn’t dawn on them, however, that their version of brutal honesty was devoted to assessing others. Very few have temerity to point this idea out to these people, or that their particular brand of being real incorporated many of the same elements used by the dictionary to define the word delusional. Those of us that have attempted to assist others to view themselves in an objective light, to have them examine themselves in the era of being real, have encountered some confrontational push back.

Those that have never made a concerted effort to be honest about themselves, might expect that one being harshly critical of one’s self to be somewhat influential. The expectation I had was that others might “raise their game” in this regard, to be as honest as I was about myself. They didn’t, because, again, these Delusional People thought that they already were, and they thought they had always been as honest as I was.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to displaying brutal honesty about one’s self, in the age of being real, was that our listeners began to think less of us. One would think that a person that provides brutal truths about their life would be embraced, as being “So engaged in brutal honesty that it’s refreshing.” One would think with such brutal honesty coming their way, the listener couldn’t help but be more honest in return. No such luck. What often happens is that they join a person in their refreshing, honest assessments about themselves, but these people don’t engage the same objectivity in regards to them.

“How do you think you’d do in jail?” A Delusional Person asks Frank.

“Not well,” Frank replies with refreshing, brutal honesty.

The Delusional Person may laugh at this point, because being this honest can be humorous when the recipient is allowed to bathe in the weaknesses of its purveyor. The Delusional Person will often agree with Frank’s frank assessment of himself, but they won’t assess themselves by the same measure.

“How do you think you would do?” Frank returns.

“I think I’d do all right,” The Delusional Person replies.

Even in the age of being real, most people fell prey to projecting themselves into scenarios with images from their ideal state, still dancing in their head. This particular Delusional Person was once a championship-level wrestler that endured exhaustive workouts, and exercised levels of self-discipline, that most non-athletes will never know. This resulted in The Delusional Person being a finely crafted specimen that at one time may, indeed, have been capable of handling the hand-to-hand combat situations that are reported to occur within the confines of a cell block. The Delusional Person remembers those days with fondness.  He remembers those days as if they were yesterday, for the rest of their lives. Most Delusional People haven’t lifted a weight more than a hundred times in the last fifteen years, yet they still picture themselves in that peak physical form when putting themselves in scenarios. A more brutal and honest assessment, for this particular Delusional Person, would have been: “I don’t know, but I suspect that all of the years I’ve spent sitting behind a computer, and avoiding physical workouts, would be exposed early on.”

We all picture ourselves in peak physical condition when we listen to others speak about how they have let themselves go. We laugh when others joke about those that have gained weight, while forgetting that just last week we were just forced to purchase a thirty-six inch waist on a pair of pants for the first time. We’ll do this when we speak about the people we grew up with that “now look so old”, even though we’re now using hair-dye, wrinkle cream, and supplements to fight the aging process. We aren’t lying when we do this either, we’re projecting that idyllic image of ourselves into these scenarios that used to be able to lay out an entire prison yard when we were called upon to do so … in the movies.

Another surprising, and somewhat depressing, reaction to presenting one’s self in a brutally honest manner to a group of listeners is that even the most polite listeners begin to feel free to be brutally honest with the brutally honest:

“Are you sure that you’re capable of that?” a polite, and sweet, listener asked after I informed her that I threw my hat in the ring a promotion that had everyone abuzz. The surprising aspect of this question was not that she asked it, for it could be said that she was looking out for me in her own way, but that she had never asked such a question of any of our other co-workers. With them, she issued what could be called a Hallmark card-style responses to their desire to advance within the company. “Good luck!” she would say to them, or “I know you can do it.”

She asked me to reconsider whether or not I was qualified. Why? Was she jealous? After processing this, with the acknowledgement of her overwhelming polite and kind attributes, I realized that her concerns were simple reactions to all of the brutal honesty presentations I had provided her over the years. She didn’t want me to get hurt by the realities of my limits, limits that I had expressed in the course of being honest with my vulnerabilities, and she was just reacting to what she had been told by me.

As a result of such actions, people like my sweet, polite friend can inadvertently assist the person striving for brutal honesty into a depressing state of their reality. The honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’re doing this to themselves, and that they’re becoming too honest. Their friends aren’t helping, but their friends are just listening and forming opinions based on what they’ve heard the speaker say, and they’re regurgitating the speaker’s harsh and brutal opinions of their capabilities back on them. The speaker’s friends are, in fact, greasing the skids to a form of depression. An honest assessor realizes, about halfway down this spiral, that they’ve become so realistic in their assessments that they’ve become brutally realistic.

They may start avoiding attempts to advance themselves, because they’ve become so realistic that they’re now asking themselves so many questions that they’re afraid to try and advance. As a result of such thorough examination, they’ve also become so realistic that they don’t think it’s realistic for any honest assessor to succeed. These could be called minor setbacks in the grand scheme of becoming more honest with one’s self, until the person engaging in brutal honesty begins to see that all of The Delusional People around them –some with half of their talent– begin to succeed beyond them. These Delusional People may even know that they’re lying to themselves, on some level, but they’re harmless little, white lies that everyone tells themselves in the quest for advancement, and if you can get all of them to add up just right, they may become a reality that no one can deny.

When Molly was promoted to this position that created the buzz, the confusion it created was almost painful. It wasn’t Armageddon, and no one was harmed by the company’s decision, but the aftermath of this tragedy left a proverbial wasteland that could be confused with some of the worst, real historic tragedies. The people that had devoted a large portion of their lives to this company felt that it could only be outweighed by familial or personal tragedies. The world moves on after a political disaster, and religious hypocrisies can be overcome through personal devotion, but a seismic disaster on par with a person of Molly’s character, and work ethic, landing a top gig in their company can leave reverberations that are felt throughout a person’s life. The company is where most people live most often. It’s a better indicator of how they’re living, as it’s the place where most people devote most of their resources. When things go wrong in the workplace, in other words, those things can reverberate throughout the rest of that person’s life. 

“Part of an interview involves salesmanship,” those in the know would tell the employees gathered in a team meeting, and that assessment was to remain within those closed doors, as off the record comments. This assessment was a “wink and a nod” attempt to assuage the confusion that was building around what many considered an absolute travesty. And many thought the truth would find a way to rear her beautiful head and rectify the situation. 

Those that have been in similar situations learn the term “new reality”. If those in the know comment on such a situation, they will say something along the lines of “You should be happy for Molly”. This leaves the suggestion that most of the confused, are confused about her promotion as a result of personal animus.

“That’s all well and good,” was the general reaction to these off the record comments, “But if Molly has any moral fiber, or conscience, she won’t be able to sleep at night.” No one cares. Molly has scoreboard.

Amid the personal and professional confusion, one honest assessor, from the out of the loop sector, stepped forth and professed the harsh reality of the situation: “Molly simply fed into the leadership mystique of her superiors better than others.”

When others concerned themselves with learning the inner machinations of the company’s system in a proficient manner that would impress their superiors, Molly was purchasing gift baskets for boss day. When others were out volunteering for special projects to pad their resumé, and working untold amounts of overtime to put a smile on their bosses’ faces, Molly was at the bosses’ lunch tables laughing at their jokes. And when all of the applicants were drilling the interviewer with the bullet points of their resumé, Molly was feeding into whatever mystique they wanted to gain in that particular setting. This was Molly’s primary skill set.

It was a bow atop the corporate basket of lies given to bosses, on boss day, in the age of being real. In the age of being real, employees began to demand more recognition for their accomplishments, and management responded, but in the end the employees realized that it was all part of a scripted, choreographed, and edited production designed to pacify their audience by mentioning their name in the credits that rolled out at the end of the day. When crunch time came, however, it was the Delusional People that had learned how to feed the mystique of those in the know that left everyone else feeling malnourished.

As the nuns told us in grade school, “Those that live in a dishonest manner will eventually get theirs” and that “Truth has a way of prevailing”, and Molly was eventually discovered to be “not a good fit” for the position, but she was promoted up and out of the position, and out of the department, and the person that replaced her was yet another mystique feeder.

The problem –those naïve enough to believe in the age of being real– discovered was not with Molly, but that Molly was emblematic of the problems inherent in a system that the honest people once believed would find a way to provide rewards to those honest, hard working people that put their nose to the grindstone. The problem that seemed so complex to those of us that tried to wrestle with it, turned out to be so simple. The problem was that those that controlled the spigots of reward for the hard working women and men in company were humans themselves, and humans are inherently susceptible to flattery.

The nuns also provided their grade school students the proviso that if you’re living the honest life with the expectation of eventually receiving concretized recognition for it, you’re doing it for all the wrong reasons. We knew that when they said this, they were preaching gospel. Even if we didn’t know the depth of their statement, at the time, some part of us knew that the rewards of living the honest life involved intangible, internal, and spiritual rewards. When the Delusional People began to beat us to the more tangible goals, however, most of the honest assessors in the group would be forced to admit that it was difficult not to be affected by it, if they were being real with you.

The Paris Syndrome


There are a number of psychological tactics that modern casinos will spare no expense to learn, and employ, to get an individual to part with more of their money. Some would go so far to say that anytime that a person steps into a modern day casino, they’re stepping into the finished product of think tanks, and psychological studies. These casinos want to create an exciting, yet soothing experience that distracts the gambler from the stress they might associate with losing all of their money, but there is no psychological tactic more endemic to the ultimate success of a modern day casino than the psychological manipulations of expectations.

“We’ll always have Paris.”

Expectation, successful casinos have learned, is more powerful than the reality of accomplishment, or winning. When a slot machine player sees a triple bar drop into the first slot, only to be followed by another triple bar, that brief moment of excited expectation has been determined to provide the player a more powerful psychological boost than the reality that would occur if that third slot were filled with another third triple bar.

When that king eventually drops, with strategic slowness, into that third slot, we’re disappointed when we look up at the menu list of winnings atop the slot machine and realize we’ve actually won nothing, but the thrill that occurred before that third slot was filled, and the idea that we came “so close” is more powerful, and more conducive to us continuing on that machine, than winning would actually be. Without drawing on that exact scenario, Rosecrans Baldwin, author of the book Paris, I Love You, but You’re Bringing me Down, suggests that the same psychological thrill of expectation occurs when one plans a vacation to Paris, France.

Paris is the world renowned capital of love. For as long as most of us have been alive, Paris has provided the setting for some of the most famous, romantic movies, books, and songs. Many people we know list visiting Paris on their bucket list. If, for no other reason, than to find out what everyone is going on about. There’s an air of mystery about the city that we all need to experience for ourselves.  As is normally the case, the narrative, and the expectation derived from that narrative, is much more powerful than the reality. Some, that have vacationed in Paris, are often so distressed by the reality of what they experience that it can cause a psychological disorder called The Paris Syndrome.

“Japanese visitors are particularly susceptible to this,” writes Rosecrans Baldwin. “This is possibly due to the uber-romantic image that Paris holds for the Japanese.” This can get so bad, for some Japanese travelers, Baldwin writes, that “The Japanese embassy used to repatriate sufferers with a doctor or nurse aboard the plane ride back to Japan.”

NBC News also had a report on this subject that stated that:

“Around a dozen Japanese tourists a year need psychological treatment after visiting Paris as the reality of unfriendly locals and scruffy streets clashes with their expectations, a newspaper reported on Sunday.”

That Sunday newspaper also quoted psychologist Herve Benhamou saying:

“Fragile travelers can lose their bearings. When the idea they have of (a place like Paris) meets the reality of what they discover, it can provoke a crisis.”

Bernard Delage, from an association called Jeunes Japon, that helps Japanese families settle in France, is also quoted as saying:

“In Japanese shops, the customer is king, whereas (in places like Paris) assistants hardly look at them … People using public transport all look stern, and handbag snatchers increase the ill feeling.”

A Japanese woman, Aimi, that had some experience with this disorder, told the paper:

“For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant … And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own.” {1}

After deciding to take up residence in Paris, author Rosecrans Baldwin found that:

“Smiling is discouraged for Parisians posing for documentation like Metro passes or tennis-court permits.” 

Most citizens, the world around, can identify with this procedure. We’ve all had experience with employees in legal departments, and DMVs, telling us that smiling is discouraged when posing for headshots that will appear in legal documentation. It’s not illegal to smile in those situations, just as it, presumably, is not illegal to smile when posing for Parisian documentation headshots, but it may have something to do with the fact that smiling for official documentation, makes it appear less official. With regards to this practice in Paris, writes Baldwin:

The discouragement of smiling for various legal documents gets to an elemental fact about living in France’s capital. That for a madly sentimental and Japanese tourist, visiting Paris is mostly about light, beauty, and fun with berets.  Living in Paris is different.  Living in Paris is business, and nothing to smile about.”{2}

Though this particular Paris Syndrome is obviously indigenous to Paris, the tenets of it could just as easily be applied to any popular tourist destination the world around. Midwestern Americans, for example, also live under this “customer is king” mentality, and they have for so long that they begin to take it for granted. Midwestern people know that the hotels and restaurants, of their locale, are so competitive that they won’t tolerate even an ambivalent employee. There are exceptions to the rule of course, but most people that travel to the Midwest, from other parts of the country, are shocked by the Midwestern hospitality.

“We expected it from you guys,” a hotel resident once said of the hospitality she experienced from Midwestern hotel employees. “You’re paid to be pleasant, but wandering around your city, we’ve discovered that you’re all like this,” she said as if she believed she had stepped into some alternate universe. “You’re all so nice.”  

Thus, when a Midwesterner gets so used to their locale’s common pleasantries —like the Japanese traveler, traveling to Paris— they are shocked by the contradictions that occur in their preferred travel destinations. They probably assumed that the top-notch customer service they’ve come to expect would be a given in their chosen destination, if not amplified with the kind of money they’re spending. They probably considered it such a given that they focused most of their attention on the other aspects of their dream vacation. Once they’ve come to terms with the reality of the situation, they’re so shocked that not only is their dream vacation ruined, but some become physically ill as a result.

This degree of ambivalence, directed at tourists, in some popular tourist locations, can occur in some of the first steps tourists make from the airplane to the terminal. Those wondering why this happens, should ask themselves what they thought of the thirty-second ant they watched leave an anthill. If they confess that they didn’t take the time to pick that ant out, and that they didn’t spend more than two seconds looking at those ants, they may expound upon the idea that seeing ants leave an anthill is such a common experience that they don’t even look at ant hills anymore, such is the plight of the service industry worker watching tourists disembark at popular tourist destinations.

You’re not an ant, you say? You’re a human being, and you’re not just any human being, you’re a human being with money to spend, money that helps pays their wages. The problem is that you’re probably not the thirty-second tourist that service industry worker has seen disembark that day, or even the 132nd. By the time you’ve stepped up to their counter, they’re probably so burnt out on tourists, that you’ve become a species lowering than ants to them. At least ants are self-sufficient, and they don’t complain about their lot in life, and they don’t live with the mindset that their existence should somehow be catered to in a manner that makes the ant feel special. Ants know their role, and on a less conscious level, they know their station in life. The harmony in that ant universe works so well that most service industry workers, in popular tourist destinations, probably believe that tourists could learn a lot from ants.

Some tourists are objective enough to acknowledge that poor service industry employees exist everywhere, even in their small town, yokel community, and they try to view this one ambivalent-to-hostile employee in that light. They also try to view their one bad experience, with this one ambivalent-to-hostile employee, as an aberration, so that they can go about enjoying the rest of their trip. Some Midwestern tourists also attempt to reconcile their indignation by convincing themselves of the fact that they’re small town yokels, unfamiliar with the ways of the big city, but they can’t shake the idea that their appearance should be considered somewhat special by these employees.

It isn’t too long after disembarking that the tourist comes to the realization that there are ten special tourists “looking to have a special time” behind them in line, and those tourists just want the special transaction in front of them to end, so they can finally get to the front of the line, to finish their transaction and get back to the craps table.

That “customer is king” mentality that these tourists live with is usually gone within hours, and the pattern of how things are done in this popular tourist destination becomes so apparent that by the time the tourist reaches the employee that dutifully hands them change without smiling, or even looking at them, and possibly trying to shortchange them, they’ve come to terms with the fact that those first few rude service industry employees were not, in fact, aberrations. Those that don’t recognize these patterns think that if they were that thirty-second ant, they might have a better chance of receiving more courteous treatment, if for no other reason than the idea that they might be considered something different from the lowest form of life on earth that service industry employees have deal with hour after hour, day after day: tourists.

Time; personal experiences published in online, travel forums; stories about mafia versus corporate ownership of Vegas; tales of prostitution and pickpockets; and the unsettling, almost weekly, settings on the show Cops have done some damage to the mystique of Las Vegas, but Paris’s mystique has not been forced to weather the such storms.

Living in Paris, Rosecrans Baldwin writes, does do some damage to that mystique however. Those that believe that Paris is the home of cutting edge artistic exploration are not wrong, in the greater sense, but they also have to explain how Britney Spears’ song Toxic, remained a staple of Parisian parties years after its release. Those that believe that Parisians have analytical palates far superior to the American one, have to explain Paris’s culinary fascination with the food from a chain of American restaurants called McDonald’s. These quirks may be no different than any popular travel destination around the globe, but it takes traveling to the destination, and living there, to find all this out.

“I enjoy the French Roast flavor,” I tell friends, “But I know that the term French Roast simply means robust. I have no illusions about the fact that any of the beans I use have actually spent any time in France. I know that some Americans make attachments to the term “French” in the same manner some French make American attachments to the food of McDonald’s, but I’m not so silly that I believe that the French Roast bean I enjoy is anything less than an Americanized version of this robust bean, but” and here’s where the wrinkle will form on the nose of the listener “I actually prefer this Americanized version.” 

That wrinkle will form on the nose of our fellow Americans, because most of those blessed with “analytical palates” believe that that ‘A’ word, Americanized, should never be used in conjunction with the exotic flavorings of the products that they deign worthy of purchase. Their use of the word “French” entails exotic styling in the chain of production, transportation, that may have involved some slow crossing of the Seine River on some French version of a Gondola before being docked in an elegant port with a beautiful French name that we cannot pronounce, and that those individual workers involved in the chain of production may have, at one point, sang a French sea chantey in striped shirts and handlebar mustaches. Those that wrinkle a nose believe that they are able to sniff out any ‘A’ word that may have wormed its way into the process that ended with them purchasing a French Roast product.

When one reads the descriptions from those that have actually walked the streets of Paris, and dined in her cafes, and tasted the true “French Roasted” bean, they learn that those cafés actually use old, over-roasted beans, and second-rate machines. We read that Parisians so prefer the robust flavoring that we term “French Roasted”, that their cafés actually use a low-cost, low quality bean to please their customer base. This actual un-Americanized, French Roasted bean would leave the unsuspecting, and truly analytical palates, with a thin and harsh taste in their mouth.

Paris is not about the taste of the coffee, some might argue, and no trip to Las Vegas would be ruined by the fact that a towel boy didn’t smile at me and welcome me to his city. All of these complaints seem so trivial, and inconsequential, in lieu of everything these two, popular travel destinations have to offer. Taken one by one, these complains may seem trivial, and inconsequential, but when a romanticized, excited traveler sits down to complete their dream of having a lunch in an elegant, little Parisian café, only to have an ambivalent-to-rude waiter deliver a cup of coffee that is so shockingly –and perhaps to them insultingly– inferior, that may only be one cup of coffee, and one waiter to the rest of us, but it may also be only one incident in a series of incidents, that leads to a pattern of behavior that shatters all of the illusions and dreams the starry eyed tourist may have had about that vacation they saved for so long for, that their country finds it necessary to have a doctor, or nurse, on board the plane home to help them deal with the fact that so many of their expectations, and so much of what they once believed in, were wrong.

{1}http://www.nbcnews.com/id/15391010/ns/travel-news/t/paris-syndrome-leaves-tourists-shock/#.Uys8r6hdWSo

{2} Baldwin, Rosecrans.  Things you didn’t know about Life in Paris.  Mental Floss.  May 2014.  Page 40-41. Magazine.

‘P’ is for Potential


“You have to create some dung to fertilize the flower,” Martin Sheen said when he was asked how he could only be proud of three movies in a career that listed 69 titles.

The fact that this was my favorite quote, for years, should’ve told me something about the dreams I had of becoming a writer. I believed that I had a capital ‘P’ emblazoned on my chest, until I realized that everyone else did too, and I hadn’t done enough to separate myself from the pack. The thing with the ‘P’ word that those in the card carrying ‘P’ world don’t know is that there is another ‘p’ word in the vocabulary of those that watch you. This is an evil ‘P’ word to those in the card carrying ‘P’ world. That ‘P’ word is performance.

HaloSome may have their ‘P’ word swinging before their face, in the manner a farmer puts a carrot on a stick before their horse. They may also wear it in every smile they give you, and those smiles tell you they are meant for something more, but they just don’t know what yet. When one runs across a true ‘P’ word, they know it when they see it, and it diminishes their capital ‘P’ a little by comparison. Most people are not unusually jealous, they’re happy, and they lead a great life, but when they run across one that carries a true ‘P’ on their various smiles, they decide that they would do just about anything for just one of those smiles.

When they speak of events that have occurred in their life, and they speak about them in a casual manner, the observer knows that the career that we currently share with them is just a way station for them, and we can’t help but be genuinely jealous in that moment.

Others wear this letter ‘P’ as a costume, in conversations, to cover for the fact that they haven’t achieved as much as they once thought possible. We’ll know these people when we see them too. All of these people teach us the various definitions of the ‘P’ word. We see the beauty in their smiles, and we perceive their limitlessness, but we’ll also see the evil ones. We’ll see that these definitions are defined by how the user uses it, and if they use it.

I thought I had a capital ‘P’ branded into my chest at one point. I didn’t. I thought I did though, and that thought prompted me to work my tail off to convince myself, and others, that it was truer than true. The idea that I pursued something, for which I had so little talent, amazes me now in retrospect, when I look back on the actual performances that convinced me that there was, at least, a lower case ‘P’ somewhere on my chest.

Those that manage their ‘P’ word correctly, rarely comment on it.  They don’t have to say it. It is the conclusion their observers reach soon after getting to know them. Those that wear the letter ‘P’ on their chest, as a costume, know this also.  They know that most in their audience are so loaded with insecurities that those insecurities can be translated into a variety of ‘P’ words, and ‘P’ word synonyms, if they do it right.  In order to do it right, however, they know to avoid performing in front of them. Give them silence, and let them fill in the rest.

“I can’t hang out with those two anymore,” a friend of mine told me one day after an outing with co-workers. I initially thought he was being a cool guy. A cool guy tells those around them that a fun and exciting night was boring; a cool guy tells those around them that a great movie, or album, sucked; and a cool guy stops all the plastic people, with all of their plastic proceedings, and drops a quick quip like: “The world sucks!” Cool guys can also reveal those nerds around them by saying that what we thought was such a great time, was time spent with nerds. I attempted to dispel what I thought were my friend’s cool guy condemnations by saying that those two were fun and entertaining, and that fun and entertaining people don’t usually hang out with two drips like us. He said that wasn’t it. He said his concern was work-related.

I attempted to dispel this notion by saying that our company didn’t discourage senior agents hanging out with employees, only managers. My friend believed he was born with a capital ‘P’ on his chest, and I thought this was another moment where his delusions of grandeur had gotten away from him. “It’s not that,” he concluded. “It’s that, they know what I think now.” Here I thought that all the symptoms I was witnessing added up to the fact that my friend had come down with a simple case of delusions, but as it turned out he was suffering from a complex case of grand delusion.

What his last sentence told me was that he knew his thoughts were never as complex, or as complicated as he wanted them to be, but those two didn’t have to know that. He was despondent. They knew. He told them what he thought. All those weeks and months he spent quietly sitting in the background cultivating, harvesting, and weaving the idea of his brilliance into gold by allowing these people to fill in the blanks for him were gone, shattered, in one night.

He feared that the grand delusions he had perpetrated in their world, had just been popped, and he feared that when Monday rolled around, they would know that he was just one of them, in the present, with a future that probably wouldn’t be that much different than theirs. On Monday, they would see him quietly typing away at his keyboard, in an office, and that visual would take on an entirely different meaning than it had on the Friday before our weekend outing.

The other employees around him took their jobs less seriously. They always got their work done, but they played, and talked, and joked. He didn’t. He was serious. He even went so far as to shush employees when management walked by. He had always been a quiet guy with few friends, and in the real world this defined him as an awkward person that had a difficult time mixing with other people. In the office world, these characteristics can lead to an employee gaining a mystique of being a model employee with a serious future. That night, spent with our two co-workers, revealed him as more of a quiet, socially awkward guy that feared authority. It made everything he had done to procure those grand delusions in their head feel pointless.

He feared that they would now believe he was what they saw, nothing more. The idea that he didn’t mix well with others, was once a silence thing, but silence begets the ‘P’ word if one does it often enough and allows others to fill that silence in with their own exciting and intoxicating words. Why does he behave so well? Why doesn’t he mix well with others? I’ll tell you why, that boy’s got the ‘P’ word in spades. They fill that silence with words that you wouldn’t believe, until you accidentally fill those blanks in for them one night, while drinking, and there’s no turning back after that, or so he feared.

There were times when he spoke his mind during that night, and our two co-workers realized he didn’t know everything. He wasn’t as wise as they feared in their silent, insecure comparisons. There were other issues he wouldn’t discuss with them that he found too revealing, because he said he couldn’t discuss it with them. In the latter, he attempted to convey the notion that he had proprietary information that he could not divulge, due to his position in the company. When we reminded him that he was not management, and he could reveal whatever he thought on the matter without fear of recrimination, he went silent. It was revealed that he simply didn’t know what we were talking about. We accidentally took away his shield of silence. He thought these co-workers had given him a capital ‘P’ followed by an exclamation point, and he feared that that ‘P’ had replaced by an ‘R’ word, reality, that would shatter all the myths he had worked so hard to create.

My friend wanted to be like a politician that stood for nothing, but allowed his constituency to fill in the blanks that he left for them, until they had other ‘P’ words dancing in their head, and ‘P’ words that had question marks behind them, as opposed to his preferred exclamation point.

The thing with the ‘P’ word is that it can be beautiful.  It can drive a person to become better tomorrow than they are today, if they’re willing to engage in the naughty ‘p’ word of the ‘P’ world vocabulary, performance. The reason that most card carrying ‘P’ words regard performance as a naughty word is that performing can lead to another ‘R’ word, revelation. It can reveal if the card carrying member truly has a ‘P’ word or not. It can tell reveal whether a person is truly special, gifted, and meant for more, or if they’re just a regular guy, collecting a regular paycheck, with as many limits on your ‘P’ word as everyone else.

I identified with my friend. I thought I had a capital ‘P’ behind my name that was followed by a big, old gleaming exclamation point. I thought God whispered things in my ear, and I wrote down everything I heard. I wrote short stories. I wrote novels. I wrote anything and everything I could fit in one mind. I thought it was my job in life to see this calling to its end. I thought I was a few steps below Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz, and Robert McCammon. I thought I just had to perform my way through that hole.

I’ve read through all those whispers recently, and I realize that if they happened today, I would turn to my wife and say, “I just had a thought.” I would then say those two sentences, and be done with it. Back then, a part of me believed that those whispers were telling me to be a writer, and I listened to these whispers, until I had enough material that it should’ve come true, and then I wrote some more, until I reached a point where I may have fertilized that ground so well that all the cultivating, harvesting and turning of those lies might have accidentally produced a truth.