“You are what we call a processor,” my boss said in a one-on-one meeting. “You study the details of a question before you answer. It might take you more time to arrive at a conclusion, but once you do, you come up with some unique, creative thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with it. We just think differently, and when I say we,” Merri added to soften the blow, “I include myself, for I am a bit of a processor too. So, it takes one to know one.”Merri added some personal anecdotes to elucidate her point, but the gist of her comment appeared to spring from the fact that she was a quality manager who knew I was struggling under the weight of a quick thinking co-worker that she considered a marvel. I may be speculating here, but I think Merri knew that the best way to get the most out of me was to sit me down and inform me that in my individual manner I was a quality employee too. That woman just called me slow, I thought as she continued. She may have dressed her analysis up with a bunch of pretty adjectives, but the gist of her analysis is that I was a slow learner. I tried to view the comment objectively, but the sociocultural barometers list a wide array of indicators of intelligence, but foremost among them are speed and quickness. She just informed me that I was the opposite of that, so I considered her analysis the opposite of a compliment. I also tried to come up with some compelling evidence to defeat her analysis of me. Yet, every anecdote I came up with only proved her point, so I chose to focus on how unfair it was that those of us who analyze situations before us, to the point of over-analyzing, and at times obsessing over them, receive less recognition for the final solutions we find. We receive some praise, of course, when we develop a solution, but it pales in comparison to those who “Boom!” the room with a quick formulation of the facts followed by a quick one. Even on those occasions when my superiors eventually deemed my solution a better one, I didn’t receive as much praise as the person who came up with a quick, quality one in the moment. I don’t know how long Merri spoke, or how long I debated my response internally, but I changed my planned response seven or eight times based on what she was saying. Two things dawned on me before Merri’s silence called for a response. The first was that any complaint I had about the reactions people have to deep, analytical responses as opposed to superficial, quick thoughts, were complaints I had regarding human nature, and the second thought I had was any response I gave her would be a well thought out, thoroughly vetted response that would only feed into her characterization. I figured she might ever respond, “And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Putting those complaints about human nature aside for a moment, Merri’s characterization of my thinking pattern was spot on. It took me a while to appreciate the depth of her comment, and that probably proves her point, but she didn’t really know me well enough to make such a characterization. I think it was a guess on her part that just happened to be more right on than she’ll ever know. Merri’s characterization gradually evolved my thinking about thinking, and it led me to know a little bit more about knowing than I did before my one-on-one with her. Her comment also led to be a little more aware of how I operated. Before I sat down with her, I knew I thought different. I went through a variety of different methods to pound facts home in my head, but I never considered the totality of what she was saying before. This was my fault for the most part, but I never met a person who thought about the thinking process in this manner before. They may have dropped general platitudes on thinking, with regard to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles, but no one ever sat me down and said, “You’re not a dumb guy, you just need to learn how you think.” Merri’s commentary on my thinking process was an epiphany in this regard, for it led to a greater awareness about my sense of awareness, or what psychologists call my metacognition. The first level of knowledge occurs when we receive information, the second regards how we process it in a manner that reaches beyond memorization to application, and the third might be achieving a level of awareness for how we do all of the above. When she opened my mind’s eye to the concept of processing speeds, I began to see commentary on it everywhere. I witnessed some characterize it as ‘deep thinking’. This might be true in a general sense, but I am inclined to view this as a self-serving term. Slow processors have endured so much abuse over the years that we consider this re-characterization a subtle form of revenge against those who have called us slow. When a person informed me that I might be a deep thinker, I loved it so much that I wanted to repeat it, but I cringed every time I felt the urge, because I think we should leave such characterizations to others. There is an element of truth to it, however, and it arrives soon after a processor begins to believe he’s incompetent, slow, or dumb. Most reflective processors are former dumb people. Intelligent people may disagree, but if most theories are autobiographical then we must factor my intelligence into the equation. My autobiographical theory goes something like this. I spent my schooling years trying to achieve the perception of a quick thinker, and I failed miserably. When the teacher asked a question, I would raise my hand. My answers were wrong so often that a fellow student said, “Why do you keep raising your hand? You’re always wrong.” I would also hear groans, ridicule, and embarrassment for other incorrect answers in other classes, until I was so intimidated that I didn’t answer questions anymore. The byproduct of this was that I began considering my answers to the questions more often, until it achieved a cumulative effect on my thinking processes. Before Merri provided my thought process a much-needed title, I assumed I didn’t know enough to know enough. I took this perspective into everyday situations. I didn’t just consider other, more knowledgeable perspectives to resolve my dilemmas I relied on them for answers. The cumulative effect of this approach led me to begin processing information more and more often, until I gathered enough information to achieve some level of knowledge on a given subject. In my search to find intellectuals who could conceptualize this notion in different ways, I discovered the term ‘down the stairs’ thinking. If a ‘down the stairs’ thinker attends a corporate meeting in which a corporate idea, or concept, is introduced, the supervisor will conclude that meeting by asking if anyone has any questions or input they would like to add. The processor says nothing, because he can’t think of anything while in the moment. The meeting ends, and he walks back to his desk (down the proverbial stairs), when an idea hits him. I write that specific timelines to stay true to the analogy, but my ideas unfortunately do not occur that quickly. I often have to chew on the problem at hand for far too long, and the cliché ‘let me sleep on it’ definitely applies to my thinking type. This dilemma might lead one to ask, if an idea is good enough, who cares when an idea hits as long as it hits? The processor who wants the perception of being quick cares. He wants others to marvel at his intellect in the moment. The seeds of frustration and confusion are borne here, until someone comes along and clarifies the matter for us. A college professor once praised a take-home, assigned essay I wrote on some required reading. She claimed that the ideas I expressed in that essay were “unique and insightful” and she wrote that she wanted me to participate more in in-class discussions, because she said she thought I could add something to add to them. My wrong answers in high school and the resultant teasing all but beat class participation out of me, but I wanted to live up to her compliments. I did try to participate more often in the college class, the next day, but the experience only reiterated why I shouldn’t be answering questions in class. I was so wrong so often that she gave me a worried look. When we took the final in this class, it involved an in-class essay on another book. This teacher watched me in a manner shop owner might a suspected shoplifter. I think she suspected that I cheated on the take home essay, and she wanted to see if I could provide an equal performance on an in-class essay. I received the same grade on that final, and many of the same comments followed that grade. She and I both walked away from that experience with the knowledge that no matter how hard one tries to promote it, or affect it, we all think different. There are quick-thinking, reactive brains that can process information quickly and instinctively produce an answer in the manner a knee pops up when a doctor hits it with one of those rubber hammers. Others require some slow roasting, and while it may be embarrassing and frustrating for those who can’t come up with a quick answer, once they learn how they learn, think about how they think, and become more comfortable with the way in which they operate, it can liberate them from the idea that they’re as dumb as they once feared. The theme of David McRaney’s You are Not so Smart was obviously that we are not as smart as we think we are. The various essays in that book describe why we do the things we do, and how various psychological mechanisms condition us to do the things we do. I loved that book so much that I’ve written probably thirty of my own articles on the theme. This particular article is the antithesis of that book, and its purpose is to provide some relief for the confusion and frustration some have regarding their thinking style. If the information in this article spares one person from the decades of frustration I experienced in this regard, I might even consider this the best article I’ve ever written. I would do so without ego, for I am merely passing information along. If the reader identifies with the characterizations we’ve outlined here, I do have one note of caution: You may never rid yourself of this notion that you’re less intelligent than the firecracker over there in the corner, but if you can come to grips with the manner in which you think, process information, and know it to the point of arriving at an answer without all of the frustration you experience when everyone else is shouting answers out, I think you might be able to achieve some surprising results. You might never reach a point of bragging for I don’t know how they would, but attaining knowledge of self can go a long way to understanding how we operate, and it’s our job to take such information and use it accordingly.
[Editor’s Note: This is a sample of an essay in the Thief’s Mentality: A Collection of Essays. Some of the essays in this collection are serious, some are quasi-serious, and others have little to no seriousness at all. This essay is an example of the latter, but I would not have included this piece, or any of the others in the collection, if it didn’t adhere to the thesis. Having said that, this essay is a round about discussion on the pursuit of women. Todd was something of a ladies’ man, and he was an oaf. Yet, the women I knew loved him.]
I knew I would be able to have relations with Todd’s mom moments after Todd introduced us. She gave me extra looks when she knew her son wasn’t looking. Those looks informed me that all she needed was a thumbs-up to start the proceedings. If Todd’s mom was attractive, my humility wouldn’t permit me to write such a thing, but there were reasons that a 40-something female made it clear that her intentions with her son’s 20-year-old friend were less than honorable, and most of those reasons had more to do with her marketability than mine.
Todd’s mom wore a frayed, yellow T-shirt that read, “Smell the magic” with an arrow pointing down. Her hairdo led observers to believe she spent quite a bit of money on oils, and a considerable amount of time curling. I wasn’t able to determine if either of these enhancements were natural or not, but judging by her overall appearance, my educated guess was that the woman hadn’t darkened the door of a beauty salon since Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as general secretary. She also wore a what-are-you-looking-at? expression that led one to think an apology might be necessary, until it could be determined that this was her natural expression.
Todd’s mom was the first parent I met who didn’t have puritanical notions about underage drinking, smoking pot, and premarital sex. She was the proverbial free spirit, open about her disregard for the conventions of our constrained society. In other words, Todd’s mom was the first cool parent I ever met, so cool that she offered to drink and smoke with us as soon as she was off work.
After she extended that invitation, and Todd gauged my reaction to it, Todd’s mom shot me another extra look, over Todd’s shoulder that said, “Those pants of yours will be coming off!” No full-grown woman had been that attracted to me at that point in my life, so her extra looks were quite a turn-on, even though there were things going on with her that my young mind could not yet process.
She also said snarky, bitter things that slipped beyond the definition of cool to a dreaded arena few can escape of one trying too hard. I’m sure that cynical bitterness did not lead her to name her only-begotten son Todd, and I do not believe that his mom’s near palpable hatred of men had anything to do with her sentencing him to a life of misery with a moniker like that. I’m sure she just liked the sound of the name.
Most people don’t consider it possible to curse a child with a name. Even a person with an odd, one-syllable sound attached to their identity is not cursed, naysayers might add. A child can go onto achieve great things as an adult, in spite of their name. For an example, we need look no further than the illustrious career of Aldous Huxley. They can gain acceptance among their peers, they can be happy, and they can escape anything put before them. A name is a trivial concern in the grand scheme of things. Contrarians have to admit that some names might cripple a child, such as those that rhyme with embarrassing body functions, but seldom will a parent intentionally set out to hinder their offspring in such a manner.
And then there’s Todd. Naming a child Todd might not seem cruel, on the surface, as it’s a rather common name in American society today that dates back to medieval England. It means “fox”, as in “clever or cunning”. Chances are everyone knows at least one Todd, and most don’t presume that the name boxes them into any sort of predestination. They might consider the notion irrational, but I would venture to guess that most of those that believe that do not have the name Todd.
When I first met Todd, I thought he was an idiot. That assessment was unfair, of course, because I based it on the sound of his name. When I learned that Todd couldn’t tie his own shoes, however, I considered that a bit of a stretch beyond that initial assessment.
“Come on!” I said, “You’re 19!” I was a naïve 20-year-old, and I was not difficult to fool. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, but I sensed a certain susceptibility that I would have to expend effort to defeat. Even with that acknowledgement, I thought the idea they were trying to sell me was beyond the pale.
This revelation occurred when Todd asked his girlfriend, my friend Tracy, to tie his shoes. I joked that I considered this an excellent domination technique I would consider exploring the next time I was around my girlfriend, but that little joke paralyzed the room to silence. If Todd considered it funny, he didn’t show it. He feared Tracy in the manner a lamb fears a border collie, and she wasn’t even smiling a politely. She had a don’t-go-there!” glare on. My initial thought was that her glare had more to do with the domination theme of my jest, and I felt some remorse for saying that, considering that my girlfriend was Tracy’s best friend. That remorse ended for me when I convinced them I was joking, but the cloud continued to loom over us. I soon realized that that glare had less to do with more joke and more to do with the storm that gathered in the silence that followed. I began to feel trapped, as if I’d tripped a tripwire that would reveal domination techniques, or some sort of sexual peccadillo I didn’t care to explore with them. Their continued silence suggested they were ready to share if I was ready to hear it, but I feared I might have placed them in the uncomfortable position of having to reveal details of their relationship. The glare and the weighted silence were such that I was considering the idea that they could lead to some sort of physical altercation between Todd and I, when he finally broke down and told me the story of how he never learned how to tie his shoes.
Todd did not willingly reveal his story. I had to prompt the revelation, after I tired of the tension between us.
“So, if you don’t know how to tie your shoes,” I said, believing the shoes were symbolic of a Pandora’s Box that I would regret ever opening, “why would you buy tennis shoes that have laces?”
The answer to this question was what he called a funny story. His funny story involved a loving mother purchasing Velcro and slip -on shoes for her son throughout his youth. Purchasing tennis shoes with strings was for Todd a way for the young man to break the shackles of a mother’s hold with the first paycheck he earned. The funny story involved the shoe store attendant tying the shoes for him and Todd walking around the store saying, “I’ll take them” with the pride so many young people experience with their first, individual purchase. It involved that young man arriving home for the night and preparing to take those shoes off for bed, only to realize that once he untied his shoes, he would never be able to wear them again without assistance. The punchline to this funny story was that Todd decided to sleep in his shoes that night.
I was the only one in the room not laughing.
“It was like buying a sweater with a stain on it,” Todd said to expound on the funny story, “but you don’t see the stain until you get home.”
As a younger man, I sought out the weaknesses of my fellow man to use against them when the need would arise. Some juicy tidbits, however, go beyond the typical malleable information one can tease into mockery and ridicule. It wasn’t just that Todd never learned how to tie his own shoes. If that were the case, I would’ve used this intel without a second thought. It was the whole backstory, and the idea that Todd’s mother did things to prevent him from learning and progressing in life, to a point where he until he needed another strong woman to help him deal with the consequences, to help him tie the shoes he never learned to tie. It was so funny that it rose to the level of tragedy, and revealed the ultimate relationship between the two. Even when Todd joined with a bunch of fellas engaged in a round of competitive, good-natured ribbing against me, I knew couldn’t say, “What are you talking about? You can’t even tie your own shoes.” As painful as it would be to withhold this information, I knew I had to if I wanted to remain friends with Todd. This dilemma would never arise, because I somehow forgot about it, and I think I forgot about it, because I chose to forget about it. I wanted to be friends with Todd, and if a guy wants to be friends with another guy, he has to block large chunks of matters otherwise considered unforgettable.
In the moment, though, while Tracy tied his shoes, I found myself trapped between not wanting to pursue the matter and demanding an answer to a question that I did not want to ask.
“How did you get out of first grade without tying your shoes at least once?” I asked. “Don’t teachers have to check a box on a report cart before they advance you the next grade?”
The answer to that question was another funny story, and more material about a mother’s desire to protect her son by continuing to purchase slip-ons and Velcro for her boy, in spite of his teachers’ instructions. I had more questions, but I feared they would only lead to more revelations about a single mother’s stubborn attempts at protecting her son in a manner I considered bordering on neglect. It was then that I realized the full import of Tracy’s don’t-go-there glare, so I flipped the switch of my curiosity to the off position. I kept that switch off for much of my friendship with Todd, and I even defended him against the ridicule from those that train themselves to go after weakest in the herd, until I learned of Todd’s lifelong fear of cotton.
“Oh, c’mon!” I said. I was naïve as I stated, and I had some difficulty coming to grips with certain characteristics I learned about the various Todds I’d met, but I now had to deal with the idea that one of them was afraid of cotton. It was the second such hurdle our friendship would have to traverse. Todd and I had to work through the fundamentals of his fear. We established that Todd had no fear of towels, for example, and he wasn’t afraid of the 50 percent of my shirt that wasn’t polyester. Unmanufactured cotton and cotton balls, such as the cotton aspirin companies use to keep the pills in place, however, terrified him. “It’s what they call an unexplainable fear,” Todd explained, as if it was a suitable explanation. The fear was also, I would soon learn, a type of fear that called for a strong woman to step in and defend.
[Editor’s note: To read the rest of this essay, and the other entertaining, informative essays included in this collection click here.]
1) The Thief’s Mentality
The Thief’s Mentality examines the comfort some seek to explain their variables by suggesting that if everyone is as immoral as they are then no one is immoral. Kurt Lee introduced us to this concept when he introduced us to a mower he recently obtained. “Stole,” a mutual friend informed us, sometime later, “Kurt stole that mower.” Why was this piece of information relevant? Kurt Lee not only stole most of the artifacts in the overstuffed pawnshop he called a garage he did everything he could to prevent anyone from stealing them from him. The only reason he felt comfortable showing off his mower, was that he had it chain locked it to the wall. The chain lock was more impressive than the mower, and the lock probably would’ve fetched ten times more than the most generous pawnshop owner might offer for the mower. Kurt was more concerned with the prospect of someone stealing the mower than he was the quality of the mower he used. When a Kurt Lee introduces us to the idea that we shouldn’t trust anyone outside our own home, we fear that this mentality exposes our sheltered existence. We wonder if he knows more about the world than we ever will. Further examination reveals Kurt Lee’s characteristics that are not as illustrative as we initially fear and more of an inescapable, genealogical trait that leads to a mindset I call The Thief’s Mentality.
2) And Then There’s Todd
Todd had no discernible value in the dating world, as far as we were concerned, yet his status among the women we knew was unquestionably greater than ours was. Todd was a long-standing member of the ‘not ugly’ club, but unlike a majority of our members, he was not clever. Prior to Todd, we thought being clever was the ticket out of our club. What made Todd’s unparalleled success so frustrating and inexplicable was that Todd not only lacked clever characteristics, he was an oaf. As a nineteen-year-old young man, Todd had yet to learn how to tie his own shoes, and he feared cotton balls, but he somehow managed to date the most beautiful women in the establishment we worked in together. What was his secret? Those who knew Todd well would venture to guess that there was no secret formula to his success with women, and that he was just Todd.
3) Every Girl’s Crazy about a Faint Whiff of Urine
How much time, money, and effort do we spend in our quest to be attractive? How many deodorants, scented shampoos, perfumes, colognes, and body washes do we purchase to mask the natural scent of our bodies, so someone, somewhere might find our scent pleasant? How many hours do we spend spraying, brushing, scrubbing, applying, lathering, and repeating if necessary? Recent surveys report that scent factors very low on our list of priorities when seeking a mate. Why, then, do we spend so much money and effort to present the illusion that we don’t have an unappealing odor?
4) Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud
The field we now know as psychology was not Sigmund Freud’s first career choice. He began as a marine biologist, trying to find what many considered the holy grail of scientific discovery of his time: the elusive testicles of the eel. He didn’t find what other premier scientists of his day could not find, and Don’t go Chasing Eel Testicles asks the question if this failure defined the rest of Freud’s career in a manner I’ve never heard historians ask before.
5) When Geese Attack
Those of us who love Shark Week and all of the other, all too numerous home movie, reality-oriented clip shows that appear on just about every network now, spotted the formula for their success. The producers of this show will document some of the most horrific attacks on a human, and then they will air the victims stating they have no hard feelings for the beast that attacked them in the testimonials they offer at the conclusion of animal attack videos. Those of us who tell mean-spirited jokes know this formula too. We know we can tell the most awful jokes about our co-workers, and those who laugh at the jokes will eventually laugh after they dress it up with kind, compassionate statements first. “What an awful thing to say,” they will say before laughing.
6) He Used to Have a Mohawk
At a wedding reception, I learned that the groom used to have a mohawk. The best man and the bridesmaid introduced this information in their toasts. I wondered what the groom thought of these pseudo condescending, though well-intentioned comments these two were making about him. I also wondered if those words hurt his feelings, and if he missed the days when he had a mohawk, and he made people so uncomfortable that they wouldn’t dare make such comments about him.
7) That’s Me in the Corner
A child danced in the introductory part of that wedding reception. He appeared to enjoy it, but he wouldn’t participate in any of the activities that followed that obligatory first dance. When the mother called upon him for further participation, he waved her off. He wasn’t going to participate beyond the initial dance, yet his subsequent attempts to make a crossover between actual and vicarious participation were noteworthy. He laughed harder than anyone else did from the comfort of a non-participatory chair, he shouted out comments, and he did everything possible to participate from that chair. That’s me in the corner, I thought, that’s me trying to create my own non-participatory spotlight, losing my sense of belonging. I couldn’t explain my unusual need to watch this kid, until it dawned on me later that I thought I might be witnessing an early chapter from my own autobiography.
8) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind
How does the average person deal with those that experience greater challenges in life? We’ve all experienced victims who have fallen to unimaginable depths, but have we ever encountered a victim that fell to that depth from a plane higher than we could ever imagine? How would we explain it? How would we deal with it?
Everyone in The Family Liquor Store knew the story of a man of excessive talent that went crazy “Like That!” they would say with a snap of their fingers. The Family Liquor Store rested on the corners of despair and failure, and David Hauser was their effigy, but no one knew how a man could fall as far as he did. We developed an answer, and it made us all feel better about ourselves to know it.
9) You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore!
The adult baby could not exist if not for his enablers, but his species might not exist if he saw the purpose of his involvement. These two elements result in the carrier finding comfort in mental adolescence. Yet, he finds ways to establish value and importance, even when it affects those around him.
10) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse
The lifelong goal is to be one of the cool kids who all the women want to date. The formula for achieving that goal for much of my life was to be cynical, angry, and a Rage Against the Machine soldier. We hated wholesome, traditional fare that made kids happy, until we grew up and realized the façade that some of our generation’s best writers and comedians created to be cynical, angry, and a Rage Against the Machine soldier. It’s the difference between provocative theory and reality.
11) BusyBody Nation
It should have been an uneventful walk in the park on an otherwise uneventful Thursday, but a couple of begrudged busybodies interrupted my otherwise uneventful day. They could not permit my dog to chase a couple of ducks into a lake without making eyebrow-raising threats against me. I decided that the rest of us should push back against the tide of busybodies attempting to restore their definition of order by exposing their begrudged feelings for what they really are.
12) The Balloonophilia Conflict
“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense the wonderful employ.
“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply, “but if something is true 50.001% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”
Making general assessments about nouns (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, leads the assessor to encounter a wide range of wonderful defenses. The wonderful defense centers on the idea that all assessments are generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that we base all generalities on general rules, and while it is true that there are exceptions to general rules, the exceptions do not nullify the general idea behind a general rule. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses.
“I knew a guy one time that did one thing that suggests your general rule does not apply,” they say.
“Good for him,” we say, “but does that mean the general rule is not true?”
13) Platypus People
My friend’s mom greeted me at the door to inform me that her husband was an infidel. This was her way of informing me that her husband engaged in an act of infidelity on a business trip. I spent the next couple of days (that were actually minutes) listening to the man’s coerced confession, the wife’s torturous definitions of male sexuality, and the brutal physical altercation that punctuated the evening. What the Finnegans taught me that day, more than any other more obvious lesson, was that some people defy all psychological categorization in the same manner the platypus does in other fields of science.
14) The Weird and the Strange
Are you an oddball, weird, different, or strange? These classifications are, of course, relative, and any attempts to define them are arbitrary. If you are not any of these classifications, in a more organic manner, and you’re bored with your normalcy, you should know there are rules to achieving those perceptions, and there are ramifications to diving too deep into them.
15) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
I was watching a movie that never existed wondering why the potential victim just stood there screaming when a monster lowered onto him to bite his head off. Author David McRaney suggests that such a scene is more realistic than we could ever imagine, except for the screaming. Do the victims choke in the clutch? McRaney suggests that it goes deeper than that. He says that most of us would probably just stand there, looking up at the monster silently wishing that this event never took place. He says it’s an involuntary reaction to unprecedented horror in our lives, unless we find a way to prepare for such a moment.
16) The Unfunny
I’ve been told that I’m not funny, and I’ve been told that I’m not ugly. They also told me that I was not dating as often as I should have. I knew plenty of not funny and not ugly fellas who were dating, and some of them, like Todd, managed to date some beautiful women. I was not happy. I decided to explore clever. I found out that clever does not always translate to laughter, but it relies heavily on ingenuity and originality. Some might argue that those two words are synonyms, but I was an original personality who didn’t apply his originality well or often. “Oh, you’re original,” some of my closest friends have said in various ways over the years, “I’m not sure if it works for you, or how you might make it work for you, but you are original.” The ingenuity portion of our routine occurs in the application process. I knew girls would not claw each other’s eyes out for clever, because they reserved that violence for the pursuit of men who were handsome, or handsome and clever, and I was whittled out of that group long ago. I knew I needed a method to meld my unusual and obnoxious nature with my irritating personality that some considered idiotic. I needed to use the comedic stylings of Andy Kaufman as a template.
We dedicate this piece to the unfunny that think they’re funny. We know humor is relative, but we’ve always been able to make our brother and dad laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to universal material. When we, the unfunny, took our humorous anecdotes out into the world, we ran into a wall. No one knew what we’re talking about, and we wanted to be funny. People like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy a humorous analysis of the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. Some of us have never been able to locate this universal definition of familiarity, and some of us don’t care. We dedicate this piece to us.
17) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art
Walking through an art gallery, the ubiquity of the anti-consumer theme struck me. Every piece of art seemed to focus on the same theme, yet patrons considered each anti-consumer piece unique, bold, and a tour-de-force? One would think that an aspiring young rebel would acknowledge this ubiquitous theme by sticking a middle finger up in the parody the theme has become by producing an anti-anti-consumer theme. Doing so, however, might land the piece the artist works so hard on in the dreaded land of pro-consumer and pro-corporate.
18) I’m Disgusting, He’s Disgusting, She’s Disgusting, Wouldn’t You Like to Be Disgusting Too?
Seinfeld might be my favorite show of all time. I found the character’s peculiar demands for hygienic excellence hilarious, until I witnessed two grown men discuss their superiority on the matter and form a friendship on that basis. They both agreed that the common habits of their fellow man were gross, they both agreed that an acquaintance of ours was gross, and they agreed that our employer’s bathroom was an absolute cesspool teeming with germs. I laughed in the middle of this discussion, in the same manner I laughed at the Seinfeld’s obsessive quirks, but these two men weren’t laughing. They had smiles, but they were beaming smiles, the kind of smiles that one gives in recognition of finding a like-minded soul at long last. I realized that by their definition, I was disgusting and I didn’t even know it.
19) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland
“Do you know what’s in that?” a friend of mine asked as I approached our table with a strawberry shake in hand.
We’ve all heard this line from informed consumers, and we usually hear it when we have a delectable morsel dangling before our mouth. Those who condemn our dietary habits are informed consumers who order yoke free eggs and tofu, with a side of humus, yet they glance at our dangling morsel with some confusing variation of envy.
20) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes
A friend provided us so many excellent restaurant recommendations that she became our go-to-gal for recommendations. After establishing some credentials with us, she progressed from a foodie to a foodist. When she would detail her preferences, it was obvious how much thought she put into her recommendations, but it was also obvious that she regarded those who didn’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Our reactions encouraged her to begin branding these people, and those people who wore inferior clothing, those that drank an inferior coffee bean, and those who didn’t know the difference. She knew that most people prefer McDonald’s coffee, but she found comfort in the idea that those people were probably Americans, and they were probably truckers from Iowa. She led me to wonder if her progression was natural, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something.
Why do we consider dining at a Thai restaurant superior to a night out at Chucky Cheese? This piece is not about the quality of food at either locale, it’s about the superiority one feels informing another that they ate exotic food at a particular locale. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience the informed consumer must have and, and, detail for their friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, blind taste tests judge McDonald’s coffee to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the crowd at the water cooler will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.
21) Eat Your Meat! How Can You Show Appreciation for Life, If you Won’t Eat Your Meat?
I’ve always had some innate disgust for people with certain dietary preferences. It didn’t realize that this disgust was because of my dad’s endless preaching on the topic, until I condemned my nephew for his preferences. I realized that convincing children to show appreciation for food is a time-honored concern that dates back to the cavemen. When the caveman’s children stated how they were tired of eating Mammoth, their mother probably felt compelled to remind them of the sacrifice and danger their father faced to provide them with their meal of the day.
22) Esoteric Man
I found it difficult to evaluate an advertising executive, who was trying to sell my wife on radio ad space, because he dressed like every guy I hated in high school. I knew I was being unfair, but “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The way things were can complicate the way things are in life, and we cannot escape that fact.
The guy’s checkered pants reminded me of one of my many archrivals in high school. The checkers were multi-colored, of course, but some of those colors were pink, and my archrivals wore pink. I hated this ad exec. I hated him in the same manner I hated my archrivals. The ad exec wore sensible shoes, chic eyeglasses, and he wore his hair in a coif. He was also a people person that knew how to relate to the folks, and I hated him before he said twenty words.
23) Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence
What do you think of that guy in high school who loved Wham and Genesis? Do you still think less of him? Our particular, individualistic taste in music defines us, and we define our peers in accordance. Some of us still view those who listen to Led Zeppelin as superior. Why we arrived at that particular notion is an interesting question, but how we arrived at it might be a far more interesting one. If music is the guiding principle for our definition of individuality, the next question is how instrumental were we in determining what music we would spend our lives playing? Most of us remain trapped in the music of our high school and college years, but did we switch the bands or musical genres we listen to during these years, based on what that cool person at the end of our row stated was the best band of all time? We might believe that at some point in our lives, we leave that mercurial teenage mindset behind us, as our high school years become smaller and smaller in our rear view mirror, but some social scholars have stated that we never leave high school.
24) Find Your Own Truth
“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.
Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer the helps us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feels like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.
25) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard
“You’ll figure it out,” Rodney Dangerfield informed a young, aspiring comedian that sought his counsel on how to succeed in their shared craft.
The first thought that comes to mind when one reads the Dangerfield quote, is that the respected comedian was being dismissive. How does one fix another’s act, art, or pursuit in life? Is there a universal, miracle cure? We don’t know the question that aspiring comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, asked Rodney, as Seinfeld reports it was “something about comedy”. We can guess that aspiring comedians approached Rodney all the time with various questions so many times that he grew tired of it. Thus, we can only guess that when Seinfeld approached Rodney, Rodney said whatever was necessary to have Seinfeld leave him alone. Either that, or Dangerfield found the answer to that question to be so loaded with variables, and so time-consuming, that he didn’t want to go down that road again with, yet, another aspiring comedian. Dangerfield might have even viewed the young comedian’s act, and decided that it was so bad that he didn’t know how to fix it. The “You’ll figure it out” response seems dismissive and overly simplistic, but in depth analysis might reveal it as some of the best advice you’ve ever heard.
26) Know Thyself
Bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, some philosophers believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself”.
These two simple words provided, if nothing else, a framework for philosophers. Modern day philosophers might call the discovery, the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, a previous generation might call it a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement.
Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.
We all envy those who knew, at a relatively young age, what they wanted to do for a living. Most of us experience some moments of inspiration that might lead us toward a path, but few of us ever read medical journals, law reviews, or business periodicals during our formative years. Most of the young people I knew preferred an NFL preview guide of some sort, teenage heartthrob magazines, or one of the many other periodicals that offer soft entertainment value. Most of us opted out of reading altogether and chose to play something that involved a ball instead. Life was all about playtime for the kids I grew up around, but there were other, more serious kids, who we wouldn’t meet until we were older. Few of them knew they would become neurosurgeons, but they were so interested in medicine that they devoted huge chunks of their young lives to learning everything their young minds could retain. “How is this even possible?” some of us ask. How could they achieve that level of focus at such a young age, we wonder. Are we even the same species?
At an age when so many minds are so unfocused, they claimed to have tunnel vision. “I didn’t have that level of focus,” some said to correct the record, “not the level of focus to which you are alluding.” They may have diverged from the central focus, but they had more direction than anyone I knew, and that direction put them on the path of doing what they ended up doing, even if it wasn’t as specific as I guessed.
The questions we have about what to do for a living have plagued so many for so long that comedian Paula Poundstone captured it with a well-placed joke, and I apologize, in advance, for the paraphrasing: “Didn’t you hate it when your relatives asked what you wanted to do for a living? Um, Grandpa I’m 5. I haven’t fully grasped the mechanics or the importance of brushing my teeth yet. Those of us of a certain age have now been on both sides of this question. We’ve been asking our nieces and nephews this question for years without detecting the irony. What do you want to do when you grow up? Now that I’ve been asking this question long enough, I’ve finally figured out why we ask it. Our aunts and uncles asked us this question, because they were looking for ideas. I’m in my forties now, and I’m still asking my nieces and nephews these questions. I’m still looking for ideas.”
Pour through the annals of great men and women of history, and that research will reveal legions of late bloomers who didn’t accomplish anything of note until late in life. The researcher will also discover that most of the figures who achieved success in life were just as dumb and carefree as children as the rest of us were, until the seriousness of adulthood directed them to pursue a venture in life that would land them in the annals of history. Some failed more than once in their initial pursuits, until they discovered something that flipped a switch.
Those who know anything about psychology, and many who don’t, are familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. Those who know anything about Freud are aware of his unique theories about the human mind and human development. Those who know anything about his psychosexual theory know we are all repressed sexual beings plagued with unconscious desires to have relations with some mythical Greek king’s mother. What we might not know, because we consider it ancillary to his greater works, is that some of his theories might have originated from Freud’s pursuit of the Holy Grail of nineteenth-century science, the elusive eel testicles.
Although some annals state that an Italian scientist named Carlo Mondini discovered eel testicles in 1777, other periodicals state that the search continued up to and beyond the search of an obscure 19-year-old Austrian’s in 1876. Other research states that the heralded Aristotle conducted his own research on the eel, and his studies resulted in postulations that stated either that the beings came from the “guts of wet soil”, or that they were born “of nothing”. One could guess that these answers resulted from great frustration, since Aristotle was so patient with his deductions in other areas. On the other hand, he also purported that maggots were born organically from a slab of meat. “Others, who conducted their own research, swore that eels were bred of mud, of bodies decaying in the water. One learned bishop informed the Royal Society that eels slithered from the thatched roofs of cottages; Izaak Walton, in The Compleat Angler, reckoned they sprang from the ‘action of sunlight on dewdrops’.”
Before laughing at any of these findings, one must consider the limited resources these researchers had at their disposal, concerning the science of their day. As is oft said with young people, the young Freud might not have had the wisdom yet to know how futile this task would be when a nondescript Austrian zoological research station employed him. It was his first job, he was 19, and it was 1876. He dissected approximately 400 eels, over a period of four weeks, “Amid stench and slime for long hours” as the New York Times described Freud’s working environment.  His ambitious goal was to write a breakthrough research paper on an animal’s mating habits, one that had confounded science for centuries. Conceivably, a more seasoned scientist might have considered the task futile much earlier in the process, but an ambitious, young 19-year-old, looking to make a name for himself, was willing to spend long hours slicing and dicing eels, hoping to achieve an answer no one could disprove.
Unfortunate for the young Freud, but perhaps fortunate for the field of psychology, we now know that eels don’t have testicles until they need them. The products of Freud’s studies must not have needed them at the time he studied them, for Freud ended up writing that his total supply of eels were “of the fairer sex.” Freud eventually penned that research paper over time, but it detailed his failure to locate the testicles. Some have said Freud correctly predicted where the testicles should be and that he argued that the eels he received were not mature eels. Freud’s experiments resulted in a failure to find the testicles, and he moved into other areas as a result. The question on the mind of this reader is how profound of an effect did this failure to find eel testicles have on his research into human sexual development?
In our teenage and young adult years, most of us had odd jobs that affected us in a variety of ways, for the rest of our working lives. For most, these jobs were low-paying, manual labor jobs that we slogged through for the sole purpose of getting paid. Few of us pined over anything at that age, least of all a legacy that we hoped might land us in annals of history. Most of us wanted to do well in our entry-level jobs, to bolster our character, but we had no profound feelings of failure if we didn’t. We just moved onto other jobs that we hoped we would find more financially rewarding and fulfilling.
Was Freud’s search for eel testicles the equivalent of an entry-level job, or did he believe in the vocation so much that the failure devastated him? Did he slice the first 100 or so eels open and throw them aside with the belief that they were immature? Was there nothing but female eels around him, as he wrote, or was he beginning to see what had plagued the other scientists for centuries, including the brilliant Aristotle? There had to be a moment, in other words, when Sigmund Freud realized that they couldn’t all be female. He had to know, at some point, that he was missing the same something everyone else missed. He must have spent some sleepless nights struggling to come up with a different tactic. He might have lost his appetite at various points, and he may have shut out the world in his obsession to achieve infamy in marine biology. He sliced and diced over 400 after all. If even some of this is true, even if it only occupied his mind for four weeks of his life, we can feasibly imagine that the futile search for eel testicles affected Sigmund Freud in a profound manner.
If Freud Never Existed, Would There Be a Need to Create Him?
Every person approaches a topic of study from a subjective angle. It’s human nature. Few of us can view people, places, or things in our lives, with total objectivity. The topic we are least objective about, say some, is ourselves. Some say that we are the central topic of speculation when we theorize about humanity. All theories are autobiographical, in other words, and we pursue such questions in an attempt to understand ourselves better. Bearing that in mind, what was the subjective angle from which Sigmund Freud approached his most famous theory on psychosexual development in humans? Did he bring objectivity to his patients? Could he have been more objective, or did Freud have a blind spot that led him to chase the elusive eel testicles throughout his career in the manner Don Quixote chased windmills?
After his failure, Sigmund Freud would switch his focus to a field of science that would later become psychology. Soon thereafter, patients sought his consultation. We know now that Freud viewed most people’s problems through a sexual lens, but was that lens tinted by the set of testicles he couldn’t find a lifetime ago? Did his inability to locate the eel’s reproductive organs prove so prominent in his studies that he saw them everywhere he went, in the manner that a rare car owner begins to see his car everywhere, soon after driving that it off the lot? Some say that if this is how Freud conducted his sessions, he did so in an unconscious manner, and others say this might have been the basis for his theory on unconscious actions. How different would Freud’s theories on development have been if he found his Holy Grail, and the Holy Grail of science at the time? How different would his life have been? We could also wonder if Freud would have even switched his focus if he found fame as a marine biologist with his findings.
How different would the field of psychology be today if Sigmund Freud remained a marine biologist? Alternatively, if he still made the switch to psychology after achieving fame in marine biology, for being the eel testicle spotter, would he have approached the study of the human development, and the human mind from a less subjective angle? Would his theory on psychosexual development have occurred to him at all? If it didn’t, is it such a fundamental truth that it would’ve occurred to someone else over time, even without Freud’s influence?
We can state, without too much refutation, that Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory has sexualized the beliefs many have about human development, a theory others now consider disproved. How transcendental was that theory, and how much subjective interpretation was involved in it? How much of the subjective interpretation derived from his inability to find the eel testicle fueled it? Put another way, did Freud ever reach a point where he began overcompensating for that initial failure?
Whether it’s an interpretive extension, or a direct reading of Freud’s theory, modern scientific research theorizes that most men want some form of sexual experience with another man’s testicles. This theory, influenced by Freud’s theories, suggests that those that claim they don’t are lying in a latent manner, and the more a man says he doesn’t, the more repressed his homosexual desires are.
The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011 that stated that 3.6 percent of males in the U.S. population are either openly gay or bisexual. If these findings are even close to correct, this leaves 96.4 percent who are, according to Freud’s theory, closeted homosexuals in some manner. Neither Freud nor anyone else has been able to put even a rough estimate on the percentage of heterosexuals who harbor unconscious, erotic inclinations toward members of the same sex, but the very idea that the theory has achieved worldwide fame leads some to believe there is some truth to it. Analysis of some psychological studies on this subject provides the quotes, “It is possible … Certain figures show that it would indicate … All findings can and should be evaluated by further research.” In other words, no conclusive data and all findings and figures are vague. Some would suggest that these quotes are ambiguous enough that they can be used by those who would have their readers believe that most of the 96.4 percent who express contrarian views are actively suppressing their desire to not just support the view, but to actively involve themselves in that way of life.
Some label Sigmund Freud as history’s most debunked doctor, but his influence on the field of psychology and on the ways society at large views human development and sexuality is indisputable. The greater question, as it pertains specific to Freud’s psychosexual theory, is was Freud a closet homosexual, or was his angle on psychological research affected by his initial failure to find eel testicles? To put it more succinct, which being’s testicles was Freud more obsessed with finding during his lifetime?
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The best thief I ever knew accused me of stealing from him so often that I began to question my integrity. I dated a woman who cheated on me so often that I’m still embarrassed that I wasn’t more aware of her infidelities. Her octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on my part. Her charges were so effective that I spent most of our relationship defending myself. I’ve also encountered compulsive liars who used such tactics on me, so often, that I never managed to question their integrity. If their goals were to prevent me from analyzing them, they were successful. The more I thought about it, the more I realized their accusations said more about them and their worldview than it ever did me. Some might call this projection, others might call it deflection or obfuscation, but I believe the games these people play fall under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella I call the thief’s mentality.
Kurt Lee introduced me to the confusing mind of a deceptive person, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. The art of deception was such a key component of his personality that he was hypervigilant to the signs and signals of possible transgressions occurring in the minds of those around us. He spent his life so attuned to this frequency that his instincts often led him astray.
Kurt taught me more about how a deceptive person thinks, than any other person I’ve encountered, movie I’ve watched, or book I’ve read on the subject. He would serve as my prototype for those who would exhibit a wide array of similar traits, traits I would only later deem the attributes of the thief’s mentality.
The most interesting aspect about the man, a characteristic that might defy that which I will describe throughout this piece, was his charm. When it served him, Kurt Lee had the propensity to be nice, engaging, and infectious. He was also a funny guy, and a genuinely funny person can disarm us, unless we stick around long enough to learn more about their sensibilities.
Those who knew Kurt Lee, on a superficial level, envied him for the ways in which he openly defied authority figures without guilt. Those who actually spent as much time around Kurt Lee as I did, however, witnessed that for all the charisma a piece of work (POS) displays, they ultimately end up destroying themselves from the inside out.
One afternoon while on a city bus, Kurt decided to play with the crocheted ball on top of the stocking cap of the elderly woman that sat in front of him. My reaction to this spectacle may be one of the things I have to answer for on Judgment Day, because I found his appalling act hysterical.
Hindsight informs me that my youthful attraction to Kurt Lee’s antics may have had something to do with learning about the mores and rules my mother taught me. Why haven’t I ever played with the ball on top of an old woman’s stocking cap? What’s the difference between Kurt Lee and me? Is it about morality, or does it have more to do with common decency? My mother taught me that when a young, healthy male sees an elderly woman, he should smile at her and try to think up something nice to say. My mother taught me to hold the door for her, and she said that I should consider it a privilege to give up my seat to a woman like that on the city bus, if no other seats were available.
Not only did Kurt Lee ignore those typical conventions, he chose to pursue what we could term the exact opposite. He decided to violate the most vulnerable member of our culture’s sense of security by playing with her stocking cap. Of course, it was wrong, but it was also a fascinating exploration of human nature. How would this old woman 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 questions, but my fascination with the answers to the former led me to urge him on with laughter. That was wrong, too, of course, but I now believe my laughter was borne of curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the moral codes by which we all abide. I hoped to learn that by watching another solidify my rationale, with no regard for the consequences of violating them. At the time, I really didn’t have those thoughts, but I couldn’t wait to see how it would end, and I dare say that most of those who are more successful in abiding by the standards their mothers taught them would not have been able to look away either
The vulnerable, elderly woman did eventually turn on Kurt, and she did so with an angry expression. She allowed the first few flicks of the ball atop her stocking cap go, presumably taking a moment to muster up the courage to tell him off, and then she gave him that angry look. Kurt Lee appeared ready to concede to that initial, nonverbal admonition, until he spotted me laughing. Egged on by me, 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 that, Kurt began thrusting his hips forward in his seat, while looking at me, whispering, “She just wants unusual carnal relations!” As a teenager trying to elicit more laughter from another teen, Kurt Lee did not use that term. He selected the most vulgar term he could to describe his interpretation of her desires.
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 not the type to make profound statements about our societal conventions. He was more of a doer, and doers just do what they do and leave the messy interpretations of what they do to others. I would also learn, by the manner in which Kurt Lee selected his victims based on their inability to fight back, that Kurt Lee was something of a coward. At the time, though, I found his actions so bold that I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop laughing.
As time wore on, I discovered a wide array of fascinating explorations of human nature, but those paled 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 him speak on the topic, there was nothing different about Kurt Lee. 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 for the rest of us, we have had this inherent part of our makeup denied so long, by parents and teachers instructing us to act differently, that we now believe we are different. The import of his message was that this was not about me, and it’s not about him. It’s about human nature and the thief’s mentality.
“If you could get away with it, you would try,” was his answer to any questions posed 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 did not defend his position from the position of being a thief. He would substitute an exaggeration of your moral qualms regarding thievery, claiming that any person who has stolen even once is in no position to judge someone who steals on a regular basis.
In short bursts, and on topic, Kurt Lee could lower the most skilled debater to the ground. We called him a master debater, with the innuendo intended, because it was almost impossible to pin him down on specifics. It was a joy to watch. Prolonged exposure, however, opened up all these windows into his soul.
When we asked him how a guy from the sticks could afford the latest, top-of-the-line zipper pants, a pair of sunglasses that would put a fella back two weeks’ pay, and an original, signed copy of the Rolling Stones, 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 lost its thrill. He decided to challenge himself as top athletes, and top news anchors do, by hiring third-party analysts to scrutinize the minutiae of their performance. He asked me to watch him steal baseball cards from the shop owner that we all agreed was in need of a good lesson because he refused to buy our cards 99 percent of the time. On those rare occasions when he agreed to buy them, his offers were so low they were almost insulting.
I posed a theory about our transactions with this shop owner. I theorized that the intent behind his frequent refusals to buy our cards was to establish his bona fides as a resident expert of value. That way, when he informed us that any of our cards were of value, we were ready to jump at the chance, no matter what amount he offered. “By doing so,” I concluded, “he actually makes us feel more valuable, because we think we finally have something worthy of one of his offers.”
“You’re right,” Kurt Lee said. “Let’s get him.”
I felt validated for coming up with a theory that Kurt Lee accepted, but in hindsight, I think Kurt Lee would’ve used anything I said to motivate me to conspire against the owner.
“One thing,” Kurt Lee said before we entered. “I don’t know if this needs to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway. Don’t watch me, don’t talk to me, and be careful about how often you look at me. Don’t try to avoid looking at me either.” When I laughed at that, a laugh that expressed some confusion, he added, “Just don’t do anything stupid or obvious.”
It was an invitation into a world I had never known, and Kurt Lee’s provisos might have been necessary, because I was as nervous as I was excited. I considered the idea that my foreknowledge of this crime could implicate me as an accessory, 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 shop, Kurt Lee opened his pockets, in the manner a magician might, and he asked me to confirm that he had no cards in his pockets.
Throughout the course of our hour in the shop, I didn’t witness Kurt Lee steal one thing, and I mocked him. “What happened? I thought you were going to steal something,” I said. “I’m beginning to think you’re chicken.”
He allowed me to mock him without saying a word. When I finished, he opened his jacket to show me his inner pockets. What I saw knocked me back a couple steps. I actually took a step back when I witnessed the number of baseball cards that lined his inner pockets. I would’ve been impressed if he displayed one card, and three or four would’ve shocked me, but the sheer number of cards he stole without me noticing one act of thievery, led me to believe that Kurt Lee wasted his abilities on the petty art of shoplifting. I considered telling him to try his hand at being a magician for I thought what I was witnessing were the skills of a maestro of deception. If he could hone in on those skills, I thought the possibilities were endless for Kurt Lee.
Soon after recovering from that awe, I began to wonder how one might acquire such a deft hand. As with any acquired skill, trial and error is involved, but nestled within that lies the need to find a utility that permits the thief to proceed uninhibited by shame. A skilled performer in the arts or athletics delights in displaying their ability to the world, in other words, but a thief prefers to operate in the shadows, and they acquire their skill with a modicum of shame attached. Success as a thief, it would seem to those of us on the outside looking in, requires either a defeat of that sense of shame or the ability to manage it.
Shame, some argue, like other unpleasant emotions, becomes more manageable with familiarity. When a father introduces shame to his child, 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 them. When such brutal assessments are then echoed by a mother’s concern that their child can’t do anything right, the combined effort can have a profound effect on a child. When those parents then console the child with a suggestion that while the child may be a bad seed, but they’re no worse than anyone else is, something gestates in the child. The moral relativism spawned from these interactions suggests that the search for the definitions of right and wrong is over, and the sooner the child accepts that, the more honest they will become. Seeing their mother scold a teacher for punishing their child for a transgression only clarifies this confusion a little more. In that relativist scolding, the child hears their mother inform the teacher that the child can do no wrong, and they see her unconditional support firsthand. Over time, the child must acknowledge that their parents will not always be there, so they will need to develop personal defense mechanisms in line with what they’re learned. 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 discounting 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. Attempting to source it might be a fool’s errand, but I wondered if I were able to sort through Kurt’s his genealogical tree, if I might find sedimentary layers of grievance, envy, frustration, and desperation that worked their way down to him. To those that consider this a bit of a stretch, I ask how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free from it?
I was so obsessed with this, at one point, that I bridged a gap between being curious and badgering, something Kurt Lee made apparent in his volatile reaction:
“You think you’re better than me?” Kurt Lee asked, employing the universal get-out-of-judgment free card of moral relativism. This time-honored redirect relies on the lessons taught to us by our mothers, that we are no better than anyone else is, but Kurt Lee’s rant began to spiral out of control when he tried to pivot to what he believed its logical extension.
If no one is better than anyone else is and everyone resides on the cusp of whatever Kurt Lee was, the logical extension required the inclusion of an individual that many perceive to be so harmless it’s almost laughable to suggest otherwise. The individual, in this case, was a kid named Pete Pestroni. If Kurt Lee’s arguments were going to hold water, the idea that Pete Pestroni was a wolf in sheep’s clothing would have to become an agreed upon fact. I’m still not sure why Kurt Lee went down the Pete Pestroni road so often, but I suspect it had something to do with the idea that if Pete was immune, in one form or another, everyone else had to be too. 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, a thief dying to come out. Our intention was to laugh with Kurt Lee, but he wouldn’t even smile. Some part of him believed that if everyone was a thief, then no one was, at least to the point of separating the thief out for comparative analysis. 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 could lead to an uncomfortable level of introspection. An individual with a thief’s mentality may steal, but that person is just as apt to lie and cheat. The thief’s mentality begins as a coping mechanism for dealing with the character flaws that drive the thief 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, a means to explain the carrier’s inability to trust beyond the point that they should be trusted, but some thieves’ outward distrust of others reaches a point of exaggeration that says far more about them than those they accuse. Their cynicism is their objectivity, and others’ faith in humanity is a subjective viewpoint, one that we must bear. We live in a dog-eat-dog, screw-or-be-screwed world in which those who trust anyone outside their own homes are naïve as to the point of hopelessness. If the listener is to have any hope of surviving in such a world, it is incumbent upon them to see past the façades and through the veneer, others present to the truth.
The truth, in Kurt Lee’s worldview, held that TV anchors with fourteen-inch parts, and perfect teeth, ended their days by going home to beat their wives. He didn’t believe that a person could attain wealth by honest means. He insisted that because some states convicted some Catholic priests as pedophiles that meant all Catholic priests were, and he had a particular fascination with infidelity in the White House. “You think JFK and Clinton are different? They’re just the ones that got caught is all.” There was also his contention that little old ladies who complained about having someone toy with the balls on the stocking caps just want to have unusual carnal relations. As with most tenets of a person’s worldview, there was some grain of truth in Kurt Lee’s, but he often had to put forth a great deal of effort to support it.
In most such discussions, Kurt Lee’s audience was immune. “I’m not talking about you,” he would say to the parties concerned, so they would view the subject matter from the perspective of an ally. If we begin to view ourselves as an ally, we might join him in convincing our world that he’s not that bad, or the world is as bad as he is. Yet, our agreed upon immunity from his charges begins to fracture in the course of the thief’s logical extensions. When that happens, the thief turns their accusations on us. We may consider ourselves virtuous and moral, but the thief knows 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.
Thieves may even believe their exaggerated or false accusations, regardless of all we’ve done to establish ourselves as good, honest people. The validity of their accusation, however, pales in comparison to a thief’s need to keep a subject of their accusations in a perpetual state of trustworthiness. They make this accusation to keep us in check in a manner they know we should keep them in check. The import of that line provides us a key to understanding why an individual with a thief’s mentality would make such a charge against us, and the Pete Pestronis of the world that are so honest it’s laughable to suggest otherwise. Some might call such accusations psychological projection, the inclination one has to either deny or defend their qualities while seeing them in everyone else. Others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but I believe it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella that I call the thief’s mentality. Still others might suggest that Kurt Lee’s accusations were born of theories he had about me, the people around him, and humanity in general. If that is the case, all theory is autobiography.
Whether it was as complex as all that on an unconscious level, or some simple measures Kurt Lee developed over the years to prevent people from calling him a POS, I witnessed some try to turn the table on the accusations by telling Kurt Lee that other people trust them.
Kurt Lee’s response to one particularly defensive combatant was so clever that I thought it 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 when he said:
“So you think if someone trusts you that means that you’re trustworthy?” is how Kurt Lee responded. He said the word trustworthy, as if the word itself was an accusation, but that wasn’t the brilliant part of his response. As brilliance often does, his arrived in that section of an argument when the participants say whatever they can to win, regardless what those words reveal. Kurt Lee suggested, in not so many words, that those who consider themselves a beacon of trustworthiness are 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 who challenged Kurt Lee trustworthiness. It also put any further questions regarding Kurt Lee’s character –or what his inability to trust the people in his life said about him– on the back burner, until the questioner could determine whether the level of his own trustworthiness was a delusion that group thought led them to believe.
With all that Kurt Lee taught me about this fascinating mentality, always fresh in mind, I’ve had a number of otherwise trustworthy friends ask me how to deal with the thief in their life. They fail to understand why their beloved doesn’t trust them in even the most banal arenas of life. These worried friends said things like, “I don’t know what I did to damage our bond of trust, but they call me irredemable.” My friends are insecure about their trustworthiness, as we all are, yet they wonder what they did to trigger the damning accusations regarding their trustworthiness.
“How do I win him back? How do I regain his trust?” they asked, with sorrow in their hearts.
“I’m sorry to say 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, one that requires them to spend long hours, days, and years with this person. I have explained the plight of the thief, to the best of my ability, via my personal experiences with Kurt Lee, and it has helped these concerned and confused souls frame the accusations with a name for what their loved one does. The idea that there might be a name for it, also suggests to them that someone has had similar experiences so often that they developed a name for it. Whatever short-term relief they experience in the moment, the idea that their loved one is never going to trust them anymore than they trust themselves dispels it.
The damage that thieves, like Kurt Lee, incur is irreparable. They may not enjoy the lives they’ve created for themselves, and the idea that they can’t even trust the one person in their lives that they could, or should. On the flipside, their accusations do allow them to spread their misery around a little. It lightens their load to transfer some of their toxins to others. It also gives them a little lift to know that we are a little less trusting than we were before we met them. They must find some relief in the belief that they are not such an aberration, but this relief is temporary, as the toxins that have made them what they are as endemic to the biological chemistry as white and red blood cells. Nevertheless, it must please them to know that after our interactions with them, we now view humanity in the same cynical, all-hope-is-lost manner they do.
If it’s true that a mere 2 percent of people are self-aware, then the lack of self-awareness, at least 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. Like the rest of us, thieves do not believe they live on an exaggerated pole of morality. Rather, they believe they reside in the middle, right alongside the rest of us, somewhere on the good side of the fuzzy dividing line. They also know that we’re all tempted to do that one thing that could place us on the other side. What separates them, to their mind, is their lack of fear, coupled with their refusal to conform to the norms our parents and mentors taught us. They are also keenly aware that we place most of humanity on their side of the fuzzy line because we all have problems trusting those we don’t know well enough to determine whether they will make moral decisions in life. Some take this natural state of skepticism a step further. Some thieves’ exaggerated, outward distrust for those around them says far more about them than about those they condemn and accuse. It’s the thief’s mentality.
Actual acts of thievery are not the focus of this collection of essays called The Thief’s Mentality, as much as the mindset and worldview of the deceptive and the delusional. If all theory is autobiography, the deceptive and delusional view the world from the perspective that the world around us is as dishonest as they are, and those of us who don’t know this are either in some form of denial or suffering from a psychosis of another stripe. They also believe those who instructed us to acted right throughout our maturation (our parents and our teachers) have done this so well, and for so long, that we’re now convinced that we are more honest than we are. The thief’s job, as they see it, is to open our eyes to the world around us to a perspective we’ve never considered before. This mission is, of course, self-serving.
The Thief’s Umbrella
We’re no better than anyone else is, and we know it. Our parents did such a great job of instilling this idea in us that many of us consider it our defining principle. If for any reason we forget that, in our interactions with deceptive people, they are quick (too quick?) to remind us. They put so much effort into it that by the time they’re done with us, we end up questioning our integrity. Most of us have had a lover cheat on us, but how many of us have had one cheat so often that we’re still embarrassed by how much they fooled us. Their octopus ink involved psychological projection in the form of repetitive accusations of infidelity on our part. Those of who have never cheated on a lover know how effective these charges are, for they keep us on defense. We’ve all encountered deceptive individuals who employed these tactics so often that we forgot to question their integrity. If their goals were to prevent us from analyzing them, we must admit they were successful, but in the aftermath of those relationships, we recognize that their accusations said more about them than us. Some might call it projection, others might say that it’s some sort of deflection or obfuscation on the part of the thief, but The Thief’s Mentality suggests that it all falls under a comprehensive, multi-tiered umbrella called the thief’s mentality.
Delusions and Illusions
While some of the characters in these stories may engage in one of the various forms of deception, most of them (actual thieves, liars and cheats excepted) are not lying in the manner we traditionally associate with dishonest people. They believe what they are saying to be true, but the difference between them and most people is how they rationalize what they do. Some of us consider the ramifications of what we are about to do, others just act, and leave us to reflect on what they did.
Whether we’re the odd ones or not, their worldview is so foreign to ours, we feel the need to dig deep to understand how, or why, they think so different. It might be a fool’s errand to try to source such a line of thought, but if we were able to meet their parents, and various other members from their genealogical tree, we might discover the seeds of it. For those who consider this a bit of a stretch, The Thief’s Mentality asks how much of our lives do we spend rebelling against, and acquiescing to parental influence, and how many of us can say we are entirely free of it?
The Sitcom Formula
My favorite sitcoms invoke a formula that involves a main character playing the eye of the storm. The ensemble cast members define the show and the main character, through contrast, but the central role the main character plays on the show is often that of an observer. (Think Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld or Alex Reiger on Taxi.) The main character acts as the conduit to the every-man in the audience, pointing out the flaws, foibles, and eccentricities of the side characters. “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” is the central question the main character has for the side characters in their interactions. It is hilarious, because it’s so true. How many unnecessary complications could be resolved if we, and everyone around us, just did that this way? Needless to say, the key to great comedy is truth, and this is so true that it’s hilarious. We all know that our side characters define us, in ways large and small, and we all know people who add unnecessary complications to their lives, and we play the center to their storm.
We found this “Wouldn’t your life be so much easier if you just did that this way?” question an engaging way of framing an argument that it forms the central thesis of these stories. This isn’t to say that The Thief’s Mentality avoids arguments. In the two most opinionated pieces in this collection, we present the “I” character’s opinion in conjunction with how an opposing view may have formulated, and the role we all played in its formulation. We do disagree with the manner in which these characters conduct themselves, but we catalog the probable gestation cycle of the begrudged, and the role we all played in it, but we “but” our way to achieving the final question regarding their nature.
Do you know a true piece of work (a POS)? Have you ever met his parents? Chances are his parent’s friends were POSs too, and so were their kids. Chances are our friend, this POS, spent most of his youth running around with those kids. Without knowing it, he developed an affinity for like-minded people, until everyone he knew thought the same way and developed in a similar manner, until Ms. Comparative-Analysis came walking down the hall. By the time he encountered her, he knew how to use “She ain’t all that” to combat uncomfortable comparisons. As he learned more about her, he added a splash of “Who does she think she is anyway?” to fortify his wall. If he eventually befriended her, most of his preconceived notions fell apart, but he wasn’t discouraged. He attempted to convince her that she was a POS too, and she didn’t even know it. He aided her enlightenment with a barrage of accusations, and he continued this onslaught to keep her as honest as he wanted her to be. His rationale being that he didn’t want her to do to him what he was more apt to do to her. Even if some part of him knew she never would, he did his best to keep her insecure and unsure of her moral integrity, so she wouldn’t flirt with the notion that she might be better than he is. He also did this because a part of him knew that if people wanted to keep him honest they would consider using such tactics against him. He also knows that the best defense is a good offense and a constant barrage of accusations will keep her on defense, so that she might never examine him and see his true POS nature for what it is.
“You’re a great listener,” a casual associate once told me. “In a world of people waiting for others to stop talking so they can speak, you actually listen to what people say, and you pay attention to what they do. I just want you to know how rare that is.” I beamed with pride. I didn’t beam as much when others issued similar compliments, because I thought I had a secret that might diminish their compliments: I didn’t actually care what happened to the people telling me their stories. I listened to their stories so well that I could repeat their details with a surprising level of accuracy, and the questions I asked them throughout revealed how fascinated I was with their story, but I may have cared less about what actually happened to them than most of those who don’t listen. This little secret left me wondering if they would still give me the compliment if I revealed this fact to them. Would they smile in the appreciative way they did when they gave me this compliment, if they knew my motives were less than pure and self-serving?
Others didn’t offer me this compliment in such a direct manner, but they opened up and told me things about their life I can only guess they wouldn’t dare tell anyone else. This indirect compliment expanded when I asked them active listening questions, and they answered every question I had. The intimacy we shared during those moments told me how rare it was for them to have a person so interested in what they had to say.
The easy answer I developed for my dilemma was that I love a great story, and when I hear one, I want to know every single detail of it. I want to explore it beyond the storyteller’s frame, to the extent that the storyteller is examining the short-term and long-term effects of their story in a way that they may not have considered before. No matter how urgent I became, however, I didn’t care about them. I just wanted to know everything I could about their story.
The final answer I arrived at was as confusing as the question, for the primary reason most people don’t listen to others is that they’re too self-involved. Yet, I was so self-involved that I was more interested in the stories of others than most are. When I listened to another tell their story, it was almost entirely self-serving, as I strove to know the people telling them better than they might know themselves, so that I might understand why I do the things I do through all the similarities and contrasts they present in their story. Did I deserve the title of being called a great listener if my motives were not pure, or was the “who cares why you’re listening as long as you are” concept more prominent? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that in some ways their stories helped shape my story in a way that shaped this collection of essays.
“You have to tell your own story simultaneously as you hear and respond to the stories of others,” by Elizabeth Alexander. This quote captures the essence of The Thief’s Mentality.
Rocking the Worldview
When we listen to others tell their tale, we develop an idea for how the world works one person at a time. Similar to the manner in which the universe works, we believe that all earthly bodies have a magnetic relationship to one another that defines their orbit, our orbit, and the general sense of order in our universe. When an exception to our rules comes along and redefines it, they do so at their own peril. We don’t allow them to breathe after they hit our tripwire. We rip them apart and help them put all their pieces back together according to our sense of order. Some might argue that that is the essence of The Thief’s Mentality, but this book focuses its theme on those who tweak the premise of our sense of order.
The Epiphany Effect
Our understanding of how our world works (i.e. our sense of order) has a direct relationship to our level of happiness. One could say that the contradictions and inconsistencies we experience in youth, leads to confusion and a general level of unhappiness. As we age, we gain a greater hold on the way in which the world works and it leads to greater comfort and more happiness. The relief we feel can lead us to cling to these constructs until we become stuck in our ways, and any idea that questions our newfound sense of order could threaten to make us uncomfortable and unhappy. Yet, most of us also come equipped with a small window that we leave cracked open to ideas that might rattle our notions. These ideas are, more often than not, not revolutionary ideas that might shatter that window. Rather, they are eye-opening clarifications that tweak our understanding of the way the world works that The Thief’s Mentality calls epiphanies. Merriam-Webster.com defines epiphany as “An intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.”
Epiphany is a unique word in the lexicon for most define it based on their individual experiences with it. The potential power an epiphany might have on a person’s life is characteristically patient for the immediate reaction we have to these thoughts is that they’re so obvious that we think either we have explored them before or we should have. An epiphany typically requires subsequent incidents for the recipient to understand how they might apply to our lives. When this occurs, the recipient begins to see what they considered an accepted norm in a way slightly different than they did before they heard the thought. For some the word has religious connotations, for others it’s a striking moment, but some consider it nothing more than a subtle crank of the wheel. One noteworthy experience discussed in the book, involved an obvious thought the author spent far too much time tweaking. When he first heard it, he dismissed it as so obvious that he didn’t give it ten seconds of thought. The characteristics of this epiphany reared its beautiful head later, when the author least expected it, and it continued to do so until he had it all shiny, redefined, and ready for use in his world.
This definition of an epiphany is similar to a subtle twist in a movie that does not reveal itself until the movie is over. “Why did that happen?” we ask our friends on our way out of the theater. “Because she said that to him? Oh, before she did that other thing. OK, now it all makes sense.” When we begin to notice how often these subtle, otherwise insignificant thoughts apply to our situations we start chewing on the epiphany, until we’re digesting it, and we’re viewing the world a little bit differently than we did before we began processing the thought. Others might continue to find such tiny nuggets of information nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but when an eager student begins adding bits of their own thoughts to an epiphany, it snowballs into an individual truth. Once we clear these hurdles and embrace the power of epiphanies, we begin to see what we once considered the accepted truth, as it is for so many, is not as true for us as we once thought.
The Thief’s Mentality plants no flag on whatever unusual points of brilliance these epiphanies unearth for the reader, for the author is but a messenger repeating what should’ve been so obvious prior to processing it. Epiphanies provide eye-opening clarification on a topic we thought we understood, and the confusing revelations we experience after completely processing them produce an effect on us we could call the epiphany effect. As I wrote the epiphany effect can lead the recipient to think they should’ve considered it before, even to the point of considering themselves stupid in the aftermath. “I can’t believe I never saw it quite that way before.” Epiphanies can do that, but the recipient should relax with the knowledge that this happens all the time to a wide range of people.
One final note on epiphanies, they are elusive and fleeting. As author James Joyce once said, “[They] are the most delicate and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany is not a one size fits all, as most of them do not apply to most people. The delicate nature of an epiphany is such that even when they do apply, they are so personal that no one else understands why it means more to us than their more obvious definition. Locating the qualities of an eye-opening thought and interpreting it for personal usage does not require a level of intelligence, but it does require some level of personal ingenuity to sculpt and shape them for individual interpretation. The fleeting nature of an epiphany suggests that it’s entirely possible that a person could stumble across an epiphany and miss it entirely. Most naked epiphanies, or those that we haven’t shaped for personal interpretation, seem so obvious that we might allow them to pass without further thought. By the time we recognize the substantive information of an epiphany, we may not remember the loose, delicate connection it could have had to the situation before us, and the manner in which we should’ve applied it. The author has encountered many of these situations, but he couldn’t remember the exact phrasing of the epiphany. How many times do we hear such a subtle crank of the wheel, and when we try to use it, we cannot remember it. We might narrow it down to the author that wrote it, and the book they wrote it in, but we can’t find the exact passage in question when we need it. It’s frustrating. Some might say that if the epiphany were as powerful as we suggest, we would’ve remembered it, and while that may be true in some cases, in others, it elucidates how elusive and fleeting they are by nature. As the Joyce quote alludes, the nature of their power requires diligence on the part of the recipient.
The Thief’s Mentality is for people who hate to read books. We hated reading books for a chunk of our life, especially the assigned reading books our English teachers crammed down our throats in high school. We tried to love them, because he told us that these books were beloved classics enjoyed by millions of people for hundreds of years, but we couldn’t block out the “Get to the point!” voice screaming in our head when we read them. We looked forward to his summations the next day, because they were so entertaining and informative that it prompted us to ask him, “Why didn’t the author just write that?” The teacher informed us that we probably didn’t have the attention span necessary to bring their complex structures together. “That’s probably true,” we acknowledged, “but isn’t it the author’s job to entertain me?”
“So, if I hate to read books, why would I buy yours?” The effort put into writing The Thief’s Mentality focused on cutting the fluff and focusing on writing the most entertaining and informative stories possible. We all claim that we don’t have time to read, but we all know there are moments in life when we have time to kill. How much time do we spend in airports, and how much time do we spend in line? Some theorize that the average person spends one and a half years of their life waiting in line. Whether we’re waiting to buy tickets to a movie, waiting in line at the local supermarket, or waiting for our latest inoculation at the doctor’s office, we would love to have something to do while we’re waiting. Some small time operations place mirrors around elevators, larger operations place digital ads around the areas reserved for the line, but what better way to lessen the pain of waiting is there than an entertaining and informative book? Something entertaining and informative. Something that feels substantial. This book will not fill that year and a half, depending on how slow you read, because it is a relatively thin book, but it may relieve a couple of hours of pain. We can play around on our phones, of course, but how many internet articles about the Kardashians can one read before irreparable brain damage begins to occur? Human beings need constant stimuli to keep our synapses firing. We need substantive information and entertainment and when writers spend twenty pages writing about a Wisteria tree by a lake, we experience burn out. We want to read an author who knows how to get to the point, and at this point in our lives, we want entertaining, informative, and something different.
The Speed Reader. “I can read any book you’ve read, in about an hour and a half, and tell you everything about it. I might even be able to tell you things you missed,” a friend told me after completing a class on speed-reading. “There’s just so much fluff in every book a person reads.” Her arrogance annoyed me, but I thought she had a point. I also considered the idea that the only reason she took a speedreading class in the first place was that she didn’t enjoy reading as much as I did, and she wanted to find an end run around the traditional and methodical ways of educating herself.
I never took her up on the challenge she posed, because I didn’t want to know if she could match my weeks of reading in a little over an hour. This led to another thought that chased me into adulthood, if her abilities to speedread were as accomplished as she suggested, and she could teach me things about books I carefully read, how much of my life did I waste reading that I could’ve spent being more active?
I love to read now that I can choose the books I read, and some of them are classics, but even the most avid book reader will acknowledge that they spend a lot of time reading them, time that we could spend being more active. Even the most readers will cede the point that most books contain a lot of fluff, but we would argue that in the course of careful reading, a reader learns how to use finer points to support their logic and conclusions. In doing so, I would think, the reader learns not only how to form an opinion, but how to map it back to the central point by tracing the manner in which an author uses various rhetorical devices to achieve a conclusion with supporting evidence. The fluff, as my speedreading friend called it, lies in the supporting evidence. The author’s job, as I see it, is to either delete as many extraneous (and in my opinion far too numerous) finer points or make them so entertaining that no reader will consider them fluff. One of my many goals was to find that author who accomplished this feat so well that speed-readers wouldn’t want to skim in fear of missing a word. I found some, of course, and I loved their work so much that I tried to write like them.
Descriptions. One of the finer points, this book lover detests are the unnecessarily lengthy descriptions of scenery some fictional authors indulge in. Some of our greatest authors spent so much time describing scenery that even the most ardent book lover might speedread to the point. In some cases, these authors don’t even deliver a payoff for these lengthy descriptions. The purpose of their lengthy descriptions, in some cases, was the unnecessarily lengthy description. The Thief’s Mentality did what this book lover wanted other authors to do, cut the crap and get to the point. The Thief’s Mentality doesn’t inform the reader about the shapes of the clouds in the sky the character walked under, and there are no tumbleweeds rolling across the prairie, because the settings do not involve prairies. We tried to avoid exclusivity, but the settings of all of these stories occurred on the planet Earth. As such, the reader can feel free to assume that the natural settings surrounding the characters in these stories are those familiar to Earth bound creatures. We felt no need to remind the reader that the situations involved in the stories occurred on Earth.
Writing to Writers. Some books we hate contain letters to other writers. The exhaustive descriptions of scenery, for example, are their single leg swings and scissor kick on a pommel horse appeal to the scoring system of their judges. I understand writing “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after” is too simple and uninteresting for most writers. Writers want to dig into the characters of their stories to let the readers know who Jacks and Jill are, and they delve into descriptions of setting to place the reader at the scene, but those who hate to read consider much of that fluff. One writer I enjoyed reading spent so many pages describing a monster in his novel that I put my reading out of its misery, and I never read the author again. That author is a painter, so his ability to paint intricate detail with words was admirable and exhausting at the same time. I admired the author’s style and his ability to bring this monster to life, but I considered it a chunk of exposition only a writer could love. To paraphrase the late Christopher Hitchens, such passages are private letters, written to appeal to other writers, appearing in public space.
Strange Strategy. Most readers who hate to read enjoy it when an author includes some swearing, slang and colloquialisms. They can relate to a character that swears in the manner they do, and they may consider it a strange strategy to delete such words from a collection of essays about real people. The dilemma the author faced was largely self-imposed for while he recognized that using swear words and slang can customize a character, abundant usage of such norms can be distracting. Using them is also a very “writerly” thing to do, and it shows how hard the author is working to be “cool” to the reader. The author opted to forgo all such efforts under the guise of consistency.
Another note to add on this subject is that most of us remember an era when network censors were more stringent, and those network censors defined an era. Back then, their edicts seemed so silly. We often said things such as, “Rambo can mow down an entire militia poised against him, but SNL has to fire a guy who accidentally drops an ‘F’ bomb on air? We talked about freedom of speech, and we tried to twist the First Amendment in a way that suggested some words are obscenities, but they are not necessarily obscene. We thought the country needed to loosen the restrictions on these artists. We said we all needed to follow the European model. People cuss on TV in those countries, and no one is harmed by it.” Now that these restrictions are essentially gone and actors can pretty much say whatever they want, some of us miss them. Morality plays an undeniable role, as we cringe when we hear ‘F’ bombs and ‘S’ words on non-subscriber cable stations, but it’s more than that for some of us. Some of us enjoyed the wink and nod creative ways in which scriptwriters dodged network censors, because we said, “They have to do it that way.” We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but looking back, we now recognize how creative those writers had to be to comply with the Broadcast Standards and Practices. What was also not so obvious at the time was how much material we all had regarding those silly standards and practices. When the higher ups considered something naughty, their edicts made obscene jokes and innuendos naughtier, more humorous, risqué, and more entertaining. As a product of that era, I found some of the efforts to find a way around censors with various dodges hilarious, and I employed some of them in The Thief’s Mentality.