An Argument About Arguing

“You just love to argue!” a friend of mine said to me.

To me!?

To that point in my life, I had been that person that avoided arguments. I often walked away from them. When that wouldn’t work, I was prone to level the “You just love to argue!” charge against them.

Bear+Attack+Girl+Video+PhotoI don’t think even this friend of mine would accuse me of being a hyena, in the world of arguers, but I was once a limping antelope caught up in a pack of hyenas. It got so bad, at times, that I would examine, and reexamine everything I planned on saying. I feared everything I said would provoke an argument. I just wanted to have one peaceful day at work. When that wouldn’t work, I just stopped talking. I didn’t understand how everything I said could be so wrong, so controversial, debatable, and subject to argument. At one point, I gave up trying to figure it all out.

It was obvious to this pack of hyenas that I didn’t know how to argue, because I wasn’t used to everyone challenging every idea I had, but the fact that they were so confrontational about damning my ideas told me more about arguing than any debate class could.

Being the recipient of such a charge, after those dark years, taught me something. I liked it. It was shocking, but it was also pleasing.

When this accusation began popping up more often, and I began to reflect on the nature of the charge, it dawned on me that there are those that love to argue and the vulnerable subjects of society that they pick on. Some of these vulnerable subjects were less intelligent, but most of them didn’t spend every waking moment of their life arguing, so they weren’t as equipped as those that did. The question I had, now that I was being accused of being the former was, am I guilty of preying upon the vulnerable?

The difference between a healthy debate and an out and out argument is seismic. Even if some of these healthy debates are characterized in this manner, by the hyena that won’t leave you alone, you’ll find yourself leveling the “You just love to argue!” charge to end all future debates, healthy debates, and out and out arguments, and you will grow frustrated when it doesn’t work.

The question the vulnerable subject will have is why do they keep coming back to me with new information, new points to ponder, and a never-ending cycle that appears to be redundant to all observers? Why me? Why don’t they bother Suzy Q over there? She appears to enjoy arguing as much as they do? Yet, they keep coming back to me.

After receiving the charge that I’ve made against many, for so many years, I found the answer. I found the answer to why they sought me out, in my search for why I sought some of them out: I like to win.

Those that hate arguing, hate losing. They fear entering into an argument with a worthy opponent over subject ‘A’, and the revelations that will occur when they find out that the worthy opponent prove to know more about that subject than they do. The worthy opponent has proven, in the past, to be a worthy opponent. Most arguers do not enjoy arguing with a worthy opponent. The best way to avoid such embarrassing and stressful revelations, they think, is to just avoid arguing altogether.

Those that love to argue, on the other hand, appear to think that they learn things about all the players around them, and they may feel they learn things about themselves by arguing. It might all be a complex pursuit of intellect and psychology, for them, but it might also be something very simple: it may be all about winning and losing.

Most arguments seem so simple that they’re not worth having, but some people love to win arguments so much that they seek out the one person in the room that feeds their bear better than anyone else. Is this you? Do you have a person, that no matter how many times you say you don’t want to argue about it, won’t leave you alone about an about an annoying amount of everything? It may be that you’re better at feeding their bear than anyone else. Either you walk away, or you let it be known that you just don’t like arguing. Whatever the case is, they must find your reactions nourishing to their ego, or they wouldn’t keep coming back.

“Why do you insist on arguing about everything?!” is something you might say, in the face of their constant badgering. Or, “Does everything an argument to you?” You may even decide that you just don’t enjoy being around them, that they make you uncomfortable, and that you don’t enjoy their company. You may know that they enjoy watching you scream and squirm on a certain level, but you’ve provided yourself some comfort in stating that there must be something wrong with them if they enjoy doing that. If you’re one of these people, and you’re getting lost in the forest of their argumentative minds, you may want to start looking for the signs that say: “Don’t feed the bears!”

“I know I shouldn’t walk away,” you may say. “But it can just get so exhausting arguing with them.” The problem with this line of thought, as anyone that knows anything about bears will tell you, is that when you feed a bear they keep coming back. It’s the nature of the beast to keep coming back to the spot where their ego was nourished with the least amount of effort involved. They will no longer go out into the wild, where they belong, to keep their instincts shiny and honed, and they will become fat, and lazy, subsisting on your ineffectual, but nourishing responses.

There are some bear feeders, and we all know one, that believe that an argumentative bully can be put down with one clever turn of a phrase, or a well-timed, well-placed shot on the chin. If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider the idea that you’re watching way too much TV. In the fantasy world of television, where the screenwriter of that show has their character deliver that one shot, clever turn of a phrase they wished they said to their bully, that puts their bully in his place. In the fantasy world of television, the bully comes to respect the victim for their moxie, and the two of them may skip off together, hand in hand, in an eventual pursuit of the conflict that led this complex bully to be so insecure that he felt compelled to pick on his victim. If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider either turning the TV off, or switching the channel. The Lifetime Network is doing you more harm than good at this point.

In the world of reality, your single shot results in little more than putting the smell of gun powder in the air. The reason that you fired that shot was not to hurt them, but to try and scare them off a little. As anyone that knows anything about bears can tell you, the smell of gun powder triggers an instinctual mechanism in the bear that will cause them to keep coming at you until you are forced to recognize that it’s going to take a strategic concentration of blows to be delivered over time to put them down. It’s going to take a thorough understanding of the bear, and an ability to defeat them, with repetition and patience, until that moment of truth arrives when they bring up an argument and they try to avoid looking over at you while doing it. Either that, or they will avoid broaching that topic that they know is in your wheelhouse.

_47451911_4compYou will know that you’ve stuck a dagger in their purported “lifelong love of the arguing” when they give visual cues that they’re relieved that for the first time in a long time, you have said nothing to contradict them. These moments, when you become the bear, don’t come around often, and you should feel free to rub it out on the nearest tree as a reward for your constant, and confident, and strategic defeats, of every argument they left by the trash can for your nourishment.

Some unfortunate, and lifelong, victims believe that I am 100% incorrect in my assessment that constant, confident, and calm refutation has any merit, and they opt for a more high-pressured, high-volume attack that they believe will whip the head of the argumentative bully around to a realization that all victim’s desire: the ‘You don’t wanna go messing around with me no more’ realization. This attack often involves a lot of swear words, a red-face, and some ultimate ultimatum. This tactic has never proven effective, in my experience, and I have witnessed it attempted many times, from all sides of the paradigm.

There have been times when I’ve been on the casual observer side, and I’ve heard these argumentative bullies whisper: “Watch this!” before launching on you people. I’ve heard them state with pride that they can get a rise out of you, when you’re not around. They love this, is what I’m saying. They take great pride, almost to the point of arousal, in the fact that they are one of the few people that can cause you to get hysterical.

“Why do you give them that?” I’ve wondered aloud on more than a few occasions. In a few of these occasions, I have been a disinterested, neutral party. I don’t care about the well-being of the vulnerable subject, and I didn’t find the bully’s persecution particularly funny. I just wanted to know if the vulnerable subject understood the dynamic of the situation. The reactions I’ve received are just as red-faced, and laced with profanity, and high volume. It has led me to believe that some people are victims as a matter of happenstance, and some are a species unto yourselves.

Some arguments are germane and vital to a person’s existence, and the best argument I’ve heard for never walking away from them is that you have to teach people how to treat you. Those that love to argue will put a person through the ringer, just to see what they’re made of. These types disgust those that don’t enjoy being tested. They want to live in a world where everyone treats everyone else in the manner they want to be treated. They want to live in a land of peace of harmony. Too bad, say those that love to argue. This is the real world, and we’re going to force you through this tiny, revelatory hole just to see what you come out looking like on the other side. These arguments are often of a more personal nature, and they cannot be avoided. You have to teach others how to treat you.

If a person enjoys arguing, and they seek out arguments of all stripes, they will eventually encounter a person that argues about everything and nothing, and they will do so in the same argument. My advice to those that have any regard for their mental health, is to simply pack up your belongings and walk away. These types of arguments are indigenous to an annoying species of bear called the plane switchers. The modus operandi of the plane switcher is to start an argument. If they find that they have tripped upon a subject their counterpart is well-versed in, until an argument that began with a discussion on the homeopathic uses of emu urine somehow switches to the origins of the Wiccan religion. How did these people do that, might be the first question we ask, as we begin to see all the “Don’t feed the bears” signs around us in the dark and sparse forests of the plane switchers. Further inspection of the argument reveals the fact that the question regarding their ability to deflect doesn’t matter near as why they do it, and I can answer that question with one word: victory.

My advice, again, is to simply walk away. If, however, it is impossible to walk away, as the person may sit in an adjoining cubicle in an office place, or they may be a loved one. In some cases, I have found that the task of switching the topic back to the germane topic takes a steady, subtle hand, and on other occasions I have found that it calls for brute force. If we are able to manage switching the playing field back to the subject at hand, we might find our way out of one argument, on one day, in the everlasting arguments with these exhausting people, and all exhausting arguers, until we run across the person that mistakes us for being a person that loves to argue.

I remember that day, oh so long ago, when that first person accused me of being an argumentative person. I almost laughed in her face. When she did that, they had no idea how many times I said what I said just to get the other guy to shut up for five minutes. They had no idea how many times, I packed up my stuff and walked away from an argument I found tedious, and they had no idea how many times I lost arguments. They also had no idea how many times they presented me an argument, and all I was doing was countering that argument. They had no idea that they just wanted me to lie down, and roll over, and accept their argument in the manner they presented it. If they knew the painful and emotional road I traveled on to get to the point where I received their wonderful compliment, they would have never said it. They just knew the finished product that stood before them arguing against their argument. They didn’t know how many years I spent in the loser’s bin, unable to compete, not knowing the right thing to say, and trying every possible method I could think up just to shut just one of them up. They just knew the finished product. They didn’t know about all the Dr. Frankenstein’s that gave the beast life.

Very few arguers know the argumentative beast living inside them. They don’t know the maturation process that their beast went through, or the weaponry their beast purchased with intangible experience, but they do know that they like to argue with you over any other individual in the room, because they love to see someone else do the squirmy, screamy dance that they used to do when arguers chose them over everyone else in the room. They may not know any of the complex, intellectual, and psychological algorithms of their beast, but they do know that they like to win, and that you –the person that doesn’t like to argue– will always give them that.


The Freedom of the Self-Checkout Aisle

When the first self-checkout aisle was rolled out, circa 2001, I thought that Big Business had finally invested in technology for someone like me. I thought I was being rescued from the inane conversations that seemingly lonely checkers feel compelled to engage customers in in the full-service aisles. I thought price checks might finally become a thing of the past, in my life, with the advent of self-checkout. I thought I was being rescued from ever having to endure the spectacle of a customer waiting to pull out their checkbook until all the items have been scanned and the total has been given. There are no checks allowed in self-checkout after all. I thought self-checkout was a dream, for do-it-yourselfers around the nation, a dream come true. I thought we would all be granted more time to do other important things in our lives.

Self service checkout-1349917As with any dream, that eventually becomes a reality, I feared self-checkout would be a temporary experiment that everyone would have to do their part in if we ever hoped for it to survive. I knew this experiment was conducted for business, and as with any experiments in business there would have to be a learning curve in the beginning. Eventually, I thought, lines in the sand would have to be drawn if the gods that manned the security cameras were going allow us this privilege long-term.

At some point, I thought, we consumers would have to engage in a melding of the minds that defined those that were prepared for the requirements of self-checkout and those that weren’t. I never thought we would reach an age, in the self-checkout era, where a Darwinian divide would have to be laid out. I just thought that those that were perpetually unprepared would eventually weed themselves out.

You can call me a fool if you want on this note, but I thought that this dream-like opportunity would eventually weave its way through our society in just such a manner that the unprepared would begin to decide that self-checkout just wasn’t for them, that it made them too nervous, or that they couldn’t handle the rigors of all that scanning and swiping. I thought some would eventually decide, through trial and error, that they were just more comfortable with full-service, and that they would never attempt to cross aisles after repeated, embarrassing failings. I thought a certain point of harmony could eventually be achieved where the prepared would say to the unprepared, “I have no problem with you brother. I don’t think any less of you, full-service consumers, as long as you learn your aisle, and they stay there.”  Unfortunately, as we’ve all discovered over time, the self-checkout aisle didn’t cut dividing lines, it only exacerbated the notion that most people live with delusions and illusions of who they are.

I probably wasn’t as prepared as I believe I was back in 2001, when I first began scanning my own items, feeding machines my money, and bagging my owned groceries. I probably made some mistakes that would greatly embarrass me if anyone had tape on it. I wanted to be one of the prepared, though, I wanted to perform self-checkouts for the rest of my life, and I thought I would only be allowed this privilege through merit. I never thought I could do it once or twice and be given a special designation. I knew I would have to prove that I was a prepared one every time out.

And if you’ve ever had a hard-nosed teacher in grade school, that granted you a special privilege, you learned this principle too. You learned that if you didn’t constantly prove yourself worthy of that privilege she granted you, on a constant basis, that hard-nosed teacher took that privilege away from you. If you had that hard-nosed teacher, you learned that excuses played no part in her world of privileges. Act right, and you get them, screw up, and they’re taken away from you. That’s what I though this whole world of self-checkout would eventually become.

I thought that the prepared world would eventually acknowledge that there are some products that don’t have Universal Product Codes (UPC) symbols. I didn’t think this message would have to be sent out twelve years in, especially when we’ve all been in full-service aisles where checkers have to look up UPC numbers on those pieces of fruit, or candy, that don’t have UPC stickers on them. We’ve all seen this, and in the universally prepared world, we prepared for that eventuality before we reached the self-checkout aisle.

Others don’t seem to care about the special privilege self-checkout offers us. They don’t think about the freedom performing our own checkouts offer us, or the time it frees up for us. It’s just another aisle to them. They do little-to-nothing to uphold the standard required to sustain this freedom. They just buy a couple of watermelons and stare at them with confusion, with a loaded UPC gun in their hands. At that point in their transaction, I want to run in and block them from all security cameras. I don’t want the gods manning the security cameras to see this. I don’t want them to know that there are still people, twelve years after its nationwide rollout, that haven’t prepared for the self-checkout aisle.

They twist the watermelons over and over, they turn to their tech-savvy teens, and then they ask the self-checkout checker for help. They have no fear that this could be documented, and that the self-checkout could go the way of extinct animals that weren’t properly equipped to sustain themselves. “You’re ruining this for everyone!” I want to scream. The checker, in charge of the self-checkout aisle slides over, and she punches in the code that these watermelon buyers should’ve noted, on the watermelon bin, the moment they realized there was no UPC sticker on them.

These particular customers aren’t satisfied with the checker’s services. They’re even more confused when she finishes punching in the code.  “I thought they were two for one?” they say.

“They’re only two for one, if you …” the checker went on to detail the specifics of the deal, and the customers only grew more confused. The two parties argued a little. I didn’t know the specifics of the deal, and I didn’t care what they were, but I wasn’t purchasing watermelons. If I were, I would’ve known every detail of deal, because I am always prepared. I belonged in this aisle.

The customers then ask this checker to take one of the watermelons off. We’re stretching into the five minute category, at this point, much too long for a self-checkout transaction. ‘They’re watching,’ I want to tell these customers, ‘And they’re taking note of all of your confusion.  Do you have any idea what you’re doing? Do you even care that you don’t belong in this glorious aisle? You need more help lady, you need full-service, and if you ever paid attention to your characteristics, you’d know this.’

Other self-checkout aisles, others that I abandoned based on the fact that they were loaded with fat, doughy customers, are proceeding through their checkouts with speedy glee. I entered this aisle based on the fact that this family was Asian, and you can call me racist, or racial, but I thought they would have enough intelligence to figure this whole thing out. In my experiences with the Asian people, I have found them to be either intelligent enough, or so embarrassed at their lack of knowledge in one particular area that they sheepishly accepted whatever they were told to avoid causing a scene, or an unnecessary delay to those waiting for them. I have found them to be extreme conscientious, in other words, to a point that usually matched mine. These Asians did not match my expectations, and they didn’t appear to care one way or another that they were causing me a delay.

In lieu of this unprepared family’s actions, I lined up all of my UPC symbols, so I could scan in a flurry. I also took out all the cards that would be necessary to complete the transaction. Now you could say that I was slightly unprepared prior to the example set before me, but I knew where all the UPC symbols were before I lined them up, and I knew exactly where all of my cards were. By performing these few actions, I was not only prepared, I was extra-prepared. I would be cutting a thirty-second transaction down to twenty with my extra-preparedness. I considered this a service to those behind me. I considered this doing my part to sustain the legacy of freedom created by the self-checkout gods. I wanted to show all of those around me, and the gods manning the security cameras, that this whole idea of absolute freedom being afforded to the consumer was not only warranted but necessary in a society of impatient people.

‘We’re almost through,’ I thought when the Asians finally began swiping their credit card. I thought about how much of my life I had already lost watching them struggle through the self-checkout process. I also thought about how, if these people had allowed me to cut, based on the comparatively few items I was purchasing, I would already be home, immersed in a conversation with my wife. I was soothed by the fact that they were swiping their card, though, and that this would be all ending soon, until they began having trouble with the swiping process.

As a non-confrontational individual, I decided to communicate my fatigue for their inability to swipe, through body language. I slumped back and began texting, and I sighed. It wasn’t a huge, look at me sigh, but it was audible. When that didn’t work, I began stretching my head up over the aisles to look at other self-checkout aisles, and how much fun they were all having over there. I never intended to go to another aisle, it was too late at that point, but I thought if nothing else comes of this, at least I can inform these unprepared people that they should never go through the self-checkout aisle again. They were just too unprepared for the self-checkout requirements, and if they only learn one thing from this whole experience, perhaps future generations of consumers can be spared from ever having to go through this kind of trauma again.

After the fourth swipe, the Asians cast an obligatory look at the back of their card. After the fifth swipe, they cast the obligatory look to the staff member in charge of helping out self-checkout customers. This staff member slid over again and achieved an approved status on her first swipe, and the customer granted the checker the obligatory excuse for why she couldn’t do it herself. I thought of Larry David.

Larry David is not a good swiper, and he acknowledges this, and Larry David is a relatively intelligent being, and even he can’t explain why he’s not good at swiping:

If you told me twenty years ago that I wouldn’t be a good swiper,” Larry David said, “I never would’ve believed you.”

‘Being a bad swiper is not a sign of a lack of intelligence,’ I repeat in my head over and over, until I begin to believe it. ‘You’ve had some problems swiping in the past, and you’re a reasonably intelligent being. You know this, the gods have to know this, and they have to be making some allowances for these Asians in their notes.’

I am through my self-checkout transaction in under thirty seconds. The people behind me love this, the gods behind the security cameras see this, and I almost sprint with my shopping cart to get right behind the Asians as we exit the supermarket, to show them that a self-checkout transaction can be performed this fluidly by someone that is prepared. I want them to know that in the future, if they’re as unprepared as they were today, they should probably just go through the full-service aisles to engage in witty banter with a checker. I want them to recognize which aisle of humanity they belong on, so they won’t ever venture into our glorious, self-checkout line again. I want to tell them that it’s fine that they’re not prepared, and that I think nothing less of them, as long as they acknowledge the facts about who they are, and they don’t venture into our world ever again. This freedom should not be afforded to all, I will tell them, and we will both laugh when they say, “Those aisles just make me nervous.” That laughter will be fueled by both parties acknowledging that we’re just different people, neither of us superior to the other, just different, and if we could just learn to stay in our separate aisles, the world would be a much better place to live in.

Mechanical Animals

The next time something near and dear to a homeowner’s heart falls apart, my advice is to hire a professional to fix it. This advice goes against the grain of every do-it-yourselfer that has experienced the satisfaction of doing it yourself, but some of us have tried, and we’ve bungled it so many times that we’re ready to admit that we’re not mechanically inclined. If the homeowner is able to endure the room silencing, dish breaking stares that follow such an admission (and there will be stares, condescending, shaming stares), they will find that most of the staring contingent are not as mechanically as they’d like to think they are.  

Enter the mechanical animal. As in any arena in life, there are those that have an almost inexplicable ability to fix things, but their breed is not determined through genetic isolation or selective breeding. Either they fix things for a living, or they do it so often that they’re just better at it. As a friend of mine said, “It ain’t rocket science.”

Within the mechanical animal genus, a variety of species exists under an archetype, industrious person that taught the mechanical animal everything they needed to know. This breed of mechanical animal, knows enough to know what they’re talking about, but if the homeowner invests anything beyond raised eyebrows into what these mechanical animals have to say on the matter, they’ll discover the continental divide between the breed that knows how to apply such knowledge and those that have merely memorized it.

Within every species lies some level of natural selection, as some have found, through trial and error, that they are not as capable as others in their species are. The frustration of this whittling has led some in the species to focus their energy on the field of mechanical accounting. They can provide a desperate homeowner an itemized list of the expenses that they will encounter if they decide to hire a professional. They have intimate knowledge of how much the parts actually cost, and they know the retailer the professional in question chooses for their parts and resultant costs they pass onto their customer. They have also memorized how much each company charges for labor, and all related expenses involved in going with such a high profile company. “Do you know how much you’re paying for their brand name?” they will ask.  

The condensed version of their presentation is that the homeowner is not only foolish for even considering a call to an expert, but they are engaging in an unnecessary expense. The subtext of their presentation also suggests that homeowners that are not able to fix it themselves are less than male, if the audience of their presentation is male, and it often is in such discussions. If the homeowner stubbornly maintains a realistic limitation of their abilities in this discussion, in the face of the mechanical animal’s presentation, the mechanical animal will add the seven words that will forever taint the relationship that exists between the homeowner and them, “Hell, I can fix it for you.”

If homeowners want to endear themselves to the mechanical animal, my advice is to let the mechanical animal explain the full breadth of their knowledge in this arena. Let them provide their intricately detailed three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine point plans on how they would fix your dilemma. Smile when they enter their wheelhouse, nod a lot, and say, “Holy Crackers!” and “Man, you sure know what you’re talking about!” Dazzle them with your lack of knowledge, and keep your head in a non-confrontational and subservient position, and you’ll have a friend for life, but do not take this guy home with you.

He might seduce the desperate homeowner with conversation points that express the love and care he will show their home’s bolts and nuts, but soon after the lubrication is applied, the mechanical animal will start wrecking everything the desperate homeowner holds dear. When the job is “done”, the mechanical animal won’t mind leaving a fella incomplete because the homeowner’s satisfaction wasn’t the reason the mechanical animal injected their ideas into the conversation in the first place. The plan never involved them driving over to the house, screwing or unscrewing, or saving the homeowner one, thin dime. The purpose of the conversation was the conversation. They’re mechanical animals.

Mechanical animals have had this money saving and time saving three-to-five-to-seven-to-nine plan programmed into their head, note-by-note in the manner programmers program the notes of a Rachmaninoff tune into a self-playing piano. Like any song, a problem is fixable in programmed notes, but the difference lies in the variables. Mechanical animals are often great at communicating the intricate details of their pre-programmed knowledge on a lawn with a beer in their hand, but they often fall short when variables arise. They’re mechanical animals.

Mechanical animals are also great at informing a group of fellas on a lawn, with a beer in hand, that the corporate guys they’re planning on hiring are not as qualified as they think. The mechanical animal will inform his audience that he had a friend of a friend of a friend that hired them once, fourteen years ago, and that man wasn’t satisfied with the work they did. If the homeowner is brave enough to proceed headlong this gale of wind, they will ask, “Well, who would you hire then?”

“You don’t hire anyone silly,” the mechanical animal says. “You fix it yourself.”

This all makes for excellent “males on the lawn, with a beer in your hand” conversation, but it’s been my experience that the least expensive course of action for a desperate homeowner to take, is to smile, finish that beer he was gracious enough to slam into the homeowner’s hand, walk into the house, and listen to the conversation the females are having about the finest upholstery known on Earth. This conversation might not be as engaging to the male mind, but it will end up being far less expensive in the end.  

The homeowner should not ask for another beer, or listen to further “guys on the lawn, with a beer in the hand” conversations regarding the mechanical animal’s expertise, with a twinkle in the eye, because the homeowner thinks they’ve finally found someone that appears to have some expertise. Doing so will leave the desperate homeowner with a half-assed fix and an inoperable dullness in the eye that will last the rest of their adult life.

Mechanical animals are our wife’s brother-in-law, our neighbor, that guy that stops to chat with us at the local Home Depot, and just about every male that we know beyond a smiling nod. They’re mechanical animals –often named Morty– that have encountered just about every obstacle in life, and they can diagnose any problem a person puts forth in T-Minus two minutes, but if that person makes the mistake of turning a dime on them, they’ll be screaming: “Houston, we have a problem!” in T-Minus two weeks.

As discussed, this breed of Mechanical Animal often has an archetype male sitting atop their personal totem pole that knew how to fix things. The crucial difference between the two is that that archetype male needed to know, and he likely didn’t have the money necessary to hire an expert. If this archetype male didn’t know how to fix the plumbing in his house, in other words, the family would have to learn to live without plumbing. A Morty type will often have one great story regarding this archetype male going to a hardware store, picking up a pamphlet, and wiring the family home for electricity based on the instructions that pamphlet provided. The audience of this narrative may revere those industrious, rugged individual characteristics of Morty’s archetype male, but Morty will temper that awe with a conclusion, along the lines of, “It’s not as hard as one might think, all one has to do is …”

Throughout the course of a Morty’s testament to his father’s greatness, we learn that Morty’s archetype male was industrious, self-serving, patient with the trial and error variables involved in fixing things, and undaunted by matters that leave the rest of us breathless, but, again, that knowledge was borne out of necessity.

At some point, the import of Morty’s fixation on his archetype male will unfold when he attempts to fuse his knowledge with that of his father’s. “The man taught me everything I know.” 

The homeowner might consider such adoration of a father romantic, and they might recount some of their own feelings for their father, or they might wish they revered their father in the manner Morty does. We might not recall this romantic moment as the moment when we also began fuse their abilities, for his testimonial swept us off our feet. When forced to reconcile his best efforts with his actual ability, we might wonder when we fell for what this well-intentioned man was saying. A moment such as this one will be it. For in our desire to be as industrious as our forebears, we identified with Morty’s romanticized portrayal of his father, and we conflated our desire with his, until we were convinced of his actual ability.

Morty’s generation, our generation, loves the convenience that technology has afforded us, but the luxury of technology has also deprived us of the need that drove our archetype males to become what they became.

Reliance on this greater technology has left most males feeling less than macho, when we compare our knowledge to what our archetype image of a man dictates what it should be. As a result, Morty types spend their lives trying to replicate their archetype’s model. At some point in their lives, most Morty types will realize that they have fallen short of this idyllic image. They know how to wire cable to their TV sets … with some margin of error. They know how to change their own oil, spot a car, and they can relay some inane facts about some inane car. They know how to mow and fertilize a lawn, and perform some perfunctory plumbing chores, but they pale in comparison to the archetype male of their lives, often their father, because they don’t have a need to be as industrious. This is where the listener comes in. This is where the listener needs to list the distinctions and be mindful of them while playing the role of circuitous conduit to the goal of the mechanical animal’s conversation.

Playing the role of circuitous conduit to this goal of the mechanical animal, allows the mechanical animal to touch the face of their archetype male, even if it’s just for one moment, on a lawn with a beer in hand. It also forces the listener to play the role of the idiot in their story, but the mechanical animal will love you for it, for as long as it lasts.

“A trained chimpanzee could fix that,” is something they might say from their newfound stature atop the industrious male totem pole, a place that the obliging homeowner’s open-mouthed awe has created for them. “If they were willing to put forth a little effort, a trained chimp could fix that for a Frito reward. What kind of man are you that you can’t?” Morty types often don’t add the latter, for most of them are polite and fun loving, but their characterization of the listener implies it. At this point, the listener would love to have their own idiot among the other fellas standing on the lawn with a beer in their hand, but most of us don’t.

“All you need is a telescopic, shrub rake and a milled face, framing hammer,” is the manner in which a Morty type begin such assessments. “If you want to call a fix-it guy, be my guest,” they say in tones that provoke compulsory responses. “If you want to go into debt, and listen to a guy demean you for not being able fix your own home that’s fine, but if you stick with me we can fix this thing in a couple hours for less than a hundred dollars.”  

To be fair to Morty types, there are Morty types and there are Morty types. Some Morty types will confess, in typical Morty type humor, that they know “just enough to keep out of trouble”, or “just enough to be dangerous”. They’re often fun-loving beasts that may rear their ugly heads after they’ve had a few, when they’re with a bunch of fellas, looking out on their dilapidated lawn. It is not the goal of these Morty types to make members of their audience feel stupid, inept, or less than male however.

“Hey, you know your stuff and I know mine,” they may say to reveal how congenial, patient, and humble they are. If, however, the listener doesn’t make it a practice of lowering their head to the subservient position, the mechanical animal might feel a need to take them deeper into their weeds.

There are other Morty types, and everyone knows one, that will cause those that know anything about mechanical animals to dive into a row of insulation, at Home Depot, the moment we spot these mechanical animals walking their way down the aisle toward us. These Morty types will lock onto overwhelmed, vacant eyes and giggle: “Hey Martha, writer dude here doesn’t know what a milled face, framing hammer is.” To which a more cultured Martha type will instruct him to, “Be nice Morty!” and he will, if there are no other fellas around looking at a dilapidated lawn with beer in their hands. He will, if the experienced listener finds a way respond to all of Morty’s quick-fix theoretical fixes with careful responses that provide the mechanical animal the illusion that we know something about what he’s discussing. He will, if the experienced listener adds something that alludes to the idea that they have some knowledge of the telescopic, shrub rake, and the intricate web of seductive knowledge the mechanical animal has.

The thing is Morty types do know just enough to secure a crowned position on the conversational mountain of knowledge, with a beer in hand. The moment after the desperate homeowner joins them up there, they will note that the mechanical animal has all of the same brown patches in their yard, and a board they’ve had covering a broken window on their garage for over a year. The homeowner might not want to call Morty out on these inconsistencies, but if they’re considering asking this man to fix the headache in their home, these are crucial observations to note. We also need to note that the bed in their spare bedroom collapses when a man that weighs under 200 pounds climbs on, and even though he installed his own saloon doors on all of his rooms, we need to make note of the fact that they won’t close properly.

Once a guy leaves the idyllic conversations on a lawn, and they remove their beer goggles, they witness the realities baked in a foundation of half-truths and makeshift aggrandizements. We do need to note, however, that Morty types are not attempting to deceive the homeowner into believing they know how to fix whatever ails the home, beyond that which they’ve deceived themselves anyway. Most of them know what they’re talking about on this subject. They know the logistics of the fix, and they know how to go about getting things fixed, but they just don’t complete these tasks very well. They’re mechanical animals.

Those of us that have made the mistake of turning a dime on these conversations have realized our mistake soon after saying:

“Well, hell, if you can fix this for half the costs, then you are my man!”

If the reader is anything like me, it was never our intention to find out if the knowledge they displayed was theoretical or not. We just wanted our home fixed, and we were so desperate that we didn’t take the time to look for the realities of the man’s ability in the man’s home, in his garage, or on the dilapidated outskirts of his lawn. If the reader is anything like me, they’ve made the mistake of not knowing the difference between mechanical animals and mechanical animal conversations that occur on a lawn, with a beer in hand, and a bunch of fellas around.

If the reader is an inexperienced observer –with no precedent– currently debating about whether to bring in your cousin’s cousin to come in and fix your light fixture, I urge them to talk to these Morty types throughout the task. The mechanical animal might know what they’re doing, and they might even be able to fix what is required, but the reader should know that they would be making a huge mistake by leaving the mechanical animal alone in the room that needs some fixing. It would be rude, of course, to invite them into our loving home and just leave them to fix it, but that doesn’t cover what we’re discussing here. What we’re discussing is placating to the desires of a mechanical animal that is kind enough to attempt to relieve your headache without pay. To do that, those of us that have experienced such things firsthand, advise the reader to affix vacant and overwhelmed eyes on them, and say, “Wow!” and “Holy Crackers, you’re smart!” a lot. Let the mechanical animal provide detailed instructions on how to maintain, or fix, your problem in the future. The listener might not retain a single word of the diatribe, but that is not the goal of the mechanical animal. The reason that they collected the necessary tools for your project, and drove over to your home was to have their listener hear all the knowledge that they’ve accumulated over the years.

My experience with Morty types is that it’s also not enough for them that their audience promise to pay them, for nine times out of ten Morty types don’t need the money, or the steak that they’ve been promised them if they can fix a something something that’s plagued us. It’s also not characteristic of Morty types to like the homeowner so much that they’re willing to fix something for them just because, and my advice is to keep filling those void with various forms of those “Wow!” and “Holy crackers, you’re smart!” responses. Chances are, if the homeowner is an inexperienced observer, with no precedent, they might find these expressions tedious after a time, or they might believe that these mechanical animals will work harder, better, and/or faster if the homeowner leaves the room to get them to stop talking about what they’re doing and just do it. That homeowner will realize the huge mistake they’ve made soon after the mechanical animal climbs down the ladder, saying they need to get a milled face, framing hammer from home, and the homeowner is left calling that “over-priced” professional three days later, paying far more than they would have if they had just called him in the first place.

I’m a Little Bit Polka, and a Little Bit Rock and Roll

I used to think I was a rock and roll dude, and I mean totally … when I was around a bunch of polka people. I might never have been as avant garde as I thought, but I’ve been informed, of late, that I’ve become anything and everything but rock and roll. I’ve become polka. I found this out at dinner one night, when a real rock and roller rebelled against a polka comment I made. It didn’t completely surprise me that she considered me the vanguard of traditional thought –that needed to be squashed for the purpose of her attaining a rebellious, rock star personae– it did surprise me, however, to find out that I was only polka, but I liked it.

I, too, used to regard societal norms as something in need of a good squashing. I used to think those who ascribed to traditional thoughts did so in a 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver, and uninformed manner, until I realized I was doing what I was told. The avant garde informed me that if I wanted to be considered dangerous, risqué, and avant garde, there was a distinct set of beliefs to which I must adhere.

A rock and roll dude

Back when I had no idea who I was, or what I wanted to be, but I was willing to do just about anything, and say just about anything, and be just about whatever I had to be to have one person confuse me with a dangerous, Jimmy Hendrix lick, or a controversial and provocative John Lennon lyric. I wanted to be indefinable, complex and cool, because I didn’t know what I had to do to fill my basket yet, and it disgusted me when others, so sure of themselves, did. What my friend said to me the other weekend was that indefinable, rock and roll something that I would’ve said to my own polka people, twenty years prior, and my reaction to her comment was as silent as my recipients’ were.

Why was I silent? I didn’t know what she was trying to say, and I didn’t see the value in it. If I displayed confusion in the face of that comment and said, ‘What?’ she probably would’ve gotten off on that. I know I would’ve, in my rock and roll days.

‘Nothing,’ is what she might have responded had I made the fateful decision to say ‘What?’ and she would’ve done so in a deliciously dismissive manner. ‘You wouldn’t get it if I told you, and you probably never will,’ is something she might have added, and she would have considered that dinner discussion delicious.

It dawned on me that when I used to say such things to the polka people around me, it was as confusing to me then as it is now. I didn’t know what I was talking about back then, but I wanted to be the apathetic, complicated characters I saw captured so well in the movies of my youth. I thought those actors were so cool rebelling against complicated matters they knew nothing about, and I used the catch phrases and song lyrics they used to dismiss the polka generation to do so. I thought their lyrics were so delicious that they afforded the characters a persona that suggested they were the only ones who truly knew about the matters they were discussing. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have enough confidence to pull it off, but for some reason no one was as affected by my presentation as those character actors were in the movies.

“What are you rebelling against?” was a screenwriter’s line a female actor used in the movie The Wild One. “Whaddya got?” The male actor responded with another of the screenwriter’s lines.

Translation: ‘I don’t know what I’m rebelling against. I’m too young, and too uninformed to rebel against anything of any substance, but isn’t my indefinable rebellion cool?’

‘Lines like these and other lyrics from the rock and rollers are great and all,’ I wanted to say to my fellow rock and roll rebels, ‘but I got all these other guys hammering me for more details, because I don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to give me something more here.’ 

Undefined rebellion in songs and movies are so cool, and the idea of rebelling against the norm, the status quo, or the “whaddya got?” is the epitome of greatness, until the various theys in our life kill the messengers for not knowing what we’re talking about. What are we rebelling against exactly? We don’t know, and the rock and roll rebels don’t know either. If they know, they’re not telling us, because they enjoy the cool deflector shield they wear that suggests we’re not supposed to ask. Those who do know, know that it’s something beautiful and indefinable. It’s something that the important, dangerous, and attractive know, and if you don’t, what are you doing here anyway?

I spent some time around rock and roll dudes, in my rock and roll days, and they were adamant that “I don’t get it, and I probably never will”.

“I don’t,” I said when I reached an age where I was confident enough to admit it, “explain it to me.” I was confident enough to admit that I wasn’t a rock and roll dude, but I wasn’t so confident that the latter line was a confrontational challenge to their beliefs. I was not a person who believed that there was some intrinsic value to being uncool. I wanted to know what they knew, and I would’ve loved if they tossed the keys to the “it” world to me, but it wasn’t such a driving force that I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

I now know there is no secret formula. “It” is an idea steeped in superficialities. If you have an “it” look, you have “it” without being required to get “it” qualities. If you don’t, and you want in, you have to believe in those who do. You have to have faith in the otherwise quiet, cool kids who use a catch phrase or a song lyric to condemn those with a polka mindset. Unquestioned allegiance to the unquestioning allegiance of what the “it” crowd believes can lead a messenger to being an avant garde rock and roll rebel that some regard as an independent thinker.

With all of those contradictions in mind, when my dining companion confronted me with the idea that I’m no longer a little bit polka, and a little bit rock and roll, because I’m not the least bit rock and roll, I took it for what it was, because I knew she couldn’t define the alternative any better than anyone else could. No one can explain it, of course, and although I’ve never been the best student of what “it” is, because I’ve never had “it”, I now know what I have to buy to get “it”.

Details, Details, Details

Epiphanies, like women, can pop up when you least expect them, and they can free you from a troubling part of your life you didn’t recognize as a problem until they were revealed.

In a PBS documentary on Mark Twain, a number of incidents arose in the building of Twain’s home, and the construction team began “badgering” Twain with questions regarding how he wanted them handled. The questions regarded the construction of his home, the place he would presumably live for the rest of his life, so the observer should forgive the construction crew’s chief for the badgering. The team didn’t know what he wanted, and there were presumably hundreds of questions they had on his desired specifics. What the team did not know, however, was that Twain had an oft expressed aversion for details.


Putting myself in a similar situation, I realize that, like Twain, I’m not a detail-oriented guy. I’ll listen to every question put to me, but I’ll be listening with a sense of guilt. Details make me feel stupid, they start firing far too many neurons in my brain for me to handle, and I usually get overwhelmed and exhausted by them. I know that I should be listening to every question, and I know I should be pondering the details they give me to come up with the ideal solution for my family, but my capacity for such matters is limited.

In the beginning of the process, I’m all hopped up. My mind is acutely focused, and I’m knocking out every question with focused answers. I’m considering every perspective involved, and I’m asking for advice from all of those not involved. I’m reading what others have done, and I’m gathering as much information as possible to make an informed decision, but I will eventually grow overwhelmed and exhausted because I’m not a detail oriented guy.

By the time we reach the 7th and 8th questions, I’ll be out of gas. I’ll be mentally saying, “Whatever, just get it done!” I’ll be falling away from creative answers and onto what is expected in the situation, or what it is that those still paying attention want. I will be answering in an autonomic manner. “Yes, that sounds fine,” I’ll say without knowing what has been said. I’ll just want the damn thing to be built already by that point, because I’m not a details-oriented guy. I’ll want to make the big decisions, but I’ll want to leave all of the “inconsequential” details-oriented questions to others.

I do feel guilty about being this way.  I want to be involved, informed, and constantly making acutely focused decisions throughout the process.  I’ll feel guilty when others start making the decisions that affect me, because I know I’m an adult now, and I should be making all these decisions.  There is also some fear that drives me to constantly pretend that I’m in prime listening mode, based on the fact that I may not like the finished product if I’m not involved in every step.  I may not like, for example, the manner in which the west wing juts out on the land and makes the home appear ostentatious, or obtuse, or less pleasing to the eye with various incongruities, and I’ll wish I would not have been so obvious with my “Whatever just do it!” answers. Details exhaust me, though, and they embarrass me when I don’t know the particulars that the other is referencing.

I don’t know if this guilt is borne of the fact that I know I’m an intelligent being, and I should be able to make these decisions in a more consistent manner, or if I’m just too lazy to maintain acute focus.  I do have a threshold though, and I know how my brain works.  I know that if there are seven ways to approach a given situation, I will usually select one that falls in the first two selections offered.  I usually do this, because I’m not listening after the second one.  Everything beyond that involves the other party showing off the fact that they know more than I do.  I know this isn’t always the case, but it’s the only vine I can cling to when having to deal with my limited attention span and the limited arsenal of my brain.

Knowing my deficiencies for retaining verbosity, I will ask for literature on the subject that provides the subject a tangible quality that can be consumed at my pace. If I do that, and I have, I will then pretend to read every excruciating word, but I will usually end up selected one of the first two selections offered.  I like to think I have a complex brain.  I like to think that I display all that I’m about in my own way, but I’m always reminded of the fact that most of the people around me give full participation to the details of life no matter how overwhelming and exhausting they can be to me.  It’s humbling to watch these brains, I like to consider inferior, operate on planes of constant choices, and decisions, and retentions, and details I am incapable of retaining.

I have this daydream that I will one day be afforded an excuse for having a limited brain by the relative brilliance I reveal to the world in the form of a novel.  I am interviewed in this dream, and I am asked, “So, what does it mean to you to have crafted such a fine book?”  I am far wittier than reality would suggest in this dream when I reply: “It will help me deal with my faults better.  The fact that I cannot fix my own plumbing, can now be countered with, but he wrote a fine book.  The fact that I cannot fix my own car, compete with my wife in certain areas of intelligence, or hold down a decent job can now be countered with, but he wrote a fine book that is held up as a fine book in certain quarters.”

We’ve all heard the line “Everybody’s brain works differently,” but until we learn something regarding the fact that the brilliant brain that composed Huckleberry Finn has similar deficiencies, we cannot help but feel guilty about them.  “Well, work on your deficiencies,” those around us suggest, and we do when that next project comes about.  We’re out to prove ourselves in that next project.  We answer every question, from the first few to the 7th and 8th, with prolonged mental acuity.  When that third and fourth project rolls around, however, we’ll revert back to those inferior brains that can’t retain details, and it is then that we’ll envy those “inferior” brains, consistently showing their superiority.  This could lead those of us that never knew we were suffering from such a recognized deficiency into feelings of incompletion, until someone like Mark Twain recognizes and vocalizes his defeciencies for us.

The History of Bloodletting by Mark Twain

Mark Twain’s 1890 essay A Majestic Literary Fossil is a scorned rebuke of the esteemed intellectuals’ theories in the field of medicine. Modern readers might consider Twain’s rebuke of his yesteryear ironic, considering all of the advancements in medicine made since, but those readers should consider that Twain’s era saw an advancement from the common practice of Phlebotomy (bloodletting) in medicine to the “more advanced” methods of curing ailments. An advancement Twain describes thusly:

“The change from reptile to bird was not as tremendous, it just took longer.”

We should also note that bloodletting was the most common medical practice performed by the most brilliant minds of medicine in the 2,000 years preceding Mark Twain. Twain knows this of course, and it forms the basis of the essay A Majestic Literary Fossil.

Most modern readers would read such a thing and laugh with the knowledge that those in Twain’s day might have known more than blood letters, but that they didn’t know a fourth of what we know today. The question that these laughers should ask themselves is how many of those reading what we know to be true today are going to be laughing just as hard at us based upon what they know 123 years from our present. Will they be laughing at us for our prolific use of antibiotics to cure so much of what ails us? Will they be looking back on our use of chemotherapy as an archaic treatment of cancer? Are these the best of times in medical technology, or will future readers consider our advancements as laughable as we do those that occurred in Twain’s time?

Twain’s essay focuses most of its scorn on the bloodletting theories of the prominent physician, surgeon, and philosopher Galen of Pergamon from Rome (circa 129-216 A.D.). Historians considered Galen the father of Humorism, or bloodletting, and he based his theories on dissections of monkeys. Twain writes that Galen would’ve been welcomed into his father’s home, but that Galen might have been left waiting, because Twain’s family doctor “didn’t allow blood to accumulate in his system.” [Author’s Note: Writings from the day detail that optimum use of bloodletting’s preventative measures require that a doctor bleed a patient at least once a month.]

The commentary provided in this essay focuses on what they knew in their modern age (circa 1890), versus all they thought they knew yesterday. It focuses some scorn, some objective looks, and some hilarity on the prevailing wisdom of the previous eras. In their “modern era” of medicine, they saw how ridiculous collective wisdom could be, when viewed in the reflective “glare of the open day”. The essay details, without actually stating it, how much deference we offer doctors, their theories, and authority figures in general. The essay also focuses on how scientific theory can appear groundbreaking and miraculous in one era, until the “knowledge of the moderns” reveals the serious flaws of the previous era.   

Headache: “One could die of a headache in the age of bloodletting,” Twain writes. “For bloodletting was listed as the proper cure of a headache back then. One such victim “seized with a violent pain in the head” required bloodletting in the arms, the application of leeches to the nostrils, the forehead, the temples, and behind the ears.

“Alas,” observed the doctor, named Bonetus, who was focused on this particular patient, “These procedures were not successful, and the patient dy’d (sic). Had the patient not dy’d, and a surgeon skilled in Arteriotomy been present, that procedure would’ve been called upon.” [Author’s note: Arteriotomy, as defined by Twain, “Is the opening of an artery with a view of taking away more blood” when the opening of the veins proved insufficient to cure what ailed the patient.]

Twain comments: “Here was a person being bled from the arms, forehead, nostrils, back, temples, and behind the ears, and when none of this worked the celebrated Bonetus was not satisfied, and he wanted to open an artery for a view of the cure. Now that we know what this celebrated Bonetus did to relive a headache, it is no trouble to infer that if he had a patient that suffered a stomachache, he would disembowel him. Bonetus labels his writings as “observations”. They sound more like to confessions to me.”

Frostbite: Twain cites several remedies listed in the 1745 Dictionary of Medicine by Dr. James of London and Samuel Johnson. According to this book, “One can cure frostbite by mixing the ashes of an ass’s hoof with a woman’s milk” and “Milk is bad for the teeth, for it causes them to rot, and loosens the gums.”

Dentures: “They did apparently have false teeth in those days,” Twain writes, “But they were lashed to neighboring teeth with wires or silk threads. Wearers of these teeth were encouraged not to eat with them, or laugh with them, as they usually fell out when not at rest. You could smile with them, but you should not do so without practicing first, or you may run the risk of overdoing it. These false teeth were not for business, just decoration.”

Malaria: The cure for malaria, according to a man named Paracelsus, is a spider, a spider’s web, or water distilled through a spider’s web. As evidence of their homeopathic properties, Paracelsus, notes that when he gave a spider to a monkey for consumption, “That monkey is usually free of the disorders from which they normally suffer.” Paracelsus then backs this up with the case of a dying woman who was bled dozens of times a day without response. When these constant bleedings failed to yield satisfactory results, the desperate doctors forced this woman to swallow several wads of spider web, and the results were immediate. “She straight-way mended,” Paracelsus wrote.

“So,” writes Twain, “The sage (Paracelsus) is full of enthusiasm over the miracle cure that the spider web presented while mentioning, in only the most casual way, the discontinuance of the dozens of daily bleedings she had to endure. Paracelsus never suspected that this had anything to do with the cure.”

The theory behind bloodletting can be condensed in one succinct sentence: A body’s “humors” (fluids) have to be in proper balance to sustain health. All of the other theories listed below either contribute to, or support, that theory. Although Galen of Pergamon made some important discoveries regarding blood, he also contributed to this theory with the belief that blood “was created and eventually used up.” He did not believe that blood circulated in the manner we do today, and as a result, he believed that some blood could stagnate in the extremities and cause ill health. Thus, he believed that the vagaries inherent in humoral balance were the basis for health and illness. He believed that blood was the dominant humor and the one in most need of control. In order to perpetuate this balance of the humors, a physician would have to either remove excess, or stagnant, blood from the patient, or give them an emetic to induce vomiting, or a diuretic to induce urination. {1}

Humors of the body were broken down to four basic components by Galen: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. “The theory of the four humors arose out of a Hellenic philosophy that attempted to relate all things to universal laws.” {2} Another component of the theory was that bloodletting could produce beneficial and countering effects on the body that was subjected to deleterious effects incurred as a result of the effects changing seasons could have on humors, how a person’s dietary habits could affect these fluids, the zodiac, a person’s age, and even the compass directions’ effects. The theory held that any, and all, of these exterior forces could shake up a body’s humors and cause a body to produce more of one humor (fluid) than was necessary in that body. By releasing the blood from the body, the body could then re-regulate the humors better in regeneration.

Twain takes some other cracks at the “home remedy” market of his day. He cites “Alexander’s Golden Antidote” that contains over one hundred ingredients, some of them common, others too complicated to mention, or attain over the counter. Twain concludes the lengthy description of this antidote, “Serve with a shovel,” but, he corrects, “We are only to take an amount that is the quantity of a hazelnut” according to the instruction on the listing.

He then mocks the “Aqua Limacum” antidote that lists the “homeopathic” qualities of the garden snail when properly prepared by washing in beer, baking in fires contained in a cleaned chimney until “they make a noise”. “And with a knife and a coarse cloth to wipe away any green froth that develops; then combining those snails with a quart of saline scoured earthworms; which should then be laid on a bed of herbs and combined with two handfuls of goose dung, and two handfuls of sheep dung, then put in three gallons of strong ale, and fixed on the head and refrigeratory until distilled according to art.” “The book does not say whether this is to be taken in one dose,” Twain writes, “or if you should split it and take a second shot at it … in case you live through the first one.

“The book does not specify what ailment this concoction is good for,” Twain continues, “But I have found that it is a formidable nostrum for raising good flatulencies from the stomach. It appears as though the advocates of this antidote sought to empty a sewer down the throats of those with malady so as to expel it. It is equivalent to dislodging larva from cheese with artillery fire.”

Most readers of this essay, yours truly included, would infer that Twain stood tall against homeopathy as a cure for anything, but he credits homeopathy for advancing modern medicine beyond bloodletting and other archaic forms of medicine. He states, “When you reflect upon the fact that your father had to take such medicines as those listed above, and that you would be taking them today yourself but for the introduction of homeopathy, which forced the old-school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business, you may honestly feel grateful that homeopathy survived the attempts of the mainstream medical proponents to destroy it, even though you may never employ any homeopath but a mainstream medical proponent in your life.”

The takeaway from this essay, as I see it, harkens back to the Dickens’ quote: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…” Are we living in the best of times in the arena of medical technology and advancement, or have we “advanced” to the worst of times where we run the risks of foregoing the natural, homeopathic, and organic cures of our forebears? Twain writes that the collective brains of modern medicine may still be bleeding us if it hadn’t been for homeopaths injecting some sense into the conversation, but such a statement leads us to a confusing fork in the road that asks whether we should continue to follow homeopathy or the advancements in modern medicine, or as Twain seems to suggest a healthy combination of the two?

In our more modern era, there is a move towards advancements in modern medicine that is just as strong, in some quarters, as the movement against it. There is a common sentiment, among those against, that states that proponents of modern medicine are relatively neglectful of the consequences of modernity. An old biology teacher of mine captured this when he said, “Any time you put a foreign substance into your body; there will be other ramifications.” When a patient puts something foreign in their body, this theory states, something else might fall out as a result. When the patient repeatedly takes a foreign, synthetic substance to solve an ailment of the left eye, it might deplete the stomach of bile, or they might not be able to hear out of their right ear in a year. We’ve all read the research, heard the disclaimers, and experienced horror stories, but which side of medical knowledge do we trust more?

Did the relative scarcity of medicinal techniques force our forebears to brilliantly, if simplistically, derive more natural –and in some opinions more effective– methods of survival in their age? Does our suspicion of advancement and technology cause us to reference old world, home remedies, and those remedies used by Native Americans, the Ancients, or any of those generations that preceded us, because they were forced to be more attuned to natural, more organic, and thus healthier cures?

Most of us are not students in the field of medicine, and we don’t understand how some guy in a lab can synthetically create some substance that makes our body work better, and what we don’t understand, we don’t trust. We’d much rather put our trust in the time-honored tradition of homeopathic remedies. Or, as my Biology teacher alluded, we’d much rather not introduce foreign, synthetic substances to our biology if we can avoid it, for fear of something else falling out.

How many of us have watched those commercials promising cures that are so laced with disclaimers that the disclaimers take up the majority of the commercial. It’s almost laughable. It’s enough for us to put out a call on the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to up the average twelve to twenty-four years of testing on medicinal drugs before they hit our shelves. “I don’t trust them,” we say when a Big Pharmaceutical company puts another drug on the market, and we resort to the antidote that calls for snails, worms, goose dung, and lamb dung for a cure. “I just prefer the natural cures that we’re learning so much about nowadays,” we say to sound more intelligent than those that seek modern, Western advancements in medical technology. “They’re only in it for profit.” Fair enough, but if one of those Big Pharmaceutical puts a drug on the market that leads to nationwide headlines, the affect on their profit margin is such that they want to do everything in their power to prevent it. They may not care about their customers in the purest sense of the word, but they don’t want negative headlines to affect their bottom line, and the results are often the same.  

Bottom line for those who look back to a more natural, less synthetic era for their cures may want to consider the science that informed bloodletting and other cures and preventative measures that they considered sound science. Much of the science that informed those more traditional cures led to a 42.5 life expectancy, whereas modern science and medicine have our current life expectancy at 78.7. For every Eastern, homeopathic remedy that worked in Twain’s era, and could work now, there are also about one hundred, bloodletting type cures listed in the 1745 Dictionary of Medicine by Dr. James of London and Samuel Johnson that did not. Or, as the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it. 



The Psychology of the Super Sports Fan

Sports are an institution in America today. If you are a male, you are almost required to be a sports fan. I’ve seen numerous males attempt to escape this fact of life in America, but I’ve seen very few pull it off. Those who are able to escape this super sport fan requirement deserve a hat-tip, in some ways, because they don’t have to endure the pain and sorrow watching sports can inflict on a person. It’s too late for me. I’ve had too many teams disappoint me to ever enjoy it in the manner we all should when watching sports. We super sports fans are now at a point where we almost hate sports as much as we love it, but we’ve found no cure for our ailment other than more sports and other disappointments that help us forget the past ones.

In 2012, The Atlanta Falcons won their first playoff game in four years of unsuccessful attempts. As a fanatic Falcons fan, I’m prepared for the discussions that will follow. I know that the discussions will involve attacks that I’ll deem personal, as a result of my life-long affiliation with this team. If they lose in the next three weeks, I will be guilty by association. If they win, I will be permitted a temporary amount of basking, but I will soon have to reconfigure my psychology in preparation for the next game, and the next season. A super fan’s job is never over.

Falcon fan face painterImmersing one’s self in the world of sports’ super fandom can be stressful, for a super fan is required to be unsatisfied with their team’s progress, regardless how well they do. A super fan is never happy. A casual sports fan can enjoy a good tussle between two opponents, measuring one another’s physical abilities, but a super fan doesn’t enjoy a good game that involves their team, unless their team blows the other team out. Close games are stressful, and they suggest an obvious deficiency in their team that must be rectified before the next game. Unadulterated blowouts confirm superiority.

A coach says they’re not satisfied with their team’s accomplishments, and the team’s players echo this sentiment. The two factions echo this sentiment so many times that super fans have now incorporated it into their lexicon. I can understand a player, or a coach, issuing such statements, for they are always on trial, they are always pushing themselves to be better today than they were yesterday. It’s the very essence of sports for the participants to be unsatisfied. Why does this mentality also have to exist for those who aren’t participants, but spectators? A super sports fan doesn’t question why they have this mentality, they just have it.

Most normal people regard watching sports as a frivolity, a conversation piece to engage in with friends and family. To them, sporting events provide a simple event, or an excuse, to get together with friends and family. And for these people, sports is little more than background noise that cover the lulls that may occur at get-togethers. They may keep up on some sport’s headlines, but they often do so to engage in superficial, meaningless conversations. They also use what little knowledge they have to needle the obnoxious diehards on their team’s loss.

There’s nothing wrong with this needling on the surface. Needling is what super sports fans do to one another, but in the world of super sports fans everyone has something on the line. When you mock a super sports fan’s team, you had better be ready to take as well as you give for a super sports fan will often come back ten times as hard. It’s as much a part of the super sports fan culture as watching the sport itself. For the non-sports fan, for whom sports is but a casual conversation piece, needling a super sports fan is revenge for all the years that super sports fans have ridiculed them for being non-sports fans, or if they haven’t been ridiculed, they have at least been ostracized from the all the conversations that revolve around sports, and they’ve built up some resentment for sports fans that comes out in these needling sessions. It also gives them great joy, when the conversation turns back on them, and the super fan says, “Who’s your favorite team?” that they don’t have one. The fact that they don’t have one gives them an immunity card against reprisals. It’s what they’ve dreamed of dating back to their pre-pubescent days when their peers ridiculed them for preferring Star Wars and Legos to sports.

In the world of the super fan, it is seen as a testament to their character that they remain unsatisfied with their team’s performance? Even a fan of a traditional doormat, such as the Atlanta Falcons, is informed that the best record in the regular season should mean nothing to them, and their first playoff victory in almost a decade should mean nothing to them. You want that ring. If we’re in any way happy with the progress they’ve made, we’re satisfied, and being satisfied equates to being weak, and soft, and everyone around us knows this, and they won’t have much time for us if we don’t demand perfection of your team.

I once heard that the reason the Chicago Cubs are perennial losers is that their fan base will turn out regardless how they perform. I’ve heard it said that they’re more concerned with beer than baseball, and that they enjoy the confines of Wrigley Field more than they do a winner. There is a certain amount of sense in this when one considers the actual attendance figures in Wrigley Field, of course, but are they saying that a Cubs’ General Manager is apt to forego a prized free agent signing, because he knows that the fans will show up anyway? Is a manager going to inform the organization that he is not going to call up a star prospect, because he knows that the fans will show up regardless if the team is better or not? Their job is on the line every year. Get in the playoffs or get out is the motto in most of professional sports, and I dare say this is no different in Chicago regardless of their team’s ‘lovable loser’ tradition.

The radio show host who said this about the Cubs was making a general point that there isn’t the sense of urgency in the Cubs organization that there is in the Yankee organization. Yankee fans are adamant that their team win the World Series every year, and they’re quite vocal with their displeasure when the organization puts anything less than a championship team on the field. I can’t say that this is without merit, but should this same requirement be made of the fan sitting in a bar discussing sports with a fellow super fan? Why is it elemental to the respect of his peers that the super fan maintain an unsatisfied persona to maintain the respect of his super fan friends?

Super fans who have listened to sports talk radio for far too long, have had it pounded into our head that there’s no glory in meaningless victories … if you don’t have that ring. If you were a Buffalo Bills fan, in the 90’s, and you were happy with an appearance in the Super Bowl for four straight years, you were soft, because those teams lost all of those Super Bowls. The super fan would’ve preferred that the Bills failed to make it to the playoffs in the face of all that losing. That was embarrassing. The Bills proved to be historic choke artists. Nothing more. It didn’t matter to the superfan that they were able to do something unprecedented when they made it to the Super Bowl after three consecutive losses. They lost the fourth one too! Bunch of choke artists is what they were.

Did it matter to anyone that the Atlanta Braves made it to the playoffs fourteen consecutive years in a span that stretched from the 90’s to the 00’s? It didn’t to the super fan. They grew tired of all that losing. Did it matter to the super fan that they made the NLCS nine out of ten years? It did not. Did it matter that they made it to the World Series in five of those years? If you’re a loser it did. They won one World Series throughout this stretch, and the super fan remained unsatisfied throughout.

“No one remembers the team that lost in the championship.” “One team wins, and the other team chokes.” These are some of the most common tropes of the language of the super fan that you’ll have to adopt, if you ever hope to garner the type of respect necessary to sit with super fans in bars discussing sports.

If our team loses, but we’re satisfied just to be there, that says something about our character. In these conversations, we are our team, and our team is us. If such conversations make us uncomfortable, the best way for us to retain our identity will be to distance yourself from our team by informing our friends that we disagreed with a move or a decision that they made, but often times this is not enough to leave us unscathed. Regardless what we say, we cannot avoid having them consider us a choke artist based on the fact that our team “choked” in the championship. We could switch teams, of course, but that is what super fans call a fair weather fan, and a fair weather fan is the lowest form of life in the world of super fandom, save for the needling non-fan. Our best bet is to just sit there and take it. Our friends will enjoy that a lot less than our struggle to stick up for our team.

Even if our team wins it all, we super fans will have no glory. We’re never satisfied, and winning it all for one year, just means that our concentration flips to next year. We don’t just want a championship, we want a dynasty. The true fan is the superfan, always seeking definition of their character through constant calls for perfection. Even if their team wins a championship, they didn’t win by much. Our team should’ve slaughtered that bunch. There is room for improvement, and we’ll scour the draft pool and the free agent list, to find that perfect component for next year’s run. If our team doesn’t do what we think they should do, we gain some distance by proclaiming that the team doesn’t know what they’re doing. We know this because we’re super fans, but most of us have never played the game, or had to deal with team play, salary caps, or prima donnas who generate excellent stats with no regard for the team.

The one thing that every fan, and every super fan, should be required to recite before every game is “You’re just a fan”. I don’t care if you wear your hat inside out and backwards, you sit on half a cheek for a week, and you don’t speak of your team’s progress for fear of jinxing them, you’re just a fan. I don’t care if you have seven different jerseys for the seven days of the week, that you paint your face, or brave the cold and go shirtless. You’re just a fan. You’re no more instrumental in the way they play the game than the guy at the end of the bar who doesn’t care for sports. So, does this line of thought make it any easier to be a super fan? It does not, because as a super fan, we know that our reputation is on the line every time your team takes the field, court, diamond, or rink. We know that our friends are just dying to call our team (i.e. you) a loser, a choke-artist, and that can make it super stressful to be a super fan.