A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

“In a general way, then, madness is not linked to the world and its subterranean forms, but rather to man, his weaknesses and illusions … There is no madness but which is in every man, since it is man who constitutes madness in the attachment he bears for himself and the illusions he entertains … In this delusive attachment to himself, man generates his madness like a mirage.” Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization.

“That’s David Hauser,” my friend Paul responded when I asked him about a man sitting in the corner of the liquor store, speaking to himself. “He’s crazy.  An absolute loon. Went crazy about a year ago. People say he got so smart that he just snapped one day.” Paul snapped his fingers. “Like that!” he said.

albert-meme-generator-the-thing-about-smart-people-is-they-sound-crazy-to-dumb-people-cc1514I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved the anomaly. I knew little-to-nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that hadn’t succeeded, were a rung lower on the socioeconomic chain. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

Even while immersed in this world of despair, I encountered pride, coping mechanisms, and outright lies. John informed me that he once played against Wayne Gretzky in a minor league hockey match, Jay informed me of the time he screamed “Go to Hell JFK!” to the man’s face, and Ronny told me of the various strength contests he won. The fact that I flirted with believing any aspects of the tales told the others in The Family Liquor Store that I was almost as laughable as the fools that told them.

“Why would they lie about things like that?” I asked to top off the joke.

“Wouldn’t you?” they asked when they reached a break in their laughter. “If you lived the life they did?”

The unspoken punchline of this ongoing joke was that I may have been more lacking in street smarts than any person they had ever met. The answer to the question that was never asked was that a thorough understanding of their world could be said to be on par with any intellectual study of the great men of the book smarts world, in that they both involve a mastery of human nature.

“You see these guys here,” Paul’s father whispered to me, on another day at the liquor store, gesturing out to its patrons. “I could introduce you to these men, one by one, and you’d hear varying stories of success and failure, but the one thing you’ll hear in almost every case is the story about how a woman put them down. They all fell in love with the wrong woman.”

Knowing full well how this line would stick with me, I turned back to Paul’s father in the moment.

“What’s the wrong woman?” I asked. “What did those women do to these guys?”

“You won’t know,” he said. “All you can know is that you don’t know, because you’ll be all starry eyed in the moment. Bring them home to meet your dad, your grandma, and all your friends, and listen to what they say.”

In the life that followed that advice, I met a variety of picky guys. Some of them wouldn’t even look at a woman that was below an eight. Others looked for an excess in class, intelligence, strength and weakness, and still others were in a perpetual, perhaps unconscious, search for their mama. For me, it’s always been about sanity. I would date some beautiful women. I would date strong women that could school me in intelligence, and most of the women I dated brought that sassy element that I so enjoy, but it’s always came back to a fruitloopery index for me? I had an inordinate attraction to the mama-that-could-bring-the-drama for much of my life, but when those ultimatums of increased involvement arrived, Paul’s father’s whisper would work its way back in my head. I did not want to end up in an incarnation of my personal visage of hell, otherwise known as The Family Liquor Store, where it appeared a wide variety of bitter, lost souls entered by the droves, and none escaped.

For all that I learned in The Family Liquor Store, I still had one question that I dare not ask, why would a normal family, with normal kids, want to open a liquor store on the corner of failure and despair? I would not ask this question, even as a young man with an insufferable amount of curiosity, because I knew that the answers I received would reveal some uncomfortable truths about the people that answered. One answer I did receive, over time, and in a roundabout way, was that surrounding one’s self with failure and despair, makes one feel better about their standing in the world by comparison.

“How does one get so smart that they go crazy?” I asked Paul, still staring at this man that sat in the corner, and spoke to himself, named David Hauser.

“I don’t know,” Paul said. “They say he had a fantastic job, prestige, and boatloads of money, and he just got fired one day. No one knows why. Then his wife divorced him when he couldn’t find other work, and he ended up here talking to himself for hours on end, drinking on his brew.”

That made a little more sense to me. It was a woman. Paul’s father was right. I was satisfied with that answer, but Paul –and those that informed Paul– wouldn’t let the “too smart” angle go in regards to David Hauser’s condition. They declared that it was: “The nut of it all.”

Most of the patrons of The Family Liquor Store spoke to themselves. It was, in fact, those that didn’t that stood out. David Hauser, however, had full-fledged conversations. David Hauser was a good listener in these conversations, a characteristic that made him an anomaly in a world of anomalies. There were times when David Hauser looked to this speaker that no one else could see, but this glance was one often reserved for the introductory section of the speaker’s conversation. When this purported speaker’s dialogue would progress, David Hauser would begin looking at a diagonal slant, then an outward glance, followed by that inward glance that suggested that the man was contemplating what was being said. There were also times when he and this friend said nothing.

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people that spoke to themselves did so to fill a void of having no one to speak with. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his invisible friend created other voids, what some might call these voids seven second lulls, and there were times when the lulls in those conversations would end with active listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that it was the purported speaker that had ended the lull, and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. This added element to David Hauser’s conversation deepened my fascination, until I had to know what this man was saying.

“I have to know what he’s saying,” I told Paul.

I went on to inform Paul that my curiosity was based on comedic intrigue, but that was a ruse to cover for the fact that my obsession with David Hauser had grown into a full blown desire to understand something about humanity that I didn’t think I could learn from my otherwise sheltered life of books. I needed to know if a person, as progressed as David Hauser appeared to be, continues to speak to themselves to sort through internal difficulties, and they recognized it for what it was on some level, or if they genuinely believed that they are talking to someone else.

Paul laughed and gave me a ‘for God’s sake, why?’ expression when I informed him that I had to know what those active listening prompts were, and that I was getting frustrated trying to read the man’s lips. This part was all true, other than the fact that I implied that it, too, fell under the umbrella of comedic intrigue.

I did not provide Paul details of my full blown obsession with David Hauser for all the reasons that a young person doesn’t provide his adversary ammunition for ridicule. I did not tell Paul that I believed that the words this man selected to prompt the speaker would tell me everything I needed to know about David Hauser, and how much the man believed he was talking to someone else. I did not want to tell Paul that my obsession was such that I couldn’t focus on anything else, until I found out what words David Hauser was using, because I didn’t know what word would’ve informed me if David Hauser was perpetuating a façade of a man talking to himself, if he believed there was another person there, or if his need to fill the void had manifested one. The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening prompts would form some sort of conclusion.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

Those two words slipped out, as if Paul was repeating what had been said to him when he considered further investigation. He then focused his attention on me and dropped some dramatic repetition on me:

“Be careful!”

I was willing to accept these words of caution on the face of what they implied, but my curiosity got the best of me.

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know, what if he says something so intellectual that it gets trapped in your brain and you go insane trying to figure it out?”

“Could that happen?”

“How does a guy go insane by being too smart?”

It is possible that Paul was messing with me, and that I was so obsessed with this whole matter that I couldn’t see it, but it’s also possible that he believed it. We were both avid fans of the horror genre after all, and we were both irrational teenagers that still believed in various superstitions, black magic, curses, elements of dark art, and the supernatural. Our minds were just starting to understand the complex, adult understandings of the real world, while still young enough to consider the possibilities of what could occur under an altogether different premise.

Long story short, his attempts to warn me did set me back, and I did try to avoid the subject of David Hauser for a spell. I was not what one would call an intellectual young man. I had an insatiable curiosity, and I was an observant sort, but tackling highbrow intellectual theory, or highbrow literature, was beyond me. I was ill-equipped for that. Ill-equipped, naïve, and vulnerable to the idea that a thought, like a corruptible woman bent on destroying, could leave a person incapacitated to a point that they frequent a low-rent liquor store for the rest of their days and speak to non-existent people.

I thought of the idea of an intellectual peak during that brief moment. I knew I hadn’t even come close to my intellectual peak at that point in my life, but I wondered if there was a peak, and if a person could know it as they neared it? Is there a maximum capacity that a person should be careful not to extend themselves beyond? Furthermore, if they do, do they risk an injury similar to those athletes risking physical injury to accomplish that which lies beyond the actual limits of their ability? I thought of a pole vaulter here, sticking a pole in the ground, attempting a jump he should have reconsidered and the resultant injuries that could follow.

When I recovered from those irrational fears, I went over to David Hauser. The level he spoke at, before I arrived at the windowsill he sat on, lowered as I progressed. I was still somewhat distant, pretending to look out at something beyond the window, standing near him. I neared even closer, and his volume dropped even more. Was it a coincidence that his volume dropped in direct relation to my proximity, or was he lowering his voice to avoid being heard?

Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was a little relieved. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had dared to near him without fear and more than a little relieved that no overwhelming theories had been implanted in my brain, in a manner I feared might be similar to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts to that brain that are so far beyond its capacity that the victim starts shaking –like what happened to that kid in The Shining, shaking and drooling with horrific thoughts dancing in his head– until the victim wakes up in a strait jacket repeating those thoughts over and over, screaming for the nurse to come in and provide them some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in their brain.

I would later learn that David Hauser had achieved a doctorate in some subject, from some northeastern Ivy League school, and that fact placed him so far above those trapped in this incarnation of hell, AKA The Family Liquor Store, that I figured everyone involved needed a way to deal with his story.

We all enjoyed the story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, could fall to such a level of despair and failure, “Like that!” and everyone snapped their fingers to punctuate their description. I told the story of David Hauser to more than a few people, in the decades that would follow, and most of those people exhibited the awe I felt that day at the Family Liquor Store.

The fascination with this idea is superficial. Is it possible that a person could gain so much intelligence that they go insane? To those that offer a flat out, “No, no that’s not plausible!” In the decades that would follow, I would develop a follow up question to that flat out refusal to even consider the possibility of this idea: “How much of the human brain do we understand at this point in history? I’m not talking about rubes like you and me. I’m talking neurologists. I’m talking about those with doctorates on the human brain that deliver various theses on the inner-workings of the human brain. I’m talking about peer-reviewed studies that are accepted as fact one day, only to be refuted by future findings. I’m not saying that it is a fact that one could gain so much intelligence that they go insane. I’m just saying that it’s a possibility, an alarming possibility, considering how little we actually know.”

Bubbling beneath that surface fascination, and the idea that we’re all susceptible to becoming a David Hauser, as a result of something mixing up our chemicals in an inorganic manner, a blow to the wrong part of the head, or a number of other possibilities, lies a suggestion that we’re all more vulnerable than we want to consider. 

In place of traveling through a maze of unspoken fears, confusion, and concern lies an even more complex maze of theories, and research findings, that seek to find a truth, those of us at the Family Liquor Store came up with an answer. No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer. A coping mechanism.

The fact was, no one knew the undisputed truth of what happened to David Hauser. We knew some truths, because he told us some truths, but he wouldn’t give us an answer, because he probably didn’t have one. My guess was that even if a sit down could be arranged David Hauser, in a clinical setting, or some climate that would assure him that his answers weren’t sought to satisfy a perverse curiosity, David Hauser would still not provide any answers, because he didn’t have any.

The man that had spent the first half of his life answering the most difficult questions anyone could throw at him, had reached a block regarding the one answer that could prove beneficial to his continued existence. His solution, therefore, was to talk it out with a certain, special no one for answers.

This led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared, may have been based on the pain and embarrassment of having such a complex mind –built on a foundation of answering the greatest complexities for which the human mind is capable– devolve to searching for that one simple answer that he feared an eavesdropping teenager might find for him.

I had that answer, we all did, but I’m quite sure that our answer didn’t come anywhere close to solving the actualities of how a man could fall so far. I’m quite sure that our answer was nothing more than a comfortable alternative developed by us, for us, to try to resolve the complexities of a question that could’ve driven us insane if we sat down and tried to figure it out, and it trapped itself in our brain.

That’s Me In the Corner

I never considered the idea that I might be witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– in the form of a kid dancing on the dance floor.  I did not expect this kid to take to a corner, open up an NFL preview guide and eat an entire bag of soda crackers, while listening to the rock band Kiss.  I don’t know what I would’ve done, had that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought, just watching the kid, that I might never have reached on my own –thanks to that near impenetrable, crusted shell of good and bad memories that prevents, and protects, the human mind from seeing who we were when we weren’t paying attention.  Spotting these similarities in the kid did require some effort on my part, and some interpretation, until I developed an unusual, momentary obsession focused on the idea that this kid might be able to help me unlock some unanswered questions from my own youth that plagued me.

I wasn’t watching him at first.  He was the bride’s son, from a previous marriage, and as distant from my attention as every other participant in the wedding ceremony.  He did little-to-nothing to stand out, in other words, until he took to the dance floor.

“Look at the kid,” I heard some of the wedding patrons whisper to one another.  “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say.  I was already watching him.  I thought everyone was.  How could you not?  The kid was putting on a show.

dancerThere was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged each audience member to look away.  He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he made no attempts to communicate with us in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer might.  There was an element of showmanship in his step, however, that should not have occurred in a nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped lower than any of the other uncomfortable kids on the dance floor, his hand claps were a little harder than any of the others struggling to follow the beat, and his gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us in the audience had trouble stifling our giggles.  This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

“That’s Kevin,” he said.  “The bride’s son.”  His smile mirrored mine, and that of all of the whisperers watching.

I realized I was now one of those whispering and pointing at Kevin, after asking that question.  My initial assumption was that those watching the kid, were watching him in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised.  The number of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis Kind of Blue.  People, I knew, worshipped Miles Davis, and they proclaimed Kind of Blue, his masterpiece, his personal Sgt. Peppers.  I listened to Kind of Blue, and I liked it, but the term masterpiece seemed to me a stretch?  The structure, compared to his other works, seemed so simple.  I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that I was missing out on something.

It was this fear of missing out, FOMO in common parlance, that prompted to continue to watch this kid.  I knew as little about dance as I did jazz, so I figured it was possible that there was something I was missing.

“Why are we watching this kid?” I asked my uncle.

“Because it’s cute.”

My Uncle gave me a look that informed me that the two of us shouldn’t be making more out of it than what it was.  He then went back to watching the kid, and he even regained an appreciative smile after a spell.

There was no simplistic brilliance going on here, in other words, it was just cute to watch a young boy carry on in a manner that suggested he knew what he was doing.  The kid didn’t know how to dance, most nine-to-ten-year-old boys don’t, but the effort he put into it was cute.

My guess was that at some point, someone, somewhere had informed him that free-form dancing has no choreography to it.  You just get out there, lower your shoulders a bunch of times, throw your arms about, pick your feet up, and jiggle every once in a while.  It’s free-form dancing.  A trained chimp could do it.

When the kid made a bee-line to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people may have been shocked at the manner he exited.  I wasn’t.  I laughed.  I thought it added to the spectacle.  I laughed loud, believing that my laughter would be shared by those that had laughed while he danced.  It wasn’t.  I was the only one laughing.  I felt confused faces turn to me.  They were not shocked by the idea that his bee-line exit proved so harried that he nearly knocked the chair over.  They’d moved on.  I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

I figured that some in the audience may have regarded this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance.  Most probably thought it had something to do with the fact that the kid hated being the center of attention.  It may have been one of the two, it may have been both, but I thought it had something to do with the fact that this kid wanted to enjoy the show.

The kid’s elbows went out on the table before him, after he sat.  The person seated next to him, whispered something to Kevin.  He gave no reaction to that whisperer beyond looking at them after the whisper.  He had settled in.  He was ready to watch.  The disappointing aspect to this, was that Kevin proved to be the only somewhat entertaining thing to watch in this otherwise routine wedding reception.  He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed dancing in front of other people, so why would he prefer to watch?

Psychologists state that we have mirror neurons in our brain that seek enjoyment from another’s perspective, and that that enjoyment can be so comprehensive that we may reach a point where we convince ourselves that we’re the ones doing that which we’re watching.  Others describe it as a frequency of thought, or a through line to a greater understanding of being: being funnier, more entertaining, and better in all the ways that an insecure, young man thinks that those around him are better.  Honing in on this frequency is something that TV watching, video game playing nine-to-ten-year-olds know well.  It goes beyond the joy of watching others make fools of themselves, for the sole purpose of being entertained by it, to a belief that when watching others attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was paying so much attention to a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of that boy’s life, and I made several attempts to look away, but every time a member of the wedding party made a joke, or a foolish error, this kid would laugh harder than anyone else in the room.  My guess was that that raucous laughter was fueled by the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors.  Every time a joke was told, I would to look over and watch this kid laugh loud enough to be heard above all the other laughers.

“He’s attempting a crossover,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said.  “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ was preceded by a pause in the manner that most ‘What’s that?’ people ask for the expressed purpose of ridiculing another for talking to themselves.  If it wasn’t that, my uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t place my comment in the current situation, and his curiosity was genuine.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for that thought to be verbalized.  I was embarrassed.  I was embarrassed that I was so caught up in searching for this nine-to-ten-year-old’s motivation, and prognosticating his future moves in a way that I wanted on the record if it panned out in the manner I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘crossover’ is considered the Houdini Milk Can maneuver by observers.  The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve.  Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that garners attention, but the reason that making the leap from observer to perceived participant is that it’s difficult to avoid indulging in the benefits derived from initial success.  Overdoing it, may lead to the intended audience saying something along the lines of: “We know you were there.  You wouldn’t shut up about it,” and this may lead to your role as an observer being more prominent in any stories that follow said event.  The perfect crossover requires a tightrope walker’s discipline and balance to leave the seed of an impression that storytellers will hopefully enhance regarding their participation in the events of the night.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” the groom, acting as the emcee of the event, said at one point.  He was alluding to Kevin, and Kevin’s over-the-top laughter.

This recognition granted the kid an excellent first step, if in fact he was attempting a crossover.  It may have provided the kid an unfair advantage, based on the fact that the man that said it had presumably spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual step-father.  If the kid used it, however, he could complete a total crossover and have those in the audience incorporating him into the event, in after-party stories, regardless the kid’s actual participation in it.  It dawned on me, then, that I would never know if the kid was successful, as I had no familiarity with those that would tell the story of this day.

The reason this kid named Kevin drew my attention a number of times probably had something to do with the fact that he was a beacon in a fog of otherwise boring people completing routine events of a wedding, but to this point in our remote connection, I was not obsessed with him.  Everything I’ve written about this moment thus far, occurred as a result of reflection.  The acute focus that some could call an obsession, based on a personal connection I would develop with the kid, did not happen until Kevin’s mother, the bride, called upon him to participate more in the festivities.

Kevin waved her off.  He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation.  I attempted to regard this as a normal boy that doesn’t enjoy dancing, and doesn’t care to be the center of attention, but I found myself frustrated with Kevin.  I was frustrated in a manner that any person that has regrets witnesses others go down the same road without gauging the consequences for it.  I wanted to say things to the kid that I wish someone would have said to me at the time.  I was caught in spiral of emotions that led me to recognize that my own preference for observing events went deeper than I ever considered prior to that moment.  I realized –while stifling what I wanted to call out to this kid– that my preference for observing those that participate, over actual participation, was so entrenched that I regarded any attempts to have me do otherwise as a reach beyond my character.  I could not remember any specific incident, but I knew that I had waved people off in my youth, in the same manner Kevin had, as an obnoxious distraction from my desire to observe the event.

That’s me in the corner I thought watching the mother give up after one futile, symbolic attempt that she appeared to know would fail.  That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

‘You were just integral to the party,’ is what I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself as something more than just an obnoxious person.  ‘Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?’

Could it be that this preference for observing has something to do with the idea that we’ve all been participants and observers in the audience at various points in our lives, and we’ve all learned that the memories others have of these roles are somewhat interchangeable?  Unless the participant is so over-the-top funny, entertaining, or in all other ways memorable, the observer has the opportunity to be viewed as an equal to all participants, if they know how to enhance their role as an astute observer.

When one displays some athleticism, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display that they’re proud of any connection they may have to that athlete.  When that athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, the lone association the audience will have with that athlete is through vicarious definition of themselves through that athlete.  They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position at the time of the error, they would not have committed it.  ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

Some may view the desire to view an activity, as opposed to partaking in it, as a bit of a cop out.  It may have been a cop-out for this kid, just as it may have been for me, but I do have fond memories of various events that I refused to participate in, in the same manner this kid might have of his mother’s wedding.  I laughed with my fellow party goers, as we all recalled the events that took place with fondness, and I did offer funny anecdotes to those conversations, but my role was often limited to that of an observer.  Actual participation in these events, was the furthest thing from my mind.

If this kid shared as many traits with me, at nine-ten-years-old, my guess was that he was already documenting stories that he would retell for years.  Some of these stories might involve slight exaggerations regarding his role in them, but my guess is that few listeners would have the temerity, or the memory, to dispute him.  Some of his versions of the story may offer interesting insights, and if those little vignettes are said in a creative, entertaining manner, they might be repeated so often that listeners may join him in making the leaps to re-characterizing his actual involvement.

If this kid manages to accomplish this, and he gets so good at it that others start corroborating his version of other events, he may make the leap to an almost-unconscious discovery of a loophole in his interactions that provide him a future out on all requirements of participation.

If he does this on a conscious level, and few of us do, and his evolution is so complete that he’s already choosing vicarious participation over actual participation on a conscious level, then that is where the similarities end.  I thought he was too young for all that however, but I did consider the idea that he might be slipping into an all too comfortable position where he is neglecting the importance of participation on purpose.

The problem that I foresaw for him, a problem I now see as a result of watching him act out a page in the first chapter of my autobiography, was that he was learning what to do and what not to do through observation alone, in the same manner he did while watching too much TV and playing too many video games, with all the same vicarious thrills of victory and dissociative feelings of failure.  I also thought that he would come to a point where he had problems learning the lessons, and making the vital connections, we only make by doing.  If I would’ve been in a position to advise this nine-to-ten-year-old of the lessons I’ve learned, but did not heed at his age, I would’ve shouted:

‘Get back on the dance floor kid!  I don’t care if you were already out there.  Get out there and do it, and do it again, until you tailbone is on the line, and you’re making an absolute fool out of yourself.  And when that obnoxious observer steps up to laugh at you for making such a fool of yourself, you can turn on them and say, At least I was out there.  Doing it!  What were you doing?  Sitting on your can watching me!’

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

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

Those of us that have heard this line, in reference to what we are about to consume, know where this conversation is headed. When we hear that our hygienic standards are subpar, that our homes are just teeming with pathogens and microbes, that the automobile we’ve chosen has some substandard emission that is harmful to the environment know that we can’t just run away when one of our friends take the proverbial pulpit. We put up with it, all of it, because the alternative means conceding to the idea that there’s too much knowledge out there.

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes some of us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations. We might consider the idea that some kind of Orwellian governor on the information outlays be placed on some of the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers.

Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to voluntarily place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it might be deemed irrelevant to that audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.

This friend of mine was on the edge of his seat, as if he couldn’t wait to hear what he was about to say, or that he couldn’t wait to share his knowledge with me.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “What would you say if I told you that you couldn’t tell the difference between the strawberry flavoring in your shake and beaver taint?”

I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral hard drive that if they don’t hit a release valve every once in a while, they may experience whatever occurs to one experiencing an excessive buildup. A guy cannot just say that he doesn’t want to hear it, for that would be a violation of the ‘too much knowledge’ idea. Those of us that have been through this numerous times, have learned that if we play ball with them, it will all be over soon.

“I’d say I can tell the difference,” I said without yawning.

“You’d think that,” my the informed consumer friend said. “But people confuse the two every day. Everyone that enjoys eating strawberry, raspberry, and vanilla iced cream is, in essence, a big fan of beaver taint. And if you’re one that is willing to pay a little bit more for a product that contains the words “natural flavorings” tagline on its product face, you’re either eating beaver taint, or a wide array of animal byproducts, that may shock you. The natural assumption is that the opposite of natural flavorings is manmade, or chemical enhancement, but do you know the true extent of the term natural flavorings in the products you purchase? Chances are, if you’re one that prefers natural flavoring in your strawberry shake, you’ve been devouring a yellowish secretion from the dried perineal glands of the beaver, in a gratuitous manner, for years now.”

The Castoreum Connection


The exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver is called castoreum, and consumers have stated that they prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course. There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference has been found to be derived from the scent of the secretion, if the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two.

Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudate from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory. As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment, as the castoreum can be milked from the castor sacs located in its anal glands, but those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver”, in search of instructional YouTube videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

It’s also important to note that research scientists in this field, called flavorists, have developed synthetic substitutes for castoreum, and almost all of the natural additives listed throughout this article. Yet, all of these substitutes fall under the umbrella of artificial flavorings, and artificial flavorings fall under the umbrella of manmade, two terms that have been deemed unacceptable to informed consumers. When informed consumers read the words synthetic substitute, chemical additive, or any other artificial flavorings, they may make the leap to animal testing, or to the unintended consequences of man messing with nature, because there are some anecdotal bits of information that stick in our head regarding chemical synthetics causing cancer and other health-related concerns. As a result, our preference is for those products that have “natural flavorings” listed on their product face.

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that the distinction between natural and artificial flavorings is based on the original source of these often identical chemicals.

“Natural flavorings just means that before the source went through many chemical processes, that it came from an organic, natural source as opposed to an artificial one that has no natural origin.” 

Informed consumers heed the warnings: “Know what you’re consuming,” and “You are what you eat.” “Do you know what’s in hot dogs?” and “Do you know what they do to the animals you eat?”

“I used to be a vegan,” a friend of mine said. “I grew up on a farm. I saw what they did to the chickens, and the ducks, to prepare them for our meal. I determined that I would not be eating them. I felt bad for them. I had no idea I was eating a chicken when I was a little girl. I never associated chicken with chicken. Why did they give my food and the animal the same name? It made no sense to me. When they explained it all to me, and I saw how they prepared my friends (the ducks and chickens) for our consumption. I didn’t eat chickens, or any meat, for years.”


On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Or, better yet, do they think that their enjoyment would lessen if those tender, chew-able morsels were less shiny? 

The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine. What’s the problem with that, if it has passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?

There is no problem, writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as the consumer knows that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.”


Does the average consumer know that Starbucks once had a difficult time keeping their strawberry Frappuccino drinks a vibrant red? Who would want to drink a drink that didn’t cast a vibrant glow upon us? Starbucks found that most of the red flavorings they tested weren’t able to keep their vibrant color through processing, so they turned to a Natural Red #4 dye, otherwise known as carmine. Carmine proved to be more successful in holding the color, but it was discovered to be a cochineal extract, a color additive derived from the cochina beetle’s shell. These cochina beetles were dried, and ground up, and processed to give the drink a more sustainable red flavoring. Starbucks was forced to end the practice when informed groups caterwauled them into transitioning to lycopene, a pigment found in tomatoes.

As usual, all this caterwauling is much ado about nothing, as research performed over the last sixty years by independent researchers, and the FDA’s research arm, has shown that while most of these additives may be high on our “yuck list”, there are no discernible health concerns, or anything life threatening, about any of the additives from the approved lists. There’s just the “Do you know what you’re consuming?” factor that has informed consumers saying “yuck” regarding the manufacturing process of some of the products they consume.

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer taste?

Most of the articles cited here took an anti-corporate stance with their findings. Some of these stances were subtle, others were overt in their call for greater corporate social responsibility. Their stances suggested that due to the fact that these companies are not listing beaver taint juice in their ingredients that they are engaging in deceptive business practices, and that the FDA should put a stop to it.

To this charge I would submit that most of these ingredients have been market-tested, FDA approved, and the consumer will receive no harm from these products. I would also submit that in most areas of the food and beverage industry, profits are a lot slimmer than infotainment purveyors would have consumers believe. Those that prefer a clear beer, for instance, may believe that the use of the dried swim bladders of Beluga sturgeon (AKA Isinglass) to filter sediments out, to be inhumane on some level, but the alternative is a yeast-filled beer that would lead to no one buying their beer. It’s such a competitive industry that the need to keep costs down, and pass those savings onto the consumer, are often the difference between being able to deliver said products, and folding up shop. If an informed consumer DEMANDS! more corporate responsibility along industry lines, they should be ready to pay for the alternatives they’re forced to consumer. Informed consumers are also fickle beings that force corporations into changing from natural flavorings to synthetic and back, and they almost undermine their effort with constant barrages from their ‘outrage of the day’ vault. Those of us that pay attention to such matters, long for the “push back” moment from corporations and consumers. We long for the day when the uninformed consumer would step up, en masse, and say something along the lines of:

“I don’t enjoy hearing that a dried fish bladder spends time in my beer, and I might prefer that they find some other way of cleaning my beer, but I’ve been drinking this beer, and its fish bladder remnants, for decades. I eat fish all the time. I see nothing wrong with it, and I think that this idea of bullying corporations to do things another way has reached a tipping point.”

To Get Us in the Mood

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

The beaver’s castoreum has also been used to cure headaches, fever and hysteria, as it contains large amounts of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, and these anal secretions are said to contain around twenty-four different molecules, many of which act as natural pheromones … to get us in the mood.

Castoreum gives off a musky scent that is used in perfumes, much like a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color produced in the whale’s gastrointestinal tract of sperm whales called ambergris. As with the beaver’s castoreum, the whale does not have to die for ambergris extraction, as it is a bile duct secretion the whale produces to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale may have ingested. As such, the ambergris that is used in perfumes can often be found in whale vomit floating on the surface of the ocean.

Well known lover, and raconteur, Giacomo Casanova, was known to sprinkle a dash of ambergris in his evening hot chocolate, with the hope that by the time his lover approached its musky aroma would be permeating from his skin. If Casanova was feeling a particular bout of insecurity, with a promising damsel, he was known to add an extra coat of it on his collar.

The theory that Casanova, and research scientists in the field of perfumes and colognes, bought into was this theory that our sense of smell once served the dual purpose of warning us of danger as well as attracting a prospective mate, and market research has found that animal “materials” such as civet, castoreum and musk (from a cat, beaver and deer, all located in the same region) give a fragrance sensuality, because they have been found to have a chemical structure similar to our own sexual odors. Musk has almost identical properties to our testosterone, in other words, an enzyme that powers our sex drive.

Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the middle ages, called jousting. At the end of a joust, some victors of a vital match were rewarded with a damsel’s handkerchief. If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight huffing on that handkerchief with satisfactory joy. Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne. The handkerchief moment has also been depicted as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. Greater understanding of the “huffing on the handkerchief” moment would occur if modern cinema were to reveal that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, it would be coated with her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was the greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man wouldn’t have to look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often.  It may seem contradictory, but the required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that could be used as attractants. Decide not to bathe often and your visual cues may suffer, of course, but if we could manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues were still scoring high in the mating world, and our smegma production was permitted to manufacture these scents in a more organic manner, more often, provided that they weren’t produced so often that our smegma became overwhelming to the point of being counterproductive, we might be able to sit atop the dating world without saying so much as a kind word to anyone. As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –that can be found on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. We are then required, by the same, prospective dating community, to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents that can be found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.

Who was the first to discover this?

The first question that arises from any discussion that involves the “yuck factor” properties that the beaver, and the whale, have provided mankind is: Who discovered this, and how did they arrive at the notion that it could be used in the manner it is now used?

Did it have anything to do with the fact that someone noticed that an inordinate amount of women had an inordinate attraction to whalers? Did this first observer set about trying to find out why? Did whalers, after a number of successful conquests of women, begin to realize that there was something more to their success rate than the rugged individualism that women seemed to associate with whaling? Did one whaler begin to put some whale vomit behind his ears before he went to the tavern, and the others followed suit after watching him succeed, until the history of ambergris was written? On that note, who was the first person to mix beaver taint juice and ice cream together and decide that it was such a winning proposition that it could be used in a pitch to corporations, and what was he forced to say in that pitch to make it persuasive? While we’re on this topic, how was the psychedelic and psychoactive properties of the toad discovered?


For those that don’t know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain. What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery? Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath? Or, did an individual walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would either make them a ton of money, or did they hope to achieve a state of mind where they no longer cared about money?

We know that the idea that natural properties in plants and animals can provide homeopathic remedies, and that those theories date back to the Native Americans, to Aristotle, and beyond. We know that there had be a great deal of trial and error in that research, in environments that were not sterile, that produced less consistent results that would have a difficult time standing up to the kind of peer review such a finding would experience today. With that in mind, the natural questions that arise from that knowledge, is how many people became ill in the trial and error process, how many were paralyzed, and how many died before the 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT), chemical that is a derivative of bufotenine was found in a toad? This chemical, after all, is not available in all toads. It appears to be the exclusive property of the Bufo alvarins toad (pictured here), so there had to be a person, or a number of people, that began licking a wide variety of toads before they discovered the perfect toad, secreting the perfect venom, for those that wanted to experience the euphoria that can result from killing brain cells?

The 5-methoxy-N, N-dimethyltryptamine (5-MeO-DMT) chemical is a natural venom that the toad produces to kill off its attackers, and recent research has discovered that this whole toad licking phenomenon is a dangerous, old wives tale. Recent research has found that the human being, otherwise viewed as the toad’s attacker, is susceptible to the same consequences of any other attacker if they ran up and licked it. The human attacker could become ill, or even paralyzed as a result of an attempt to milk the toad in a squeezing motion and taking it in an oral manner. This leads to the next question, which researcher watched their fellow researcher, or test subject, fall to the ground in paralytic spasms, or death, and then cross out the words lick it? This researcher, or the researcher after him, must have tried drying it and smoking it, until word “got out” that a researcher had found it, the holy grail of brain cell killing euphoria. Word leaked, of course, and the secretions of the Bufo alvarins toad soon became so pervasive in a society, and then so detrimental, that Queensland, Australia, was forced to list possession of toad slime as illegal under their Drug Misuse act?

My Advice to Informed Consumers

If the reader is anything like my informed consumer friend, from the restaurant, and they are interested in trivial information about consumable products, they already know that there are numerous websites that will feed that hunger with numerous tidbits, and warnings, on just about every product and service available to man, on any given day. If this informed consumer is so interested in this information that they feel an overwhelming need to share, just know that an ever-increasing segment of the population has reached a tipping point, based on the fact that most of this information has proven to be either a trivial concern or contradictory.

My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that the research I unearthed might contribute to the violations of social protocol outlined above, but I decided there might be some unsustainable quality in information overload. If there is no such thing as too much knowledge, in other words, is there a way to explore the too much information (TMI) meme to its fullest extent and beyond? If informed consumers are driven by providing interesting tidbits of information, is there a way to flood their circuitry in such a way that these tidbits of information become so passe that they’re drained of all value, by means of manually pulling the levers on a tipping point so that it is reached by artificial means?  

There will always be some informed consumers, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information does any harm, and that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product. To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

So, the next time someone approaches your table with a strawberry shake, a bottle of beer, a bag of Skittles, or a fried Bufo alvarins toad that they plan to consume in some manner, let them do it in peace. I know it’s going to provide the informed consumer the biological equivalent of letting a kidney stone calcify in your system, but do it with the knowledge that an ever-increasing segment of the population doesn’t care one-eighth as much about this information as most informed consumers do, and the discretion that informed consumer shows, by allowing the consumption to continue without comment, could go a long way to them making friends and influencing people.

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman

There was a time, in the history of comedy, when the subversive strain became so ubiquitous that it became conventional and in need of destruction. Although the late, great Andy Kaufman never intended to undermine, and thus destroy, the top talent of his generation, his act revealed his contemporaries for what they were: conventional comedians operating under a like-minded banner. In the process, Andy Kaufman developed an art form.

Those of us that had an unnatural attraction to Andy Kaufman’s game-changing brand of unfunny comedy now know that he was oblivious to greater concerns, but we used whatever it was he created to subvert the conventional subversions, until they were no longer considered subversive.

Michael Richards, Andy Kaufman, Melanie Chartoff, Brandis Kemp, Larry David

Michael Richards, Andy Kaufman, Melanie Chartoff, Brandis Kemp, Larry David

Those “in the know” had a very distinct, sociopolitical, and outright political definition of subversion before Andy Kaufman. They may deem the art form Andy Kaufman developed as that of a certified comedic genius, now, but they had no idea while he was doing it. They may have even cautioned him against doing it.

I see what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think it will play well in Omaha,” I imagine one of them saying. “They’ll just think you’re weird, and weird doesn’t play well on the national stage … Unless you’re funny-weird.”

Being weird, in the manner Andy Kaufman was weird, was probably regarded as just plain weird … even idiotic. Those in the know didn’t know what he was after. Before Andy Kaufman became Andy Kaufman, and his definition of weird was defined as an art form, being weird meant going so far over-the-top that the audience felt comfortable with the notion that the comedian was being weird. It required the comedic player to provide the audience with visual cues that could be communicated in the form of a weird facial expression, so that “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” could understand that a comedian was being weird.

One can be sure that before Andy Kaufman took to the national stage, on Saturday Night Live, all of those “in the know” warned him of the potholes that lay ahead of him if he didn’t find a more conventional method of subversion, or weirdness, to let the audience in on the joke. Kaufman didn’t listen. For whatever reason, be it confidence, perseverance, or the lack of talent required to be funny in a more conventional sense, Kaufman maintained his unconventional, unfunny, and idiotic characters and bits, until those “in the know” declared him to be one of the funniest men that ever lived.

The cutting edge, comedic intelligentsia now speak of the deceased comedic actor as if they were onto it the whole time. They weren’t. They didn’t get it. I didn’t get it, but I was young, and I needed the assistance of repetition to understand the genius of being idiotic, until I busied myself trying to carve out my own path to true idiocy, in my little world.

Andy Kaufman may not have been the first true idiot in the pantheon of comedy, but for those of us that witnessed a display of his idiotic behavior, it opened up a whole new can of weird. We didn’t know that one could be so idiotic, until someone came along, broke that door down, and showed us all this furniture.

For those that never saw Andy Kaufman at work, his claim to fame was not jokes, so much as it was the situational humor. The situations he created weren’t funny, in the conventional sense, so much as they were so unfunny that they were deemed idiotic. He was so idiotic that many believed that his shows were nothing more than a series of improvised situations where he reacted “on the fly” to a bunch of idiotic stuff, but what most of those “in the know” did not know was that everything Kaufman did was methodical, and meticulous, and choreographed.

Being Unfunny in Funny Situations

Like the knuckleball, situational humor can get better or worse as the game goes on, but if a pitcher is  going to have any success with it they’re going to have to devote themselves to the pitch. An individual that enjoys pulling situational jokes and pranks on people should be prepared to have the subjects of their joke hit the occasional home run off of them, and they should be prepared to knock out the occasional mascot with a wild pitch, but for situational jokes to ever become effective, they can’t be just another pitch in an arsenal. They require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to the situational comic will have a difficult time understanding.

“Why would you try to confuse people?” they will ask those attempting this pitch.  “By saying things that aren’t funny?” 

“I would like for someone, somewhere to consider me idiotic,” will be the response of the devoted. “Any idiot can fall down a flight of stairs, trip over a heat register, and engage in slapstick comedy, but I want to achieve a form of idiocy that leads others to believe that that I am a total idiot.”

The truth, for many idiots, is that we don’t know why we enjoy such bizarre, situational humor. We just do. The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter, through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and prime time sitcoms, and it bores us. We never thought we were funny, or funnier than those that have mastered the template of joke telling, but the idea that everyone knows these jokes so well that they know our punchlines before we say them, leads us to try something different.

Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery of their friends –those with game show host type personalities. For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around the traditional modes of comedy. Some may employ these tactics, to simply stand out, and above the fray, and others may enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base that can be a byproduct of this mindset, but most people find that they are unable to identify the reason behind doing what they do. They just know they like it, and they will continue to like it, no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

I had an acquaintance that learned of my devotion to this mindset, when she overheard me contrast it in a conventional conversation with a third-party. What she heard in that conversation was a brief display of intellectual prowess that contradicted whatever characterization she had of me prior to that moment. When I turned back to her, to continue the conversation that she and I had been having prior to being interrupted, her mouth was hanging open, and her eyes were popped wide. What she said in that moment, and in any moment I acted idiotic thereafter, was:

“Whatever, I am onto you now.  You are not as dumb … as you pretend to be.”

She thought she had me all figured out, and she was proud of herself. She beamed. A delicious moment occurred seconds later, when it dawned on her that what she figured out made no sense in conventional constructs. People pretend to be smart. They don’t pretend to be uninformed, dumb, or in all other ways inferior. She was looking at me when she stated that she was onto me, of course, and her expression appeared to mirror mine, as it dawned on her that this epiphany was not as comprehensive as she believed.

The pause before her second sentence included an expression that every idiot lives for, one that caused the pride to fade, and the beam to subside, as it dawned on her that everything she thought she figured out opened up more questions, and an eventual flowchart that ended in rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning. She pursued me after that, to convince me that she was onto my whole act, and she did it so often that it became obvious that she was the audience to her own argument.

I’ve never thrown an actual knuckleball with any success, but watching her flail away at the gradual progression of my situational joke –trying to convince herself that this had no effect on her– cemented my lifelong theory that jokes can be funny, but reactions are hilarious.

The point is that if a situational comic devotes themselves to this mindset, and they are able to avoid having anyone see the stitches of their pitch, they might be able to convince some of the people, some of the times, that they are an idiot.

The List

The following is a list of idiotic gems. This list is by no means comprehensive, for aspiring idiots seeking to spread the seeds of their idiocy among their peers. As stated earlier, most idiotic behavior involves situational reactions, and that makes it near-impossible to catalog in a short piece such as this one. This list can be used as a primer for those looking to buy into the mindset, and it can be used as an explanation for the curious:

1) So’s your mother. Most idiots prefer the non sequitur, made famous by the television show The Office, “That’s what she said.” A non sequitur is defined as a conclusion, or statement, that does not follow the previous argument or statement in a logical manner. There’s nothing wrong with “That’s what she said,” of course, and “So’s your mother” is not a better non sequitur, so much as it is different. “That’s what she said,” thanks to The Office, has now become so ubiquitous that it’s an expected non sequitur, even if it does not follow the logic of the argument, or conversation in play. Your goal, if you choose to pursue the non sequitur, situational lifestyle of the idiot, is to seek that response that exists outside the patterns and rhythms of the norm. Another key, as expressed in the knuckleball analogy, is repetition. It takes patience and perseverance, to become locked in, but if you do it right often enough, you can become a “So’s your mother” guy, until those around you begin to believe that you have such unique rhythms and patterns that they’re irritated by you, and they dismiss you as a person that “Says weird things”. If the situational idiot is able to maintain this façade through all of the ways that people attempt to dismiss them –and they will vary, and some of them may hurt a little— the idiot may reach a point of progression where someone, somewhere will deem them to be a total idiot.

2) “What did he say?” is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, well-schooled in the art of being idiotic. This response may never receive the laughter that a well-timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response might. It’s the sequential reactions this line receives, over time, that may be better than those other two, if the idiot is strategic in the manner in which they employ it in their conversations over time. All non sequiturs, it should be noted, are required to be delivered in a careful, measured tone that leads the listener to believe that the idiot, in question, believes what they’re saying to the point that the speaker believes they have lost the idiot. They may repeat the story, and the logical order for the idiot in question, for the idiot’s benefit, but the idiot must persevere through this repetition to the point that the speaker may believe the idiot is a little damaged. This requires diligence and patience on the part of the idiot, but I dare say that no non sequitur humor requires more diligence than that which is required in the “What did he say?” algorithm.

This response is not a joke to you. You believe that when someone introduces a story that involves an agreed upon female name –like Martha, Barbara, or Beatrice– that they are speaking of a male.

“What did he say about that?” you ask in a manner dictated by the situation.

If your audience has no reason to believe that they are speaking with a total idiot, they may backtrack in an attempt to determine the point of confusion. If the idiot is successful in completing this portion of the conversation, the speaker will take a step back and say, “I said it was Martha that did this … ” This is the crucial point in the conversation, that which is referred to in idiotic parlance as crunch time. The idiot cannot smile, act humorous, or let the speaker in on the joke in anyway. You, the idiot, are not attempting to pull someone’s leg here. This is a serious attempt to pull off a difficult joke.

It requires attention to detail. It may even require the idiot to go into their grab bag of emotions to find the display of confusion that convinces the speaker. If the speaker knows the idiot’s reactions well, they will know how the idiot’s genuine confusion is displayed. They will know if the idiot looks them in the eye when they’re playing with them, and if the idiot’s insecurities are such that they look away when they’re confused. They will also know if the idiot is one that pries into a subject to get to the heart of a matter they don’t understand, or if they’re the type that pretends to know more of what they’re talking about when they don’t. This is no time to project an ideal image onto the speaker. This is a time to be honest and pure, and objective in your understanding of your reactions. This is also a moment to realize that you’re not brilliant and perfect, and that the best standup comedians don’t get it right the first out. Watch their reactions to your reactions and take note of your failings for the next time out.

One other thing, before we continue, this space in time will also provide a chicken exit. If an individual decides, at this point, that they’re more interested in having friends, or that they are uncomfortable with people regarding them as an idiot, they’ll want to consider pulling the ripcord on the joke right here. This can be accomplished with a simple line like, “Oh, ok, I must have misheard you,” or “I was just kidding.” Some people may also feel a little uneasy playing with another person’s head in this manner, as they fear it may lead the other to find them deceptive in a manner that may place a wedge between them and the other person, and this is the perfect moment to end it all before feelings are hurt.

For those that are willing and able to proceed, once they have mastered their confused reactions, they’ll want to say something along the lines of:

“I heard you.  What did he say to that?”

Seasoned idiots, that have experienced failure at this point in the situation, will tell anyone willing to listen that the key to making it through crunch time unscathed can only be accomplished by emphasizing the word ‘you’ in this reply, as opposed to the word ‘he’. Emphasizing the word ‘he’ lets the audience in on the joke in a premature manner, and while they may consider you something of an idiot for attempting to play such a game on them this is not the elevated form of the joke that that seasoned idiots seek, and they find pulling the ripcord here far less rewarding. Emphasizing the word ‘he’, to go back to our analogy, will reveal the stitch in the knuckleball, and it will result in an eye roll, or some other form of dismissal that allows the intended audience to avoid stepping further into the rabbit hole the idiot has placed before them.

“It’s a girl,” the speaker will say, if the emphasized reaction has achieved a sweet spot. “Martha is a girl.”

To lay the depth charge of this joke, the idiot will then want that particular conversation to conclude as all of your other conversations conclude. A deadpan “Oh, ok!” should accomplish this. The idiot may even want to increase their confusion, sprinkled with a dash of shocked embarrassment to complete the affectation of digesting what went wrong in the exchange.

This line of responses will not bear fruit at the outset, and an idiot may want to skip the next story involving an agreed upon female name, like Barbara, to prevent their audience seeing the stitches of the situational humor, but when the speaker approaches the idiot with a third story, about a person name Beatrice, the idiot might want to say, “What’s he doing now?” The emphasis on the word ‘he’, at this point in the joke, is acceptable, if the idiot has managed to place the speaker in the vulnerable position.

This is the portion of the situational joke where the idiot may receive dividends for all of their hard work. Some may enjoy pursuing this façade ad infinitum, adding intricacies here and there to it as it expands, but most of us want payoffs. The payoff may not be immediate. That perfect expression on their face, as they become aware of all that you’ve done to them, may never arrive. They may not say anything, for it may be embarrassing to them to admit that they fell for it so hard, but if this knuckleball was successful, the idiot may learn of their success when they try to pull the situational joke on someone else, and their initial victim turns to them, with empathy, and says:

“Don’t fall for it Judy. He’s not as dumb as he wants you to believe. He’s just an idiot.”   

3) “What’s that?” This should be a conjunctive sentence that follows the first sentence, and is followed by a repetition of the first sentence.

Example: “I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed Main Street. What’s that? I said, I don’t like the way the road construction crew fixed Main Street.” 

Needless to say, the idiot is the one that says all three sentences. Their third sentence should be followed by some fatigue, or some tone of urgency that suggests that they’re tired of repeating themselves.

Most recipients of this joke will not say a word. There may be some reactions, and I’ve found that the reactions vary, but if an idiot pulls the joke off often enough, they may land a reaction like this one:

“I did not say what. YOU DID!” 

I received this reaction over the course of years. I did it so many times that I was no longer trying. I was no longer trying to be funny, and I wasn’t trying to perfect my rhythms and expressions. I just did it, and that may be the key to pulling this one off.

The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was uncalled for. I was only afforded one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, due to time constraints, and she was more adamant the second time through, but I was not afforded the opportunity to do this as often as it may have been necessary to have subject want to strike me, but I still dream about that day.

This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball very early on, and most of them avoid swinging at it. Or, at the very least, I haven’t been able to deliver it in such a fashion that the recipient didn’t see the stitches, except for that one effortless attempt.

One important note to make, before we continue, is that most idiotic humor is not funny in the truest sense of the word. If the reader has no desire to become an idiot, and they are reading through all this as a curious visitor, the corner of their lips may not have even curled enough to form a polite smile. The words “None of this is funny” may have already crossed the reader’s lips a number of times while reading, and if I were confronted with this assessment, I would probably agree. I would then ask that reader what is funny? At that point, they may list off some lines that Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Martin, or George Carlin have said. “Fair enough,” I would say. “I am not as funny as they are, but how many people are? How many people have reached great highs in their life, believing that the sky was the limit on their potential? How many have done the same after recognizing their limitations? We untalented folks have learned that there are individualistic ways of achieving humor, and it can be found in the most unfunny, common situations one finds oneself in.”

My modus operandi, brought to you, in part, by the late, great Andy Kaufman, is that while jokes are funny, reactions are hilarious. If a person becomes practiced in the art of deception, and they learn how to deceive another into believing that they are a total idiot, they, too, can produce some jewels that will leave them with the feeling that they’ve created some temporary moments in their life that turned out to be rewarding.

4) Recite an Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

It’s a cultural trope that many have picked up from the movies, that when situations dictate, song lyrics can capture a moment. This can be done in business, politics, and most often in romance. It’s become such a staple of our culture that some idiots have developed the perfect non sequitur songs that appear to have significant and poignant song lyrics to match a number of different situations.

An example of using song lyrics to capture a moment, with some attachments to context, was performed to perfection by the show The Simpsons when the character Millhouse Mussolini Van Houten said, “So this is what it feels like … when doves cry.” It was humorous, because it did have some application to the feelings of utter hopelessness and despair that Millhouse was experiencing after Lisa Simpson informed him that they would not be a romantic couple. It was also hilarious, because it was typical of a young person’s dramatic attachment to utter despair that the rest of us know is momentary.

Everyone reaches a point of despair, or hopelessness, that they want to define for others through artistic means. In previous generations, individuals sought Shakespeare, quotes from other esteemed authors, and quotes from The Bible to pontificate their emotions. Our generation seeks song lyrics and chunks of TV dialogue. My personal favorite song lyrics are those of the Alan Parsons Project’s (APP) song: “Where do we go from here now that all of the children are growing up?” And Ween’s lyrics: “What can you do when your world is invaded by a reggae junkie Jew?” And the lyrics of a Motorhead song: “All right, all right, I hope you son of bitches see the light.”

The purpose of the cryptic use of these lyrics is that when the listener first hears the idiot use them –and they are well-versed in the cultural trope of using song lyrics to capture a moment– they may believe that the idiot has a firmer grasp on the situation than they do, until they hear the idiot use the same lyrics in an altogether different situation. When they hear the idiot do it again, they may feel foolish for having believed in it the first time, and in every instance thereafter, until they begin to believe that the idiot is a total idiot. The point, as evidenced by the use of the APP lyrics in particular, is that most song lyrics are so over-the-top, self-indulgent serious, that they’re ripe for ridicule. The point is that this ridicule is so poignant that it doesn’t just mock the idea of a hopeless and dire situation, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture such a moment.

The most hilarious reaction to the APP lyrics in particular was, “I guess we grow with them?”

The Idiostory

Most true idiots acted idiotic before they ever heard of Andy Kaufman, but whatever it was he did opened up this whole can of unfunny hilarity to us. After seeing what he did, it became obvious to some of us that the constraints we placed upon ourselves to achieve humor in the normal world, by acceptable means, no longer needed to be maintained.

Some of us bought every VHS tape, book, and album attached to Kaufman’s name, and we read everything we could about him online to try and figure out how he became such an idiot, why he chose to go against the advice of those “in the know”, and if it was possible for us to follow this indefinable passion to its bitter end, until it became a lifestyle that we could use to confuse the serious world just enough to lead to some seminal moments in our pursuit of the idiotic life, based on the reactions we received from our audience.

If our goal was to be simply be funny, we would’ve followed the trail Jerry Seinfeld laid, and if we wanted to be weird-funny, we would’ve adopted the weird-funny voice that Steve Martin used in the movie The Jerk. If we wanted to be sardonic or satirical, we would have looked to George Carlin for guidance. We knew we weren’t as funny as those three, however, and we reached a point where it didn’t matter to us. When we discovered the unfunny, subversive idiocy of Andy Kaufman, however, it filled us like water in a dehydrated man.    

Most of our friends considered it being weird for the sake of being weird, but they didn’t recognize the depth charges until they were detonated. Even when they were detonated, most of them didn’t find the humor, and they didn’t think it was funny, and they may have never wanted to be our friends, or have anything to do with us, if that’s how we were going to act. Most of them were so confused, and irritated by us that they found themselves confronted, once again, by the question of why we do it. And we may never be able to answer that question to anyone’s satisfaction, least of all our own, but we know we like it, and we know that we will continue to do it.

The Disclaimer

This particular mindset should not be used by those that want others to consider them funny. If this is the goal, the reader will want to learn how to respond to various conversations with a focus on beats and rhythms of delivery. This is something most of us do without careful consideration. It is something we learned as kids, watching the adults around us say funny things. We learned that quality humor, like quality music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that find a comfortable place in the listener’s mind. If a joke teller has learned how to manipulate a listener with beats and rhythms, they will achieve a pleasing pattern that permits a listener to know the punchline before it is said. Once the punchline is hit, and the listeners knew it before it was delivered, their brains will reward them for figuring out the pattern before the punchline was said, they’ll be rewarded with a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller will be rewarded with their laughter. If the joke teller learns all this well, and incorporates all that they have learned into their joke, the listener may even say the punchline before  the joke teller does.

If the goal is to be an unfunny idiot, immediate laughter will not be the goal. The joke teller will need to know the rules of comedic presentation, even better than funny people. As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell those willing to listen, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy people’s perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by them. It takes being practiced in the art of practice in other words. It takes an ear tuned to the rhythms and beats of a conversation, or situation, to be able to distort them with efficiency, and achieving this level of efficiency involves a lot of trial and error.

As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between, but anyone that has managed to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what is believed to be the beats and rhythms of humor, may encounter a sympathetic soul that considers the joke teller such an idiot that they may consult the joke teller about the beats and rhythm of their delivery. For the most part, however, the rewards received will include damage to the joke teller’s reputation as a potential funny person, total dismissal of the joke teller as strange and weird, and others wanting little-to-nothing to do with such a person. The total idiot may even find that no normal woman wants to date them, as they prefer nice guys that are funny, “and you, you’re just kind of weird.”

Busybody Nation

Busybodies learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. –The English Standard Version of The Bible, Timothy 5:13

It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday. The weather was even uneventful, an occurrence that any resident of Omaha, Nebraska will tell you is an event in and of itself. The conversation was pleasant, but unmemorable and uneventful, and our walk through the park should have ended that way, but I’d had enough.

“Don’t do that!” A female voice shrieked, somewhere off in the distance of the park. 

eyb09e00_p2After chasing the ducks, my dog sniffed at the shore the ducks stood on seconds earlier. He looked up and watched them swim away a couple seconds longer, and he walked away.

Had my wife said, “Did you hear that lady shriek at you?” I could’ve pled ignorance. I could’ve also said that I had no idea the shrieking was directed at me. The shriek was faint, and distant, enough that it could’ve been directed at anyone. I knew it wasn’t. I knew it was directed at me, but I could’ve walked away from it, and no one not even my wifewould’ve known that I heard her. My pride was not on the line, in other words, and I had nothing to gain by pursuing confrontation. I did think about this, all of this, while my dog sniffed the shore, and my wife spoke of her concerns in the background, but I’d had enough.

There is something to be gained by pursuing some confrontation. Some of the times a person’s character is on the line, and they need to come out swinging, with their best vocabulary. Some of the times, confrontation breeds definition. Some of the times, a person should not sit back and allow unwarranted, slanderous accusations to go unchallenged. Yet, we all make mistakes when we confuse perceived slights with actual, in-your-face accusations, in our quest for definition. Some of the times, I think, we can be so driven by the need to be respected that we engage in inconsequential confrontations that result in no gains. Some of the times, I think we engage in confrontation just to feel better about ourselves, and some of the times we engage in irrational, unnecessary confrontations for the irrational reason that we’ve had enough.

Most people are inconsiderate, but if we take a couple of seconds before impulsively reacting to their actions, we’d realize that the word consider is at the base of the word inconsiderate. The inconsiderate often don’t consider the ramifications of their actions, in other words, and there is a wide chasm between being rude and being inconsiderate, and it’s our perceptions of these incidents that drive them together.

We know that in most cases, it would be advisable to move on, past the perceived slight, and most of us do choose to be non-confrontational on most days. On most days, we find a way to walk away from the shriekers, and their prosecuting friends (that you’ll meet in due time) for the purpose of having an uneventful, non-confrontational day, and we do it without losing a minute of sleep, because we know that most confrontations won’t teach the inconsiderate social decorum, or the life lessons that they should know by now.

Those of us that choose to live peaceful, uneventful, and non-confrontational lives have an outlet. We go home to those that make us happy, and we inform them of our near confrontation, and we tell them how we managed to avoid overreacting. We say we know we were right, but we avoided indulging them. We might recite for them, what we could’ve said, but we often let the matter die there. We play with our kids, we love our spouse, and we pet our dog.

There is a point, however, when inconsequential, inconsiderate actions begin to build up in a person. This person could be the nicest, most peaceful person on Earth, but even these people have thresholds. After a lifetime of experiencing inconsiderate people engaging in behavior that suggests that they don’t consider how their actions will affect others, the pressurized valve that exists in all of us can begin to build up, until it explodes in an inconsiderate manner. This moment will not change them into an irrational person that seeks confrontation in the aftermath, but even the most peaceful people on Earth reach a point where they feel they need to aid the inconsiderate in their definitions.

My threshold was met sometime after years of listening to shrieking busybodies notify authority figures that they –or their children– have experienced perceived slights. The list of these perceived slights, they file under national catastrophes, is now so long that a compendium the size of War and Peace would have to be titled Volume One. I had reached my threshold of hearing about shrieking busybodies, in restaurants and malls, watching the manner in which every man, woman, and child treats every other man, woman, and child. I had enough of shrieking busybodies sifting through my emails, and Instant Messages, for material in their next ‘to whom it may concern’ report. Shrieking busybodies are in government seats now, our judicial system, our hard drives, message boards, and our minds trying to ferret out the motives that we may have had swimming around in our minds when we decided to engage in a perceived slight.

Shrieking busybodies tell us not to wear fur, they tell us what beer to drink, where to eat based on the politics of a restaurant, and how a restaurant treats livestock. They’re asking a consumer if they’ve tried to quit smoking, in line, at a pharmacy. They tell us that our child needs to be in a Federal Aviation Administration approved car seat, until they are forty-four pounds. They tell us that our lawn should not exceed two inches, what our body mass index should be, what we should be feeding our children, if we should be drinking coffee, what kind of Environmental Protection Agency approved car we should be driving, how much money we should have, and when they believe we’ve have enough of whatever we enjoy having.

If the sole motivation, for these busybodies, were to be an information resource, a ‘we report, you decide’ outlet as it were, we might have less to complain about. We know that ‘everything in moderation’ are words to live by to enjoy quality health, we know that indulging has deleterious consequences, and we know that there are some that need information outlets to be reminded of what we already know. We also know being an information resource is not the sole motivation of the true busybody. If that were their case, they wouldn’t grow so frustrated that they end up shrieking in a city park when another refuses to adhere to their strict definition of order

Most busybodies are the result of a peaceful nation that leaves its citizens with little to worry about. They’re a begrudged segment of the population that holds a lifelong grudge against those that “got away” with transgressions in their youth. Most children test boundaries. Busybodies tested them too, but they never “got away” with anything, or at least that’s how they remember it. They remember those that “got away” with testing limits, and how those people acted like they didn’t care what the rules were. Busybodies did. They didn’t want to get in trouble, and they didn’t think it was fair when others eluded authoritarian consequences. When others did get caught, and the consequences were less severe than the busybody thought they should be, the percolating began.

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” busybodies told us when we were all kids in grade school. When Ms. Johnson did little-to-nothing to punish us for our transgression, the percolating began. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce and authoritarian, and it was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve the busybody’s sense of order with fire and brimstone style punishments for the disorderly, the busybody was confused and resentful. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear of authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody informed her of it, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, with all of the evidence the busybody compiled against the culprit, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil that led the busybody to spend the rest of their life trying to correct. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

A “That’s not fair!” mantra became their battle cry, and they used that battle cry to assist teachers, and other parents, with the difficult task of imposing order. This battle cry followed them into adulthood where their life’s mission transitioned to assisting office managers, supervisors, and lawmakers with their very difficult task of imposing a sense of what should be everyone’s very strict definition of order. They write letters to the editor, they’re parent teacher conferences last forty-five minutes, and they’re one-on-one’s with management are just short of screaming matches. They want order, they want fairness, and they don’t want anyone to get away with what they cannot.

They’re our busybodies, the Gladys Kravitzes of our nation, trying to right the wrongs of a previous generation, to protect this generation’s vulnerable from the vicious assaults that they perceive to be occurring.

Gladys Kravitz, for those that don’t know, was the fictional embodiment of the busybody, watching her neighbor, the witch Samantha Stephens, on the television show Bewitched. Gladys has become the fictional representation for many –of a certain generation– of those neighbors that peer through drapes to document the goings on of their neighbors. Gladys Kravitz-types know when their neighbors arrive home, with whom they enter their home, how long they’ve been home, the neighbors their neighbors interact with, and how everything a person does affects the perception, and property values, of their neighborhood. They’re the busybodies of our little corner of the world, and this is becoming their nation.

Abner Kravitz, the folk hero of those that have simply had enough, would be the first responder to Mrs. Kravitz’s eye-witness testimonies. Abner would close his newspaper and go to the window to see what his wife was going on about. At that point, the punchline would arrive in the form of a return to normalcy in the Stephens’ home. After this, Abner would turn to his busybody wife and say something along the lines of “Why don’t you just mind your own business Gladys!”

The buildup of these Gladys Kravitz-types telling to tell me how to live, reached its threshold in the ten seconds I spent contemplating doing nothing in response to the faint, anonymous shriek that told me to stop doing what I was doing, and I decided to let my still leashed dog have another run at another set of ducks. I knew that faint, anonymous shriek was intended for me, and I knew that a repeat of this action would exacerbate this situation, and I knew I could have avoided it all without anyone knowing, but I had enough.

“Watch your dog,” a fisherman, on a different shoreline, called out to initiate this confrontation, after I’d allowed my dog a second go.

“He’s all right,” I informed this gentleman. “He’s just having a little fun. I keep him on the leash at all times, but I do allow him to chase ducks a little.”

“Be careful,” the man said. “I’m a prosecutor, and people run sting operations in this park all the time.”

I must admit that this put me back a step. Was that intended to be a threat? It was. It stoked my ire.

“We’re just having a little fun,” I said, “But I do thank you for your concern,” and I offered him a smile and a good-natured wave that was as confrontational as a smile and a good-natured wave can be.

The ‘Don’t do that!’ shrieker stepped to the fore. She had been waiting for me about twenty yards further along the park’s trail. She had been waiting, I can only assume, to see how the prosecuting attorney’s threats would affect me. When it was determined that I was unaffected by them, she stepped to the fore. She informed me, at high volume, that the ducks were scared, and that they cannot fly, and she added some other gibberish that flew out of her mouth at such a rate that I feared she might be exhibiting the early, warning signs of a cardiac arrest.

I stopped on the trail, for a moment, caught off guard by her venom, until I realized that faux pas. I continued to progress on the trail that happened to be in her general direction. My progression was not confrontational, and I made that clear with my stride, but I was not going to stand back, away from her, in fear of her vitriol. She then provided me a scenario in which a large and menacing dog was headed for my dog, and she asked me if I wouldn’t be just as fearful as those ducks were.

“Not if that dog were leashed,” I said.

“Yes you would,” she said.

The uninteresting “nu uh,” “yes huh” portion of the confrontation lasted for another thirty seconds, with each party parrying and thrusting, until the shrieking woman decided to turn and walk away. She was still saying things, but her venom had diminished a tad.

I’ve been accused, in the past, of being a last word person. I’ve often found that those that accuse me of this, need to have the last word far more than me, and they beat me to the last word by accusing me of being one that needs to have the last word. This has happened to me so often that I’ve thought of accusing people of needing to have the last word before we even begin such a discussion, just to take that arrow out of their quiver.

I do concede that if more than five to seven people make such an accusation, there may be something to it. If that is the case, it may have something to do with the fact that draws, and defeats, don’t settle well in my digestive system. I prefer to think that I can accept draws, and defeats, as long as the other person has considered my point of view before we go our separate ways. I will also concede that this consideration of my point of view is relative to my definition, and that I don’t provide the most objective perspective on me.

“It looks like we won’t be coming to this park anymore,” I informed my wife, at high volume, to initiate my last word. “It’s filled with busybodies that don’t know how to mind their own business!”

“Get out of the park!” this woman shrieked. She then shrieked something about calling the humane society and anything and everything she could to defend her position. I allowed her that final word.

It was such a meaningless confrontation. I didn’t feel any better, or worse, when it concluded. No points were made. No convictions proved. Unless one considers the goal of proving to one member of this busybody nation that I was not going to abide by her edicts in silence. I did, in my own quiet way, inform busybody nation that some of the times they, too, can engage in overreach.

99.5% of the American public, I’m quite sure, never would have allowed their dog a second go at the ducks after the initial shriek, for that would’ve landed them a bad guy characterization, and no one wants to be a bad guy. In this particular scenario, the subject would have been engaging in a confrontation with a little old lady for the purpose of basically telling her to shut up about a thirty pound dog chasing what she deemed helpless ducks swimming in a city pond. I doubt that many, other than the .5% that get worked up over every perceived slight, would’ve defended their pro dog-chase-duck position in the manner I did. It would’ve been considered a no-win position to those that want people to think they are a nice guy.

My only defense –a defense that I agree borders on the time-honored, political tactic of diversion– is to tell you that I’m not a pro dog-chase-duck guy, but a man-stop-busybody guy focused on informing these people that we would all appreciate it if they would take one step back to that time-honored state of mind where people were uncomfortable telling complete strangers how to live their lives. It’s a first step that I would love to spearhead that suggests to all followers that regardless how inconsequential their moment of confrontation may be, and how indefensible it may appear on paper, we all need to step up and tell our local, state, and federal busybodies: “Enough already!”

If I were lucky enough to be considered for this role, I would inform my followers that we need to engage in more inconsequential, indefensible arguments, such as the one that occurred on a Thursday in the park, to roll back the tide of these busybodies involving themselves in all of the otherwise inconsequential moments of our lives. Our goal would not be to stop busybodies, for that would be impossible, but to begin planting proverbial “Mind your own business Gladys!” flags in the terra firma of city parks to let these no stress, no conflict, and no turmoil busybodies know that they’re not going to receive righteous warrior badges on our watch.

“This park right here is neutral ground for the inconsequential to go about living their inconsequential lives without consequence!” is something we should scream as we plant our proverbial flag in the confrontation.

To those that have committed a “crimes against nature” by allowing their children, or dogs, a run at some city ducks, I challenge you to look back over your shoulder after the crime is committed. Those that have done this, have witnessed the otherwise unharmed ducks go right back to the exact shoreline that their dog, or child, scared them off of moments earlier. An insecure bully –that experience some joy scaring innocent, little ducks– might perceive this as a direct challenge to their manhood that the ducks are sending out. Our movement would not support such bullying tactics. We would do it with the idea that these ducks have realized that kids and dogs chasing after them is an acceptable consequence of living among the humans. We would do it with the belief that this happens to these ducks so often that it doesn’t even ruffle their feathers anymore. If the ducks have conversations, I have to imagine that this procedure has become so routine for them, that they fly away and back without so much as a pause in their sentence.

If it caused these ducks the degree of trauma the shrieking busybody world believe it does, these ducks would choose to live elsewhere. These ducks could live in the wild, for example, where they might face actual predators stalking them on a daily basis, as opposed to a thirty pound Puggle giving chase to tweak some instinct he has never executed to completion and wouldn’t know what to do if he did. If the trauma of the Puggle threat were such that the ducks opted to forgo the world of gorging on human largesse to the point of obesity that threatens their ability to fly –and the many other survival skills that their forebears honed for them– they would opt for an existence that might result in them going hungry for the night, if they were to survive it.

I don’t know how advanced, or informed, the decision-making process of the city lake duck is, but I’m guessing that the wariness they have for the little beings –a child or a dog– that tend to accompany a larger being on a walk, trumps the fear they have for all the other beings that exist in all the areas of the world not preserved by man for their comfort and well-being.

The Pitfalls of the Previous, Private Generation

Even those of us that despise the ways of the modern busybody must acknowledge that their gestation period began as a result of the mistakes of the previous generations.

“What a man does in his own home is his business,” was the mindset of those previous generations that believed that respecting another’s privacy was, at least, a preferred method of dealing with neighbors, if not the honorable one. Thus, when faced with even extreme situations, good and honorable men deemed it the preferred course, if not the honorable one, to do little-to-nothing.

Now, a good and honorable man, of that previous generation, could have been persuaded to have a word with another man perceived to be causing an extreme situation, but if that other man informed the honorable man that it was “none of their business” good men backed off and said, “I tried, Mildred, I tried.” The next course of action would’ve involved either a physical altercation, or a call to the police, and neither of those actions were acted upon often.

Our current generation had seen the deleterious effects of ignoring extreme situations in which the helpless were harmed in irreparable ways that affected the rest of their lives. Good and honorable men have realized that there has been a call-to-arms to defend the helpless in ways greater than those symbolic measures put forth by previous generations. We may go a little overboard with our actions, at times, to protect the helpless, but we feel that some of the times it’s best to say something early before these situations escalate. There is also some foggy notion in our head, that if we do overreact in some situations, perhaps we might rectify the wrongs of the previous generation that decided to do little-to-nothing.

The problem with this call-to-arms mindset is that extreme situations don’t come around as often as we’ve been led to believe, and this problem of scarcity has given rise to the perception of injustice, and the perception that the situation before us is one of the extreme, that needs to be acted upon. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow them to get away with doing that,” we say when our child comes home with a real, or imagined, slight. “What’s that principle’s phone number again?”

Even if the situation before us is not of an extreme nature, it is possible that it could evolve into one. Who knows how these things progress? Isn’t it better to act now, than to allow it to fester. We feel a responsibility to protect the helpless, from further mistreatment. “It may be nothing now, but I don’t want to go to bed tonight thinking that I should’ve said something earlier. If I’m wrong, big deal, at least my heart was in the right place. I will be perceived as a righteous warrior, even if I stepped in the middle of a mother scolding her child in a mall, and that child was acting up to the extreme, and that mother may be more insecure, going forward, correcting her child in public in a manner that may result in the child being more prone to act up in public. It’s all an acceptable error on my part, if I manage to save one helpless child from a true, extreme situation.”

Busybodies have a trumpet, and they’re not afraid to use it

There are varying degrees of busybody intrusion, of course. Some, as noted above, carefully intercede on behalf of another in a moment they believe has, in some way, spun out of control. They might say something, but they move on. They might concede they don’t know the whole story, but from what they saw it appeared to be a moment that called for some intrusion. Others take great pride in their ability to recognize a situation before it escalates, and they will intercede without concession. The difference can be often found in the aftermath, when true busybodies trumpet their exploits to friends and family. This is what true busybodies do. They’re proud of it, and it’s how they attain their badges of honor. It’s why people call them righteous warriors, according to their definition of what they think people should say about them.

The audience of the righteous warrior’s retelling often know little-to-nothing of what actually happened in the incident, so they may perpetuate the self-righteousness of the righteous warrior by congratulating him for stepping in. It’s rare that a listener will prod the righteous warrior for more details in this manner:

“Did you know the totality of what happened before you intervened? Did you make sure you were apprised of, at least, most of the details involved, or did you make a leap of faith?”

“What do you mean, did I know what happened there?” the busybody will ask in their defense. “I saw an adult correcting a child in a manner that I deemed to be unwarranted to the extreme! It’s just a child for gosh sakes! There was no need for that!”

“But how many times have you been wrong?” a bold questioner may ask. “How many times have you stepped in on a situation, of this nature, and done more harm than good?”

“I don’t know,” they will say, if they’re being honest. “I’m not going to play this game. I may be wrong, some of the times, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay to create a more just world where the helpless of our society are better protected. I see it as doing my part.”

“But you don’t know that to be the case, here, is all I’m saying. I’m saying that some of the times, you should mind your own business, unless you know for sure.” 

This is the temptation those of us that have grown to loathe the busybody have, but as anyone on the “but” end of a busybody’s complaint will tell you, the escalation of busybodies has reached a point now where there’s no turning back. The sins of the past generation, and all the movies, and TV shows that have documented them, have led us to believe that extreme situations exist around every corner of our nation, until we’re screaming at the top of our lungs about the psychology of some poor ducks that were scared into entering a lake.

I don’t know who invented the word busybody to describe these people, but seeing the way they act, one would have to guess that it was an ironic joke the inventor played on the world, for most busybodies are anything but busy. If we were to confront a busybody with the idea that they may need to get out more, they would begin a lengthy list of activities, and groups, that they’re involved in, and that list would probably surpass the accuser’s. “It’s obvious that that’s not enough for you,” a listener should say. “If it were, you wouldn’t have been shrieking at the top of your lungs about the psychological plight of the duck. Or, if it is enough, then you must have some past transgression eating away at your soul that comes barreling out of you when you perceive a slight against some perceived victim.”

If this confrontation that occurred on a Thursday, in the park, were about protecting ducks alone, would I have been hit with the threat of prosecution? If it were focused on the well-being and livelihood of the ducks, this shrieking woman could’ve put me in my place with a quick, inside voice condemnation of my actions. She could’ve undressed me, in a psychological manner, with a couple of quick words like: “Don’t scare the ducks. You’re a grown man, for gosh sakes. Do you get some kind of perverse joy out of it?” If she had expressed her fears with a measure of restraint, and she used a measured tone when expressing her concerns, my dog and I would’ve left the park with our tails between our legs. What the two shriekers did, instead, was so over the top that I’m quite sure that the second shrieker’s doctor –concerned about her high blood pressure, and her heart valves weakened by years of overreacting to perceived slights and perceived extreme situations– would’ve warned her against future outbursts, and the partners in the first shrieker’s law firm would’ve cautioned him against throwing his weight around in otherwise meaningless moments. Most busybodies have no authority to be saying anything that they’re saying, and this fact, I assume, frustrates them to a begrudged point that they feel the need to hit the release button on the pressurized valve that they hope ruins your day in the manner so many of theirs have been.

When Geese Attack!

Those that have watched an episode of Shark Week –or one of the numerous other home movie, blooper-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now– have witnessed what happens when animals attack. We’ve witnessed re-enactments of shark attacks, bear attacks, chimpanzee attacks, and even deer and geese attacks. Those that have watched these shows as often as I have, have also heard victims of such attacks say that they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer after the video.

“I don’t blame the animal, and I have no ill will towards it,” they say. “I was in their domain. They were just doing what comes natural to them, and I deserve some of the blame for being there in the first place.”

768px-Goose_attackSome of us just stare at the screen in silent awe. Either these survivors are the most wonderful, most forgiving people on the planet, or they’re just plain stupid. They had the threat of having one of their limbs separated from their body, at the very least, yet these survivors maintain that they are not in the least bit bitter toward the animal. Some of us find this reaction so incomprehensible that we have to wonder if we aren’t being played just a bit. We wonder if the networks have test-marketed victims’ reactions and found that the audience finds these type of violent clips a little less horrific, and thus more entertaining, if the survivor comes out on the other side of the clip with wonderful, forgiving sentiments. We hate to be cynical, but if this isn’t the case why do almost all of these victims appear to react in almost the exact same manner. It almost appears as though they’re reading from a script.

We here in hysterical, emotional reaction land, know that it’s reasonable to state that a bear is “Just doing what comes naturally to them” when it rips a human being apart for food, when that human happens upon that bear’s domain, with a full backpack of food on them. We know that the victims want to say whatever they feel they have to day to avoid appearing foolish, as they would if they tried to suggest that they were caught off guard by being attacked by a bear in a bear preserve. And they would appear foolish if they said that, or at least more foolish than a guy that expressed surprise after being attacked by a bear at a Schlotzky’s sandwich shop in Omaha, Nebraska.

We also understand that it’s the goal of those survivors giving such testimonials to appear reasonable when they say that “It was just a bear doing what a bear does” when she clenched her jaw on their face and left them looking like the elephant man. We understand that to suggest that the attack was, in anyway, vindictive, personal, or anything other than instinctual on the bear’s part, would make the victim appear foolish. We also know that most animals don’t single people out for attack, and that they prefer to avoid humans, unless conditions dictate otherwise. All of this is reasonable, even to those of us in hysterical, emotional reaction land, but it discounts the normal, hysterical reactions one should have if a bear removed one of their limbs, or left their face in a condition that now causes small children to run screaming from them at the mall.

One would think that a bear attack survivor would spend the rest of their life cheering on bear hunters. Would it be reasonable, seeing as how they were in a bear preserve when the bear attack occurred? It would not be, but most survivors of bear attacks should not be so reasonable that they are now able to hide their new lifelong, irrational fear (see hatred) of bears in the aftermath.

Charla Nash

Charla Nash

If there is anyone that could be excused for being bitter, and hateful, it is Charla Nash. Charla Nash was the victim of a chimpanzee attack, in 2009. That chimpanzee was a friend’s pet, a 200-lb chimpanzee named Harold. In this attack, Charla was blinded, and her nose, ears, and hands were severed. She also received severe lacerations on her face. Her life was as ruined as any that have survived an animal attack, but Charla Nash, somehow, remained forgiving. She wasn’t as forgiving as those that appear to have prepared responses that I believe result from TV producers issuing a “Do you want to be on camera? Then say this …” type of stated, or unstated ultimatum. She did appear to be forgiving, and that forgiveness appeared genuine:

“I’ve gotten angry at times,” Charla Nash is quoted by the USA Today as saying. “But you can’t hold anger. It’s unhealthy. It goes through you. You’ve got to enjoy what you have.”

Charla Nash provides a philosophical outlook on life that those of us that have lived without such a horrific moment in our lives can learn from. Her response to such a vicious attack is nothing short of admirable. It’s a little incomprehensible to most of us, but we still respect Charla Nash for maintaining a somewhat optimistic outlook on life after such an attack. The “goose guy” is not Charla Nash, however, and he should not be afforded the same admirable plaudits Nash is due. The “goose guy” is just an idiot.

Pro kayak angler, Drew Gregory (aka the goose guy) was fishing in a river, and he appeared to be feeding the geese that swam near him. One of the geese, in the competition for the food Gregory was offering them, decided that the best way to beat his competition to the food was to go to the source of the food. The source of the food, in this case, was “goose guy’s” backpack. The goose, doing what a goose does, attempted to empty the backpack, and in the process sent “goose guy” overboard. After this, the goose appeared to either be laughing at “goose guy” or making sounds that could be interpreted, by some, as sounds that expressed dominance.

The first thing that struck me is why does someone film themselves fishing? I understand that fishing shows date back to an era before I was born, but I have never understood how it achieved a level of popularity in a visual medium. The next question I have for “goose guy” is why did you allow this particular, embarrassing video distribution? Why didn’t you hit the delete button on your phone in the immediate aftermath, or burn the video if it was recorded on another device? If this were me, no other set of eyes would ever see this video. I don’t think I would even be able watch it. My pride couldn’t have survived the hit.

Some have suggested that we are now at a point in human history where human beings will do whatever they have to do for their fifteen minutes of fame. If Andy Warhol, the originator of this quote, were still alive, and he saw this video, and learned that the victim, Drew Gregory, distributed it himself, and that that victim made himself available for aftermath commentary, as Gregory did in the TruTV airing of the video, Warhol would smile and say: “Told you!”

It is just a goose, I’m sure most readers will say, and what are the chances that an (on average seven-to-eight pound) animal could end your life? We can all agree that those chances are remote, but what are the chances that that same animal could do irreparable damage to an eyeball or an ear? What are the chances that a goose could give you lacerations that could land a person in the hospital? I can tell you one thing, I would not be calculating these probabilities in the moment of the attack. I’m thinking that some primal, self-preservation tactics would rise to the surface as I fought this thing off.

I can also guarantee you that the networks –that run these type of clips– would deem my reaction to the goose attack as unusable, as I’m sure that videos of goose beheadings don’t test well in market research.

I would also not be that amiable dunce that found a way to laugh about it later. I would not see this moment in my life as entertaining in anyway. I would not qualify it by saying that I was in their environment, and I received everything I deserved. I would see that moment as one of those survival of the fittest moments. I would think about all these videos I’ve watched, and how the one thing we do know about nature is that it’s unpredictable. Or, I wouldn’t think at all. I would just act. I would just grab this thing by the throat, whisper Hannibal Lecter lines to it, and separate its head from its body. If that bird managed to escape all retribution, and I still had some angle on it, I would grab my kayak oar and drive the bird in a manner that would make fellow lefty, golfer Phil Mickelson, proud.

If the bird managed to escape all retribution, you can bet I wouldn’t be smiling and forgiving in the interview that followed. My, edited for television, version would go something like this:

“I don’t know how you guys attained this video, but it has ruined my life. Everyone I know, now calls me “the goose guy”. If I get a hold of that goose, I will find the slowest, most agonizing death possible for it. I’ve already killed twelve geese in this area, thinking that it might be that one that ruined my life, and I’m not sure if I’ve killed this particular goose yet, or not, but I’ll probably end up killing twelve more before I rest.”

After witnessing a Rottweiler attack, in person, I am forever relegated to an embarrassing hysterical, emotional land whenever the average, full grown Rottweiler walks into a room. It’s irrational and emotional, two reactions I strive to avoid in life, but they’re a part of me that cannot be controlled. I’ve lost arguments with those that state that no dog, be they the Rottweiler, Pit bull, or otherwise are evil by nature. They cite science, I cite hysterical emotions based upon experience. I lose. Even as I’m losing these arguments, however I know I’m not the alone with these feelings, and I am quite sure that those that hold such views, in the aftermath of their near-death attacks, or embarrassing attacks, are edited out of these home movie, clip shows, for those animal lovers that would not appreciate what I have to say, or what I do, in the aftermath of such an attack.

The Thief’s Mentality

I’ve never been accused of cheating on a girl more than I was by the girl that cheated on me the most, I’ve never been accused of stealing more than I was by the guy that stole the most from me, and I’ve never been accused of lying more than I was by the person that lied to me more than anyone else. These people know who they are, on some level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than them, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know what we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.

An individual, named Kurt Lee, taught me more about being a thief, and a real piece of work (POS), than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book that I’ve read on the subject. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but Kurt Lee would serve as a prototype for all of the people I would meet that would exhibit traits I would later call the thief’s mentality.  

The most interesting aspect about the man, and that which might defy all that I will describe in this piece, is that he was charming individual. When it suited his goals, Kurt Lee could be nice, engaging, infectious, and humorous. When he wanted to be, Kurt Lee could create a climate in which his audience would find it difficult not to be to his sensibilities, and epistemology, in a manner that is difficult to describe to one that’s never met anyone like him.

We would envy Kurt Lee for the ways in which he openly defy authority figures without guilt, but those that spent as much time around Kurt Lee as I did, witnessed the fact that for all the personality a charismatic POS can display, while destroying the conventions that “all the squares live by”, their ways end up destroying them from the inside out.


I was on a city bus on an afternoon when Kurt Lee decided to play with the ball on top of an elderly woman’s stocking cap that sat in front of him. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things that I have to answer for when I reach Judgment Day, but I found this wicked deed hysterical.

Hindsight informs me that my attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics may have had something to do with learning about the mores and rules my mother taught me. Why hadn’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old lady’s stocking cap? What was the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Was it all about morality, or did it have more to do with common decency? My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an old lady, they should smile at them and try to think up something nice to say. I was taught to hold a door for them, and that it should be considered a privilege to give up my seat to them, on a city bus, if no other seats were available. These could be called typical conventions that mothers pass on to sons however.

Not only did Kurt Lee ignore these conventions, he did the exact opposite. He played with the most vulnerable member of our culture’s stocking cap. He violated her sense of security. Was this wrong? Of course it was, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature? How would she react? How would a real POS counter that reaction? Why did he do it in the first place? Did he think he would get away with it? Did he even care? I would never know the answer to the latter three questions, but I was so fascinated by the answers to the former three questions that I inadvertently urged him on with my laughter. Was this wrong? Of course it was, but I now believe I did so because I was fascinated to learn more about the moral codes for which we all abide, by watching another solidify my rationale without regard for the consequences of violating them. I didn’t have any of these thoughts at the time, of course, but I did know that I couldn’t wait to see how this would end, and I dare say that most of those that are more successful in abiding by the standards their mother taught them, would not have been able to look away either.

This vulnerable, old lady did turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She had allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, as she presumably went about trying to muster up the courage to tell him off. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. I encouraged him onward with that laughter. He did it three more times, before she reached a point of absolute frustration that led her to say something along the lines of: 

“Stop it, you young punk!”

To this, Kurt began thrusting his hips forward in his seat, looking at me, whispering, “She just wants it up the ass!”

Had Kurt Lee decided to stick his middle finger up in the face of a healthier, younger adult, it would have been just as difficult to avoid watching. The fact that he chose such a sacred cow of our culture for his act of rebellion, however, made his actions over-the-top hilarious. In my young, unformed mind, this was a real life equivalent to David Letterman’s man-on-the-street segments, taken up ten notches on the bold-o-meter. I would later learn that Kurt Lee was a coward that selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, as opposed to making a profound statement about our societal conventions, but at the time I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.

As time wore on, I would be introduced to a wide array of fascinating explorations of human nature, but they would pale in comparison to Kurt Lee’s mentality, his philosophy, and what drove him to be so different from everyone I had ever met. To listen to Kurt Lee speak on this subject, there was nothing different about him. He simply had the courage of his convictions. He ascribed to the more conventional line of thought that we were all afraid to be like him, but he also suggested that the rest of us have had this part of our makeup denied for so long, by parents and teachers instructing us to act different, that we now believe we are. It’s not about him, you see, it’s not about you. It’s about human nature, and the thief’s mentality.

“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to those that posed questions to him. “You mean to tell me you’ve never stolen anything? Ever? All right then, let’s talk about reality.” Kurt Lee was a thief, and like most thieves, he would not defend his position from the position of being a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms of thievery with this idea that a person that has stolen one thing is in no position to judge someone that steals on a regular basis.

In short time frames, and on topic, Kurt Lee could lower the most skilled debater to the ground. He was, what we called, a master debater. He could never be pinned down on specifics. It was a joy to watch. Prolonged exposure, however, opened up all these windows into his soul. When we would ask him, for example, how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top of the line zipper pants, or a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella our age back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones album, Some Girls, he would tell us, but even his most ardent defender had a hard time believing Santa Claus could be that generous.

Kurt Lee stole so often by the time I came to know him that the act of shoplifting had lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself in a manner top athletes, and top news anchors, will by hiring outside analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. Kurt Lee asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from a baseball card shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson. This owner refused to buy our cards ninety-nine percent of the time, and on those rare occasions when he would, the amount he offered was so low that we thought he was taking advantage of us. 

I posed a theory about the transactions we had with this shop owner. I said I thought he refused to buy our cards so often to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value, so that when he informed us that we had a card of some value, we would jump at the chance, no matter what he offered. In doing so, I said, he made us feel more valuable for finally offering him a card he considered of value. 

“You’re right,” Kurt Lee said. “Let’s get him.” I felt validated for coming up with a theory that Kurt believed explained the man, but in hindsight, I think I could’ve said anything at that moment and Kurt Lee would’ve used it to motivate me to conspire against the baseball card shop owner.

Kurt Lee did have one proviso, before we entered, and that was that I had to be careful how I watched Kurt Lee. I couldn’t be so obvious that the owner would know what we were doing. 

I was being invited into a world I had never known. I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that I might be implicated in this incident with my knowledge of what he was about to do, but I couldn’t shake the asexual intimacy that Kurt Lee was sharing with me, with this invitation into his world.

Before we entered the baseball card shop, Kurt Lee opened up his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.

When our hour at the baseball card shop concluded, and Kurt Lee had decided not to steal anything, I mocked him.

“I thought you said you were going to steal something?” I said.

He opened up his jacket and showed me his inner pockets. It knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when it was revealed to me that his pockets were lined with baseball cards. Had he displayed one card, I would have been impressed, three or four may have shocked me, but the sheer number of cards he stole without me noticing one act of thievery, led me to believe Kurt Lee’s abilities were wasted in shoplifting. I thought he should’ve tried his hand at magic. I considered him a maestro of shoplifting.

Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one acquires such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within the trial and error process of being a thief, lies a utility that permits the thief in-training to proceed uninhibited by shame. A skilled performer in the arts, or athletics, delights in showcasing their ability to the world, in other words, but a thief prefers to operate in the shadows, and their skill is acquired with some modicum of shame attached. Their success, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires them to either defeat that sense of shame, or find some way to manage it.

Shame, it could be argued, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces child to shame, in the brutal assessments a father makes regarding the value of the child, the child becomes familiar with an intimate definition of shame before they are old enough to combat such assessments. When these brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can do nothing right, the combined effort can damage a child to lasting effect. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be bad, they’re no worse than anyone else, something gestates in the child. Some kind of moral relativism that suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner they accept that, the more honest they will become. Watching their mother scold the child’s teacher for punishing her child for a transgression, clarifies this confusion a little more. In this relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and he sees her unconditional support firsthand. They also learn, over time, that their parents will not always be there for them, and that they will need to develop their own defense mechanisms. The child also learns to accept these realities for what they are, for the Lee family has never had the courage necessary to commit suicide.

I hated to discount the level of individual ingenuity on Kurt Lee’s part, but he was simply too good at the various forms of deception for it to have been something he arrived at on his own. It had to be the result of parental influence that had a transgenerational foundation composed of sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation. Some may consider that a bit of an overreach, but how much of our lives are spent rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental guidance, and how many of us can say we are entirely free of their influence?

I was so obsessed with this, at one point, that I bridged the gap between simple curiosity and badgering. This was apparent in his volatile reaction:

“You think you’re better than me?” he said, using the universal get out of judgment free card of moral relativism. It is a time-honored redirect, because it is reinforced by the lessons our mom taught us that we are no better than anyone else, but Kurt Lee’s rant would begin to pivot out of control when he would follow the rationale to what he believed its logical extension. This logical extension, if no one is better than anyone else, and everyone resides on the cusp of being whatever Kurt Lee was, required the inclusion of an individual that is perceived to be so-harmless-it’s-almost-laughable to suggest otherwise. The individual, in this case, was a kid named Pete Pestroni, and if Kurt Lee’s argument was going to hold water, Pete Pestroni would have to be declared a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I don’t know why Kurt Lee went down this Pete Pestroni road so often, but I suspect that it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, then everyone had to be. Pete was just too weak, or too scared, to let his wolf run wild, in Kurt Lee’s worldview. We would laugh at the implausibility of Pete Pestroni having a Kurt Lee trapped inside, dying to come out, and our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, but he wouldn’t even smile. This was a sacred chapter in Kurt Lee’s personal bible, and an ingredient of the thief’s mentality that took me decades to grasp.

The thief’s mentality is a mindset that involves a redirect of exposing an uncomfortable truth, or a hypocrisy, in others, so that the thief might escape a level of scrutiny that might lead to some level of introspection. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but they are just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive them to do what they do, but it progresses from those harmless, white lies to a form of deception that requires a generational foundation. 

The thief’s mentality is deflection, by way of subterfuge, to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond that point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others is so exaggerated that it can only say more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and your faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint that you must bear. We live in a dog eat dog, “screw or be screwed” world that suggests that those that trust anyone outside their own home are so naïve as to be hopeless. It’s incumbent on the listener, if they hope to survive in this version of world, to see past the façades, and through the veneers that others present to you, to the truth.

The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, had it that TV anchors with fourteen inch parts, and perfect teeth, end their day by going home to beat their wives. No one attains wealth in an honest manner, Catholic priests are all pedophiles, and all presidents have engaged in acts of infidelity in the White House, “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They just got caught is all,” and little old ladies that complain about having the balls on the stocking caps played with, just want it up the ass. As with most tenets of Kurt Lee’s worldview, there was some grain of truth to some of it, but he would often have to put forth a great deal of effort to support that it.

At some point in these discussions, after the agreed upon basics of human nature begin to fracture in what a thief believes are logical extensions, they turn their accusations on us. We may think that we’re all virtuous and moral, but they know everything there is to know about hidden agendas. They maintain a perpetual state of readiness for that day when we break free of the constraints of morality and loyalty to expose our evil, naked underbelly to the world. They have us all figured out, because they know those lies we tell. It’s the thief’s mentality.

They may even believe what they’re saying in their accusations, regardless what we’ve done to establish ourselves as an honest person, but the validity of their argument pales in comparison to a need they have to keep the subject of their accusations in a perpetual state of trustworthiness, in a manner that they know they should be kept in check.

I’ve witnessed some try to turn the table on a real POS, like Kurt Lee, by telling him that other people trust them. The answer he gave, to one combatant, was so clever that it was beyond his years. Again, I hate to discount individual ingenuity, but it just seemed too clever for Kurt to deliver as quickly as he did. 

“So you think if someone trusts you that makes you trustworthy?” is how Kurt Lee responded. He said the word trustworthy, as if it were an accusation, but that wasn’t the brilliant, beyond-his-years response. That would arrive, as it often does, in the course of the argument that followed in which both participants say whatever they think they have to say to win an argument, regardless what those words reveal. What Kurt Lee said was something about how those that consider themselves a beacon of trustworthiness are, in fact, suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. The reason I considered this response so perfect, as it pertained to this specific argument, was that it put the onus of being trustworthy on the person that challenged Kurt Lee honesty. It also put any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character –or what his inability to trust people said about him– on the back burner, until the questioner could determine whether the level of his own trustworthiness was based on a delusion that group thought had led him to believe.

With the precedent of Kurt Lee always fresh in my mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They don’t understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends state that they can’t remember what they did to damage that trust that their beloved declares irretrievable. My friends were insecure about their trustworthiness in the manner we all are, but they can’t remember the specific incident that brought about the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness. They come to me with grief and sorrow on their hearts: 

“How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?”

“I’m sorry to say that it’s not about you,” I tell them. “It’s the thief’s mentality.” 

I am sorry to say this, because these concerned friends have consigned themselves to some sort of relationship with the afflicted that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained what I mean to these people, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations their thief may make, but that relief is dispelled by the fact that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves.

Thieves, like Kurt Lee, are damaged in irreparable and relative ways. They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, where they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should, but it does help them spread their misery a little to accuse. It does lighten their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that you are a little less trusting than you were before you met them. It helps them believe that they’re not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are, are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and blood red cells, but it does please them to know that you now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.

The lack of self-awareness, as it pertains to what we are, and what we are to become, is as endemic to the thief’s mentality as it is in every other walk of life. They believe, as the rest of us do, that they do not live on an exaggerated pole of morality. They believe that they reside with the rest of us in the middle, somewhere on the good side of this fuzzy dividing line, and that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. The difference being that their lack of fear separates them, coupled with their refusal to conform to what they’ve been taught. They also know that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line, because we all have problems trusting those that we don’t know well enough to know whether or not they will make moral decisions in life, but some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ outward distrust for those around them is so exaggerated that it ends up saying more about them than those they accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.

[Editor’s Note: Those that have been asking for further exploration of this topic might be interested to know that we have now created a new article related to this topic: The Thief’s Mentality II: What Ever Happened to Kurt Lee.]

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