I Could Be Wrong, But …

“You’re wrong,” a friend of mine said. “You’re wrong about me, you’re wrong about these little theories you have about other people, and you’re so wrong about so many things that I’m beginning to wonder if you might be just plain stupid.”

I don’t care what level of schooling one has achieved, how much intelligence one gains through experience, or the level of confidence one has in their abilities, a characterization as harsh as that hurts. The subject of such an assessment might attempt to diffuse the notion that they’re stupid by examining their accessor’s intelligence level, and their motivations for making such a charge, but it still leads to some soul searching.

“How can I be wrong about everything?” was the question I asked after she made the charge. “I may be wrong about some things, but how can I be wrong about everything?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You just are.”

In the course of licking my wounds, I remembered something my eighth grade teacher once told me.

She gave me a harsh grade on a position paper. I worked my tail off on that paper. I poured my soul into that paper. The reason I focused so much energy on that paper had to do with the fact that I was not a good student. I rarely applied myself. I had this notion that that if I ever did apply myself, my true intelligence would finally be revealed. This particular paper, I thought, was that opportunity. I also thought it might prove something to this teacher I respected. As a result, I looked forward to receiving her grade and all of the effusive praise I felt sure would follow. It was one of the few times in my life I looked forward to receiving a grade.

“I worked my tail off on that assignment,” I said when I held that graded paper in hand.

“It was mealy mouthed,” she said. After she explained what mealy mouthed meant, I informed her that she instructed us to be careful to present both sides on this paper. I said I did that. “You were instructed to provide evidence of the opposing opinion,” she said. “You presented too much evidence,” she said. “The assignment involved taking a position. At the end of your paper, I wasn’t sure what side you were taking.” In the midst of the back and forth that followed, she added ten words that have stuck with me since. “If you’re going to be wrong, be wrong with conviction.”


“Have you ever considered the possibility that you might be wrong?” another person would ask me years later.

It’s funny how often people pose this notion. They often do it in a provocative manner that suggests that the recipient of the challenge has never considered that idea before. If it’s not that, then the provocateur wants the speaker to satisfy their needs, and their ego, before the speaker continues. I want to ask these provocateurs if they’ve ever met my dad. This particular provocateur knew my dad well. They knew that throughout my youth my dad questioned everything that came out of my mouth to a point that it was obvious he thought I was wrong about everything. He also made it obvious that he didn’t much of my abilities as an independent thinker. I considered this an insult in my younger years, but I now understand how difficult it is for a parent to believe that that person they knew as a toddler can arrive at independent thought, but it took me a while to reach that understanding. I don’t think my dad introduced this mindset to lead me to spend the rest of my life trying to prove him wrong, but that was the result.

It astounds me that some people’s ability to reflect on life is so poor, but the alternative is that this person was attempting to insult me, or he needed me to feed his ego by cajoling me into qualifying everything I say with “I could be wrong but-”. If it was due to his inability to reflect on life, then his question was an uninformed condemnation of me.


I could be wrong, but I think any attempt a person makes to describe human nature is going to be fraught with peril. Most people will not agree with the descriptions, and they might view that person’s conclusions as simplistic, trite, and anecdotal. Some might even view the positions a person takes, as so wrong, they could be stupid.

In one regard, I view such assessments with envy. I don’t understand how people can unilaterally reject another’s opinion with such certitude. I still don’t, as evidenced by the fact that I still remember my friend’s ‘You might be stupid’ charge more than twenty years after she made it. I assume that she dismissed the assessments I made of her so well that she doesn’t remember them, as she was as certain then, as I assume she is now, that she was right and I was not only wrong, but I could be stupid.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that one’s definition of human nature relies on the perspective they’ve gained through their interactions and experiences. If it’s true that our definitions of human nature are relative, and that one author’s assessments are based on the details of the their upbringing, then the only thing anyone can say with any certitude is that the best story an author can tell is that which is listed in their autobiography.

What if I am as wrong as my friends have stated, and my stories don’t even come close to achieving what some would call an astute analysis of human nature. What if every belief I’ve had over the course of the last twenty years is so off the mark, or so wrong, that they might be stupid? These questions should haunt every writer, artist, and theoretician that attempts to explain the nouns (people, places, and things) that surround them. The answer I have for those plagued by the enormity of trying to explain the otherwise inexplicable is to pare it down to the knowable. An author can only write what they know, and often times what they know is that which is told to them.

Those that know me often say that for all of my faults, I am a great listener. They also say that my curiosity appears genuine. I don’t listen for eventual writing material, in other words, but such content is a natural byproduct to those that are curious enough to learn another person’s truth. The trick to achieving such a truth is to go beyond whatever personal roadblocks we place in front of those with whom we interact to the point of experiencing their triumphs and failures vicariously, until we are processing their autobiographies so thoroughly that they become a part of our own. Go beyond hearing what a person wants another to hear, to fortify your thesis, and listen to what these people are saying. Use critical analysis, by trying to avoid conclusions, until the two of you reach the end of their story.

Some will dismiss some of the stories I use to explain human nature as anecdotal evidence of human nature. Some of them may be. To my mind, they explain the motivations of the characters involved, and the stories and theories I arrived at that have shaped my definition of human nature, and presumably my autobiography, better than any other stories can.

If there is a grain a truth to the Chinese proverb, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which people leave a mark,” then those that preceded the author have shaped their definition of human nature. This is not to say that one’s definition of human nature is limited to experience. Yet, when we read theories and see movies that depict questions and answers, we’re apt to be most interested in those that apply to our own experience. So, the question a reader might ask is, ‘Why did these particular stories appeal to your theories?’ The only suitable answers I’ve been able to find are, “All theory is autobiography,” and “I’m telling my story, as I heard and responded to others.”

These quotes form the foundation of these pieces, coupled with an attachment, via a complicated circuitry, to the philosophy that drove Leonardo da Vinci’s numerous accomplishments. I don’t know if he said these actual words, but from that which I’ve read on da Vinci, questions informed his process more than answers, and I derived a quote: “The answers to that which plagues man can be found in the questions he asks of himself.” The second is a direct quote from playwright Anton Chekov: “It is the role of the storyteller to ask questions not to answer them.”

As such, the curious reader might find more questions than answers on this site, and they may not derive anything beyond simple entertainment, but to the author each story comprises a central theme of the questions I have regarding motivation. The goal of each of these pieces was to explain, to one curious mind, the nature of mankind. The answers hit the author based on the questions I have asked people in the interactions I have had, from my very small corner of the world. Some of the people the author interacted with were on the fruitloppery index, and some of them were a bit delusional, but most of the characters of these stories appeared so normal that the author thought they might be boring, until I listened, asked questions, and all but physically entered the dark caverns of their mind.

For those readers that still require “I may be wrong, but …” style qualifications, lest they view the author as obnoxiously sure of himself, consider this an answer to those questions. The reader should also ask themselves –if they continue to have questions about the author’s state of mind– how interesting would it be if an author qualified all of their characterizations and conclusions with various forms of “I could be wrong here, but …” Those authors are out there, and I’ve read them. They spend so much of their time dutifully informing their readers that they’re not “obnoxious blowhards” that they end up saying little more. It’s so redundant and tedious that I can’t help thinking that if they fear they might be wrong, they should be so with conviction.

Rilalities X

Are you offended? Have you ever met someone that was easily offended? Have you ever told them that that gives the other side ammunition? Their response centers on the idea that it’s not them. They’re not easily offended. The just find the other party offensive. A younger talk show host, named Dennis Prager, took questions from the audience after a speech. A woman asked Mr. Prager a question. In the course of that question, she informed him that his views on the subject of her question offended her. When she finished her question, Dennis Prager answered it. He then went back to the idea that he offended her. “You said you were offended,” he said. “Why were you offended?” The two went back and forth for a bit before it became clear that her basis for declaring Dennis Prager offensive was that Dennis Prager had a different view on the subject. An older, wiser Dennis Prager looked back on that Q&A and suggested that the sole reason the woman was offended was that she disagreed with his opinion on the matter. “This,” Dennis Prager said, “Is what is going on in our culture today. Too many people confuse having a different opinion with being offended.”

We all believe that we have special insight on a given subject that leads us to know more than others. The others could be wrong, and they could be ill informed, but those that are offended believe that it’s more likely that they have a nefarious motivation for believing the way they do. Some of us do have a motive, and some of those motives are nefarious. We cannot discount that. We can say, however, that not everyone that disagrees with another has a nefarious reason for doing so. This is what we call painting with a broad brush. When a loved one disagrees with us, we know that we can’t paint them with this broad brush, so we find, or fabricate, a motive for them disagreeing with our impassioned pursuit of the truth. It seems impossible that educated people that have put some thought into their opinions can disagree with ours, so the only answer can be that they’ve arrived at their notion by nefarious means, and that offends us. Claiming offense seems like a shortcut to persuading another of their views. It’s a way of saying that I hold passionate beliefs based upon my special insight into the human condition, and you are not only wrong and lacking by virtue of your limited insight, but you are irredeemable.

Here’s how to do it, for the uninformed. If the member of an audience hears a comment from someone that audience member shares a worldview, or they like on a personal level, it doesn’t matter what that comment is, the audience members finds a way to support, excuse, or forgive that provocateur’s comment. The general thesis of their reply is, “I know what’s in his heart.” If a provocative point comes from an individual that has an opposing worldview, it doesn’t matter what’s in that person’s heart. In an attempt to portray themselves as well informed, the offended will react to the provocateur’s point. In the face of what they deem to be an offensive statement, they react. They don’t argue against the merits of the case the provocateur presents, and they don’t offer a substantive counter argument. They react, and that reaction is to claim offense. Being offended permits them, and some would say obligates them, to be offensive in return.

Bowie: The difference between rock stars and musicians/artists is a wide chasm. The groups AC/DC, Eagles, and ZZ Top developed a formula that consumers enjoyed, and they enjoyed the formula. The bond between the two was such that the rock stars didn’t venture outside the formula. If their fans would argue that point, they would have to concede the groups put less effort into making their albums as different as the albums in David Bowie’s catalog. The consumer never knew what to expect from David Bowie. Most of us now know the history of David Bowie, and we now assume that long-term success was a forgone conclusion, but a broader look at his career suggests that Bowie could’ve rested on his laurels after delivering Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. How many artists would’ve sold their souls for half of the longevity of these two albums? How many artists would’ve done whatever it took to carve out the niche Bowie did in the rock world with these two albums? How many artists would’ve then released various incarnations of the formula found with those two albums, at such a young age? How many of those same artists would’ve been so grateful for the financial support that the record industry offered them to achieve such success that they would’ve been susceptible to their advice? Bowie could’ve had a successful career based almost entirely on the Ziggy Stardust character. What David Bowie decided to do was retire the Ziggy character soon after he achieved a peak with it. Three years later, he delivered an entirely different sound in Young Americans, and five years after Ziggy Stardust, he delivered three albums (in the space of two years) that demolished everything he built to that point and rebuilt a new sound for himself that some call his Berlin trilogy.

The thing with invention, and reinvention, is that an artist is bound to disappoint those that expect a more regular, consistent product. The thing with experimentation, on par with some of David Bowie’s discography, is that not all of it will work. No one that listened to Ziggy Stardust for the first time would expect that artist to produce the Low and Scary Monsters albums. Those albums are a stark departure from that which preceded them, as are Hours, Heathen, and Blackstar. I’ve listed but a few albums here, but most of the albums in Bowie’s catalogue had an individual beauty that any music lover should explore. Not everything Bowie touched turned to gold, of course, but I would say that he, more than just about any artist in his rarified air, believed that the essential ingredient of the artist was to take a risk and pursue avenues their audience might not, and often times did not, find entertaining. It is for this reason that I list David Bowie at, or near, the top of the list of rock stars that also happen to be musicians and artists.

These Dreams: Every person has dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Our individual dreams describe us as well as anything else does. I knew a person that believed that he discovered a ticket to ride. He spent a number of years compiling a VHS tape of nude scenes from movies and television shows. Before anyone begins assigning modern techniques to this pursuit, they should know that my friend make this tape in the basement of a home, in the Midwest, in the 80’s. My friend had no technical equipment. He had a pen, a notepad, and a VCR. My friend had no idea how many hours he logged compiling this tape, but he had to watch a movie, document the minute mark at which the actress removed her top, wait for the scene to arrive in the second viewing, and hit record at the perfect moment. For those that don’t remember, the cable channels of that era assisted my friend by replaying the same movie repeatedly. My friend spent years collecting these scenes, and he swears he had a three-hour tape almost full of, on average, four to five second scenes, when his sister found the tape and recorded over it. She recorded the movie Vamp for those interested in history.

Much later on in our friendship, I found a book that documented these scenes for him, so he no longer had to do it. I gave it to him for his birthday. He considered that book a bittersweet present. I was confused. I didn’t see how he could be anything less than overjoyed at the prospect that he was onto something with that tape. I told him the book had become a best seller.

“I should’ve written that book,” he said. “That book led me to the realization that I wasted years of my life making a tape that wouldn’t have seen the light of day. I was a dumb kid,” he furthered. “I didn’t know anything about licensing and attaining a person’s rights to using their image. That book had those scenes documented down to the minute, and the description of those scenes, just as I had. You joked about those little notepads, but I filled with the descriptions of the scenes in which Hollywood’s brightest stars showed their hoo hoos. It also had the exact minutes and seconds into the movie in which those top stars removed their tops. I didn’t think of rating those scenes, like that author did, but if I had spent some time writing a book on it, I probably would have come up with that. I could’ve made some real money off a book like that.”

Objectivity versus obliviousness: A friend of mine, we’ll call her Fawn, opened a story from her life with the qualifier, “This is not a story that you will view from objectively.” She said, “I don’t want you playing devil’s advocate with me. I just want you to listen.” When she finished, I went silent, as a form of rebellion to her direct order. “Well, what do you think?” she asked. I told her that she did not permit me to answer. She said I was. She just said that it had to be within the parameters that she drew up.

Everyone wants their listener to side with them in a story from their life, some just want the listener to listen with a comment the sides with them. Most are not this blatant. I thought it was a hilarious comment on the idea that I rarely take her side.

Another friend, a woman named Maddie, informed me that her friend Patricia invited Maddie to lunch at a restaurant. Maddie informed me that she reluctantly agreed to meet Patricia in this restaurant. After agreeing to go, Maddie decided that she wouldn’t be going. Maddie informed me that she had no other plans. She just didn’t want to go. Maddie also admitted that she never attempted to call Patricia beforehand to inform Patricia that she had changed her mind. Maddie then informed me that by not going, she would be leaving Patricia alone at that table in the restaurant. As the morning hours crept toward to noon, Maddie decided that she was not going to go. Rather than go through the painstaking process of developing an excuse “I just blew her off,” Maddie told me.

After the questions and answers established the particulars of this situation, I said, “How would you like that if she did that to you?” I considered this a time-honored question that my dad asked me so many times that it’s an ingrained response. I dare say that most people have a version of this question ingrained in their brain. I didn’t consider this question a brilliant display of my skills, and I didn’t consider it confrontational. I consider it a question that my dad would’ve asked of me, if I relayed such a story to him. It’s a question we ask of one another, when we think the other side doesn’t see the error of their ways.

Maddie had apparently never had a parent put them through the character-building exercise of viewing matters such as these, objectively. She informed me that Patricia wouldn’t do that to her. “You’re missing the point,” I said. In the course of this email, I set off a firestorm by saying, “I have to tell you that I think what you did was wrong. It would be one thing, if you had conflicting plans, or if you called Patricia to cancel your lunch, but leaving her at the restaurant alone was wrong.” This was the gist of my reply. It might have been a little longer, but I can report with confidence that I did not disparage Maddie’s character in any way. I did write that email, I must confess, but I deleted it. I wrote a second email that omitted my personal feelings on the matter. I wanted Maddie to continue to be my friend, but I thought someone needed to tell her what she did to Patricia was wrong.

This set Maddie off, I would later learn. She couldn’t understand why I would do this. She spoke to her brother, my best friend, to try to understand why I would say such a thing to her. They both knew that I had no allegiances to Patricia, so they couldn’t understand how I could condemn Maddie’s character in such a way.

“What’s wrong with your friend?” Maddie asked her brother. “He’s freaking out. Accusing me of stuff. He’s hysterical.” My friend, her brother, asked her for the details of the story. Maddie told him. He believed that it was all about him. He had a history of telling me that he would show up to a restaurant, and he wouldn’t show. He did this to me more than ten times. He believed I was harboring ill will towards him. I could see how he would think that, I could even see that he might have viewed me as empathetic to Patricia in that regard, based on our history, but I can tell you that I didn’t consciously call upon those moments in my defense of Patricia. I am the type that will judge people for their actions, as often as I expect them to hold me accountable for my actions, but that had no bearing on my exchange with Maddie. In the email exchange I had with her, she provided me a scenario, and I reacted. If there were never any prior occasions to match that one, and I would’ve provided that qualification in my answer.

As for the hysterical charge, our conversation occurred via email, so there was no way she could’ve determined if I was hysterical. I wasn’t hysterical. I just thought it was wrong, and I think 99% of the population would agree with me. Maddie is a princess though. Maddie lived a life where she could do no wrong, and she never had people call her out like that. Therefore, even though she couldn’t say I was wrong, she found an interesting way to make me the bad guy.

I think the two parties concerned should applaud me for my objectivity in this matter. It’s true I have no allegiances to Patricia, but Maddie was my friend until this argument. I could have viewed this episode from her perspective, but I didn’t. I made an effort to be objective. I tried to give Maddie every out possible. I asked her if Patricia had ever done this to her in the past, I asked if Patricia had ever done anything that warranted such as action on Maddie’s part, as a form of revenge, and Maddie assured me that Patricia hadn’t. I don’t think she knew what I was getting at.

No matter how many times I experience a situation similar to this, it amazes me how oblivious some people can be. My dad raised me to ask that “How would you like that if they did that to you” question. He raised me to abide by the “Treat others the way you want to be treated” credo that we all know, and we all shake our heads in agreement to it. The years I’ve spent interacting with people have taught me that most people don’t abide by tenants they shake their head to, but the obliviousness to confronting it in a given situation often shocks me.

I can see how an outsider, that doesn’t know Maddie, might think some form of guilt guided her into projecting me into the role of the bad guy, but I know Maddie. I know that guilt is not on her wheel of emotions. I believe her attempts to understand my simple reaction to her real-life scenario was genuine. When she couldn’t find my motivation for condemning her, because it made no sense to her that I should consider her actions wrong, she deemed me hysterical. When that didn’t make sense to her, she approached her brother. He came up with an answer, a plausible answer that I didn’t consider, and the two of them were satisfied with that answer. The idea that telling someone you will have lunch with them, only to blow them off and leave them at that restaurant alone, is the wrong thing to do didn’t even enter their conversation. It may sound like there’s more to story on the part of Maddie and her brother, but I can assure you there isn’t. They simply didn’t see it as wrong.

Prescription Drugs: “I think that we should take away the control doctors have over prescriptions.” How many problems in our country are drug-related? How many people have progressed from using illicit drugs to prescription drugs? How many more problems would result from the population having unfettered access to prescription drugs? At this point in a theoretical situation such as this one, the libertarian would suggest that we don’t give people enough credit. One could suppose that suspecting widespread chaos is unilaterally cynical. Yet, my counter proposal is that it’s not cynical to state that good and honest people, experiencing chronic pain, can accidentally develop a habit for taking painkillers as a means of soothing chronic pain. It’s also possible that these good and honest people can either ignore the harm these drugs can do in their quest to seek relief, or they might not have a thorough understanding of the harm some of these drugs can do. A possible overdose could occur, if informed third parties do not govern usage. Some of these informed third parties rely on test studies, and outside research to understand the benefits and harm of these drugs. They might better inform the chronic pain sufferer of the damage they may do, they might advise curtailing, and they might suggest a less addictive, alternative.

I attempt to be as libertarian as anyone else and I try to maintain an openness for suggestions regarding how America can become more libertarian, but I would suspect that one of the most libertarian politicians in Washington, ophthalmology physician Rand Paul, would agree that keeping restrictions on access to prescription drugs limited is a good thing. The answer my friend had was to take away all controls, so that we might thin the herd. You’ll have to trust me on the characterization of my friend, when I say that he was not joking.

Death: We will exit our celestial plane on a waterslide. A centrifugal force greater than gravity will pull us to the portal. The force will be such that it takes our breath away. It will dawn on us, before we hit the portal that we are dead. We will consider all we’ve left undone before we hit the slide that will take us to our next existence. Those thoughts will consume us to the point that not only will we not enjoy the ride. We won’t remember it. At the end of our ride, we will enter our local bar. The bar will be so close to our home that we will see our house on the hill. The lights will be out. Our family members will still be sleeping. We will wonder about the effect our departure will have on their lives. We will sit with many people in this bar, some of the associates we knew in life, some of the friends, and some of our loved ones that have passed on. They will tell us that this bar is our way station, our purgatory if you will, to ease us into the transition of our afterlife. They will tell us that the mystery of life is beyond most mortals, and that the only thing we do understand is that it moves on. This will soothe us and depress us. We were never as vital to their existence as we once thought. We will eventually run into an individual whose existence mirrors ours. They will tell us, “Life goes on. My son even laughed at my funeral. He wasn’t disrespectful. He wasn’t laughing at me. Somebody told a well-placed joke, that had nothing to do with anything, and he laughed. He laughed hard. I find it a depressing exclamation point on the idea that life goes on.”

Rilalities XI

Electoral College: We can provide an answer to the debate over whether the Electoral College is an outmoded way of electing presidents in two simple sentences. America is a Representative Republic. It is not, as some have suggested in a variety of ways, a democracy. The distinction, as it pertains to the Electoral College and presidential elections, is that the American voter is not voting for a presidential candidate when they cast a ballot, but for a representative that votes on their behalf in the Electoral College meeting that occurs a month after the election to determine the official winner of the election.

Those of us that are not scholars cannot claim to know all of the ideas that went into the formation of America’s federal government, but one of their goals was to create a system that made change difficult. They made it difficult to pass legislation, they made the Amendment process even more difficult, and they instituted numerous checks and balances on the powers of the branches. The Founders also instituted federalism to give the states more power, and thus provide an even greater check on federal power. By doing so, we can make the educated guess that for all the consternation that the system the Founders created has caused legislators, and their constituency, their goal was directed more towards stability than it was the equal representation that a democracy can provide.

In that vein, the Founders created the Electoral College. The Electoral College was, in effect, a check on the majority to provide some balance for the minority. The Founders knew that the majority would rule regardless of their efforts, but they did not want the majority (i.e. the passions of the mob) to hold a tyrannical rule over the interests of those in the minority. The Representative Republic form of government was their answer to allow minority interests, such as those in modern day Nebraska and Kansas, to have some say in the manner in which the federal government conducted affairs. The Founders believed that Rome’s version of a Republic was a superior form of government, because it allowed its representatives to make tradeoffs, or compromises, to form legislation for the common good. The Founders also believed that the people would hold these representatives accountable for their tasked role of providing representation. If America were a pure democracy, the interests of the larger states in our union would hold a tyrannical rule on the minds of national politicians.  

Some state that due to the fact that such a large percentage of the nation’s population now live in urban areas of California and New York, the votes of individuals living in Wyoming, Kansas, and Nebraska are given more prominence, in the Electoral College system. They state that this violates the principle of voter equality, and they declare that this is a violation of a democracy, and it is, but the United States of America is not a true Democracy.

Those that pose this argument rarely encounter a counter argument, for it is tough to argue against the idea that our system of representation should be population based to provide greater voter equality, and that a vote from a citizen in Kansas is disproportionately more important than a vote from a citizen from California. One of the many counter arguments is that the Founders based three-fourths of our government branches on equal representation, as opposed to providing population-based representation. The only branch of our government that provides population-based representation is The House of Representatives.

A proponent of what they believe to be the more equal representation provided by the Electoral College might be willing to cede to the idea that the system we have in place regarding presidential elections is inherently flawed. They might also be amenable to changing it, if the opponents of the Electoral College were willing to cede that the other two branches of our government also provide population-based representation. If the proponent began his argument with the notion that we change the Senate to a population-based representation, most opponents of the Electoral College might be willing to compromise on that, as that would give the larger states more power in the Senate. Would these same opponents be amenable to changing the Supreme Court into a more representative body? The proponent could argue that the unelected nine jurists on the Supreme Court do not represent the population as well as the judicial branch could if fifty-one jurists sat on the highest court in the land. (This proposition suggests that Washington D.C. be included, and we would deem it necessary to have an odd number of jurists, I suspect). Not only would that provide more representation for a wider variety of interests on the Supreme Court, it would provide some dilution of the vast power the nine jurists currently wield. In this scenario, we could have Governors, or even State Legislatures, nominate jurists to make sure that the jurists represented their state well. The proponent could also argue that one president doesn’t represent the population well and that we might want to consider having fifty-one presidents, 435, or however many it takes to provide better representation.

Those that seek to “guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all fifty states and the District of Columbia” have made strides to basically end the original intent of the Electoral College. The first and last question these reform-minded citizens should ask themselves, is if we are going to make changes to the federal government, the Electoral College, and the manner in which the government represents the people how far do we take it?

The idea that these reformers only want to change that which furthers their agenda is obvious, but there are other agendas. That question asks the question, ‘Can a reform movement make all of the people happy all of the time?’ Of course not, and they are not driven by that goal. Their goal is to satisfy a personal, partisan agenda. Most reforms begin as personal, partisan agendas, however, and if this action makes America a better place then we should all be for it. That’s the question. Would this National Popular Vote bill make the country a better place? It would provide greater voter equality of course, but the goal of the Founders was to provide the nation what they believed would result in long-term stability. Those efforts have resulted in the fact that America is still on her first Republic since 1776, and France is now on her fifth since 1792, so one could say that if that was their goal they have succeeded. If that stability is a direct result of all of the checks and balances on government power, including the check that the Electoral College places on what they believed would result in a tyranny of the majority, what would be the unforeseen and unintended consequences that could result from providing to such an action?  

Diet: “Pay attention to what you eat?” nutritionists say. We ignore some of the nuggets of information nutritionists provide, because some of them can go a little overboard. They suggest that we follow a plan that we don’t want to follow, from food we don’t want to eat, to smaller portions, to massive intakes of various vitamins and supplements. Most of us do not want to spend our free time reading ingredients, creating detailed charts of protein intake versus carbohydrate, and fiber. That could be overwhelming, and it could leave us eating nothing but grain and tofu. We may do this short term, but we don’t want to deprive ourselves of the goodies that make life enjoyable. Yet, from every philosophy comes a nugget of useable information.

“If you are what you eat, why would I want to mimic the diet of a person from the Paleolithic Era (AKA the Paleo Diet), if that person had a life expectancy of thirty-five point four years if they were a man, and thirty if they were a woman? Why would I want to mimic anything from an era whose highlights consisted of some use of tools, art that was limited to cave paintings, and whose controlled use of fire came so late in their existence?”

The answer to these questions, say some, is anatomical. The answer lies in various places along what Rob Dunn of the Scientific American calls “the most important and least lovely waterway on Earth”, and what he calls “a masterwork, evolutionarily speaking”. What Mr. Dunn is describing is the human body’s alimentary canal, or our digestive  tract. Rob Dunn also states that while “most canals take the shortest course between two points, the one inside you takes the longest.” The theory behind the Paleo Diet, put simple, is that we only eat food that which the human alimentary canal recognizes before enhancements and we added preservatives to the foods in various agricultural cultivations.

What’s better for the human body margarine or butter? The competitor to butter lists the tale of the tape. The makers of margarine state that it is a vegetable oil based product, as opposed to butter’s saturated fats. They state that butter contains milk, and milk is a dairy product, and anyone that knows anything about losing weight knows to eliminate dairy from their diet. Butter contains contain 100 calories per tablespoon, a typical serving size. One serving has 11 grams of fat, and 7 grams of it is artery-clogging saturated fat –about one-third of your recommended daily value! It also contains 30 milligrams of dietary cholesterol (10% of your daily value). Butter also contains vitamins A, E, K2, and it “contains a type of fat called butyric acid, which helps maintain colon health. It’s also rich in conjugated linoleic acid, a type of fat that may actually help protect against weight gain.”

Margarine is a plant-based alternative, but some margarine contains some trans-fats. Some margarine products suggest that they contain no calories, but most of the products have fewer calories than butter, so margarine is the winner right?

The question that Rob Dunn, and most enthusiasts of the paleo diet ask, and that which might be a usable nugget of information in the debate between butter and margarine is, what does your digestive tract consume in a quicker and more efficient manner? 

The human digestive tract does not process the imitation egg, for example, as well as it does a natural egg that is prepared in the most natural manner possible. The theory holds that weight can be lost, as a result of the digestive tract recognizing how to metabolize that egg in the most efficient, quickest, and most natural manner possible. The theory also holds that the more familiar our digestive tract is with the egg, butter, meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and nuts that could be found in the Paleolithic Era, the more it knows what to do with the food that has been introduced to it, the greater the health benefits.

I may be wrong in my assertions here, regarding the import of the Paleo diet philosophy, but I do not believe it calls for an exact mimicry of the diet of the Paleolithic man. Rather, it suggests that based on the current evolutionary design of the human body, we should study the diet of the Paleolithic man. We should take some nuggets of information that we believe made the Paleolithic man healthier, in lieu of the more processed foods that have additives and preservatives that can inhibit processing food in the digestive system, and make choices on our dietary habits based on that information. The paleo diet does not call for a complete overhaul of our diet, in other words, it just provides details that allow humans to make choices. Mimicry is a stretch, in other words, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

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

I frequented The Family Liquor Store for just this reason: I loved anomalies. I knew little to nothing of anomalies in the sheltered life I lived prior to walking into The Family Liquor Store. I knew that some people succeeded and others failed, but those in my dad’s inner circle that failed in life were a rung or two lower. I knew nothing of the depths of failure and despair that I would encounter in my friend’s parents’ liquor store, where he happened to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prior to David Hauser, I assumed that people that spoke to themselves would so to fill a void. David Hauser filled that void, but he and his invisible friend created other voids, what some might call seven-second lulls, and there were times when the lulls in those conversations would end with active listening prompts on David’s part. This display suggested that the purported speaker that had ended the lull and David’s listening prompts encouraged the speaker to continue. This added element to David Hauser’s conversation deepened my fascination, until I had to know what this man was saying.

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

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

“For God’s sakes,” Paul said. “Why?”

 I’m not sure what I said at that point, but I know it was an attempt to diffuse the situation, so Paul wouldn’t have material on me later when it came time to mock me for my odd curiosity. I think I said, ‘I don’t know, I just do.”  

The truth was I didn’t know what would’ve satisfied my curiosity. I didn’t know if I was searching for listening prompts, or if I was what words he could’ve used that would’ve done it for me. Is there a word that can inform another that a person genuinely belies another person is there? Is there a word, or series of words, that will inform an observer that a person has manifested another person to satisfy a psychological need? The latter was so far beyond my comprehension that I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking about it, but I figured that his mannerisms, his tone, and the context of his active listening prompts would form a conclusion.

“Be careful,” Paul said.

Those two words slipped out, as if Paul was repeating the warnings he received when he considered further investigation. He then focused his attention on me and said, “Be careful” again.

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

“Why?” I asked.

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

“Could that happen?”

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

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

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

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

When I recovered from those irrational fears, I went over to David Hauser. The level he spoke at, before I arrived at the windowsill he sat on, lowered as I progressed. I was still somewhat distant, pretending to look out at something beyond the window, standing near him. I neared even closer, and his volume dropped even more. Was that a coincidence, or was he trying to prevent me from hearing him?

Whatever the case was, I couldn’t hear him, and I was more than a little relieved. I felt encouraged by the fact that I had neared him, even though I was afraid. I was wary of getting too close however, for I feared the idea of having his overwhelming theories implanted in my brain. I thought that such an implantation might be equivalent to an alien putting a finger on a human head and introducing thoughts to that brain that are so far beyond its capacity that the victim starts shaking  and drooling, like what happened to that kid in The Shining. I considered it plausible that I could wake in a strait jacket with that theory rattling around in my head, searching for an answer, until I ended up screaming for the nurse to come in and provide me some relief in the form of unhealthy doses of chlorpromazine to release the pressure in my head.

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

When the man would enter the Family Liquor store, from that day forward, the story of how a once prominent man, of such unimaginable abilities, fell to such a level of despair and failure, was on the tip of the tongue of everyone that knew it. “Like that!” everyone would say, with a snap of their fingers to punctuate the description. Bubbling beneath that surface fascination, were unspoken fears, confusion, and concern that if it could happen to this guy, who’s to say it can’t happen to anyone one of us? In place of traveling through a complex maze of theories, and research findings, to find the truth, was an answer. No one knew who came up with this answer first, and no one questioned if that person knew what they were talking about. We just needed an answer. A coping mechanism.

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

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

This led me to believe that the reason his volume dropped as I neared, might have been the result of the pain and embarrassment. If his mind was as complex as they suggested, and it was stuck on one question being repeated in his head to the point of him needing to manifest another presence to help him work through it, how embarrassing would it be for him to have an eavesdropping teenager might find that answer for him?

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

That’s me In the Corner

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

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

“Look at the kid,” I heard some wedding patrons whispering to others. “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say. I was already watching him. I thought everyone was. How could one avoid it, I wondered, this kid was putting on a show.

There was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged the audience to look away. He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he did not attempt to communicate with us in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer might. There was, however, an element of showmanship in his step that should not have occurred in a normal nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped low in his dance step. I don’t know what this suggested exactly, but he did appear more comfortable on the floor than any of the other kids his age. His handclaps were also a little harder than the other kids were. I don’t know if it was the volume of Kevin’s claps, but the other kids appeared to be struggling to follow the beat, or his beat. His gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us not in the wedding party had trouble stifling our giggles. This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

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

After I asked that question, I realized I was one of those whispering and pointing at Kevin. My initial assumption was that everyone watched this kid in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised, but the sheer volume of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Some consider that album a masterpiece. Some called it Davis’ Sgt. Peppers. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure it was a masterpiece. The structure seemed so simple. I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but the point is I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that there was something I was missing out on.

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

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

“Because it’s cute.”

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

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

Anyone that focused attention on the kid’s step –as opposed to the surprising amount of bravado he displayed by attempting to dance– knew that the kid didn’t know what he was doing. He had no rhythm, no choreography, and no regard for what others might think of the fact that he had no knowledge of the crucial elements of dance. The latter, I think, was the point, and it was the reason we were watching him.

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

When the kid made a beeline to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people might have been shocked at the manner he exited. I laughed. I thought it added to the spectacle. I laughed loud, believing that those that laughed while he danced would share my laughter. They didn’t. I received confused looks from those around me. His beeline exit did not elicit shock, or any other response. They’d moved on. I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

Some may have characterized this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance, but I didn’t think that captured it. I thought that a desire to watch how this party would unfold fueled this kid’s exit.

The kid’s exit suggested that he was one that preferred to watch. It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance steps and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception. He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by his performance, so why would he prefer to watch?   

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

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was obsessing over the actions of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of the boy’s life, and I attempted to look away several times. Every time a member of the party made some kind of misstep, however, this kid would draw my attention by laughing harder than anyone else would. My guess was that the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors fueled that raucous laughter. This kid would laugh so hard at every joke that it was obvious he wanted to be louder than any others laughing.

“He’s attempting to cross over,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said. “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ is often characterized by a preceding pause. The pause suggests that either they know that you’re talking to yourself, and they’re looking to call you out on it, or they believed the comment was situational, until they chewed on it for a bit and realized they couldn’t place it.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that thought. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, but I also wondered if I intended to think that aloud, so that I might have it on the record if it went down the way I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world. It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all partygoers without participating.

The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve. Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that gains attention. The crossover does require some discretion, however, for it can be overdone. When one overemphasizes an attempt, they could run the risk of receiving a “We know you were there. You wouldn’t shut up about it” comment. The perfect crossover calls for some comments and/or attention getting laughter interspersed in the emcee’s presentation to lay the groundwork for the stories the subject would later tell others regarding his participation.

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

It would be almost impossible for me to know if this kid achieved a total crossover, for I had no familiarity with the family, and I would have no opportunity to hear the kid’s after-party stories. The kid did accomplish an excellent first step, however, thanks to a groom that, I assume, had spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual stepfather.

The answer to why I was so obsessed with a 9-to-10-year-old crystallized soon after the groom’s comment. Kevin’s mother called upon Kevin for increased participation. The kid waved her off. He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation. It dawned on me that my preference for observation went so deep that it was less about fearing increased participation and more about a preference for watching others perform that was so entrenched that any attempts to have me do otherwise could become an obnoxious distraction.

That’s me in the corner I thought. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself. “Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?”

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

When one is an athlete, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display the pride they might feel through vicarious connections. When an athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, they may feel sorry for the athlete, but they won’t associate with them in any meaningful way. They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position as the athlete was at the time of the error, they would not have committed it. ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland

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

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

The premise of the idea that there could be too much knowledge makes us wince. How can there be too much knowledge? It makes no sense. If we thought this contention was limited to the idea that too many people know too much about too many people, and that too many people focus too much of their energy on trivial matters, we might be able to get behind that. Even when an informed consumer decides that it’s acceptable for him to share his knowledge on the ingredients of the food we’re about to eat, we might still wince at what we hope amounts to nothing more than casual, and humorous observations. We might consider the idea of placing some kind of Orwellian governor on the information available on the net, but we won’t concede to the idea that there’s too much knowledge available to concerned consumers. Knowing that such an institutional governor on information outlays violates our personal constitution, we might want to ask informed consumers to place a cap on the type of information they provide others, insofar as it they deem it irrelevant to an audience that “simply has to hear about it”. We think the onus should be on the speaker to notice when their audience becomes visibly agitated that so few people recognize the violation of intruding upon the enjoyment of a meal with trivial information that is often vulnerable to contradictory studies.

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

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

I did everything but close my eyes here. This type does not stop. It’s almost as if they have so much trivial knowledge stored in their cerebral tank that if they don’t hit the release valve every once in a while, they may implode. One cannot just say that you don’t want to receive this information dump, for we know that if we play ball with them it will all be over soon.

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

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

The Castoreum Connection

Castoreum is the exudate from the castor sacs of the mature North American Beaver and consumers have stated that they prefer this natural flavoring augment to other natural flavorings … in blind, taste tests of course. There are no details on the net regarding whether this market-tested preference is from the scent of the secretion. If the flavor has been determined to be more delicious than the flavor of the product listed on the product’s face, or if the fact that scent is such a driving force in determinations of preferences for flavor that it is a combination of the two. Whatever the case is, the beaver doesn’t produce this exudate from its castor sacs to tweak our senses. Rather, it is product they produce to mark their territory. As stated in some of the research articles listed here, the beaver doesn’t have to give up his life to provide us this enjoyment. Rather, enterprising young hands milk it from the castor sacs located in its anal glands. Those curious enough to pursue too much knowledge on this subject should know that entering the search term “Milking the beaver” in a search engine, to find in search of instructional videos on the subject, may not pull up videos displaying the action described here.

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

Natural and Artificial Flavoring

So, what is the difference between artificial and natural flavorings? Gary Reineccus, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that finding the difference between natural and artificial flavorings requires one to look to the original source of these chemicals used.

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

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

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

On that note, how much does the average consumer enjoy M&M’s and jelly beans? Would their enjoyment of these products lessen if the tender, chewable morsels were less shiny? The flavorists at these companies either experienced initial failure with the dull glow of their candy, or they decided not to risk it, and they added an additive called shellac. That’s right, the same stuff we put on our wood furniture to give it that extra shimmer, is the same additive they add to our favorite tasty, little morsels to make them shine. What’s the problem with that, if it has passed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rigorous standards?

“Nothing,” writes Daisy Luther, for the Organic Prepper, as long as they know that shellac “is a resinous secretion from bugs during their mating cycles, the female lac beetle in particular. Glazed donuts and glossy candy shells owe their shininess to these secretions.

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

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

Fish Bladders and Bitter Beer Face

Fish bladders to fight bitter beer?

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

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

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

To Get Us in the Mood

Ambergris: The Love Molecule?

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

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

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

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

Most people have at least heard of the martial game, of the Middle Ages, called jousting. At the end of a joust, some victors of the match received their reward, the damsel’s handkerchief. If you’ve witnessed a proper portrayal of this scene, in the movies or elsewhere, you’ve witnessed the spoils of victory: the knight began huffing on that handkerchief with celebratory joy. Most believe that the greater import of the scene is a symbolic one depicting the sweet smell of success, on par with drinking wine from a gullet, or showering a locker room in champagne. The stories of this moment depicted it as a symbolic one of a damsel giving her hand. The details of this “huffing on the handkerchief” moment suggest that the damsel carried that handkerchief in her armpit throughout the jousting match. According to an article posted by Helen Gabriel, after the handkerchief spent a sufficient amount of time in the damsel’s underarm area, the handkerchief received a coating of her smegma, and the jouster’s reward for victory was greater knowledge he attained of the damsel’s true essence.

Having said all that, man needn’t look to the animal kingdom, or its artificial equivalents developed in research labs, if we didn’t feel the need to bathe so often. It may seem contradictory, but the ritual required staple of day-to-day bathing deprives us the very human scents that are, in many ways, attractants. Decide not to bathe very often and your visual cues will suffer, of course. Some might consider it a juggling act fraught with peril, but if we manage our bathing ritual in such a manner that our visual cues are still scoring high in the world of attraction, we might be able to maximize our smegma production if we lessen our bathing. Doing so, according to the research scientists quoted here, could land us atop the dating world without having to say so much as a kind word to anyone. As stated in a previous post, we are now required to bathe and wash away this smegma substance –located on and around our reproductive organs, and in our urine– on a day-to-day basis. The same, prospective dating community then requires us to replace those scents we wash away on a day-to-day basis, with the scents found in castoreum, civet, musk, and on the tip of a boar’s sexual organs, or their preputial glands.

Who was the first to discover this?

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

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

For those that don’t know, the toad produces a venom that can have a psychoactive effect on the human brain. What was the trial and error process that led to this discovery? Did one person eat this toad and find themselves feeling a little loopy in the aftermath? How did they discover that this particular toad’s venom had these properties? Did they discover it by accident, or did they walk around licking the forest, the trees, the antelope, and the shrubbery trying to find a natural high that would lead to fame and fortune? We can make an educated guess that an individual that persisted in this manner, probably doesn’t care about money as much as they do achieving a state of mind where they no longer cared about money, or anything else.

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

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

My Advice to Informed Consumers

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

My initial fear, in publishing this article, was that it might contribute to what I deem to be violations of social protocol, but I decided to proceed with it under the “There’s no such thing as too much knowledge” banner. I do know, however, that there will always be some informed consumers, like my informed consumer friend, that are now so overloaded with such information that they don’t believe that sharing such information can do any harm. I also know that that moment of sharing will arrive soon after the unsuspecting sits down to enjoy those products that the informed consumer is now afraid to consume based on what they know about said product. To these people, I paraphrase one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes: “Some of the times it’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear uninformed, than to open it and remove all doubt.”

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

The Unfunny, Influential Comedy of Andy Kaufman

There was a moment, in the timeline of the history of comedy, when the subversive nature of comedy became so comprehensive that it became uniform, conventional, and in need of total destruction. Although the late, great Andy Kaufman may never have intended to undermine, and thus destroy, the top talent of his generation, his act revealed his contemporaries for what they were: conventional comedians operating under a like-minded banner. In doing so, Andy Kaufman created an art form.

Those of us that had an unnatural attraction to Andy Kaufman’s game-changing brand of unfunny comedy now know that he was oblivious to greater concerns, but we used whatever it was he created to subvert the conventional subversions, until they lost their subversive quality.

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

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

Many regarded being weird, in the manner Andy Kaufman was weird, as just plain weird … even idiotic. Those in the know didn’t know what he was going for. Before Andy Kaufman became Andy Kaufman, and his definition of weird became defined as a transcendent art form, being weird meant going so far over-the-top that the audience felt comfortable with the notion that you were being weird. It required the comedic player to find a way to communicate to the audience that they were being weird. They used visual cues, in the form of a weird facial expression, or weird tones, so that “less sophisticated audiences in Omaha” could understand that the comedic actor was being weird.

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

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

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

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

Being Unfunny in Situations

Like the knuckleball, situational humor can get better or worse as the game goes on, but if you’re going to have any success with it you’re going to have to devote yourself to the pitch. People will hit the occasional home run off you, and you will knock out the occasional mascot with a wild pitch, but for situational jokes to become effective, they can’t just be another pitch in your arsenal. They require a commitment that will become a concentration, until it eventuates into a lifestyle that even those closest to you will have a difficult time understanding.

“Why would you try to confuse people?” they will ask you. “And say things that aren’t funny?” 

“I would like for someone, somewhere to consider me idiotic,” will be the response of the devoted. “Any idiot can fall down a flight of stairs, trip over a heat register, and engage in slapstick comedy, but I want to achieve a form of idiocy that leads others to believe I am a total idiot, and that I don’t know any better.”

If you’re less confident with your modus operandi, and you’re still searching for answers, high-minded responses may obfuscate the truth regarding why we enjoy doing this. The truth may be that we don’t know why we enjoy doing this. We just do. The truth may be that we know the path to achieving laughter, through the various pitches and rhythms made available to us in movies and primetime sitcoms, but some of us reach a point where we’ve so thoroughly mastered that template so well that it now bores us. Others may recognize, at some point in their lives, that they don’t have the wherewithal to match the delivery that our friends –with gameshow host personalities– employ. For these people, the raison d’être of Kaufman’s idiot may offer an end run around the traditional modes of comedy. Some may employ these tactics, to stand out, and above the fray, and others may enjoy the superiority-through-inferiority psychological base this mindset produces, but most people find themselves unable to identify the reason behind doing what they do. They just know they like it, and they will continue to like it, no matter how many poison-tipped arrows come their way.

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

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

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

The pause before her second sentence included an expression that every idiot strives to achieve. The pride of figuring me out, faded, as it dawned on her that everything she thought she figured out opened up more questions. I could only imagine flowchart she developed in her mind. A flowchart that ended in a rabbit hole that once entered into would place her in a variety of vulnerable positions, including the beginning. She pursued me after that, to inform me that she was onto this whole thing I was doing, until it became obvious that I was no longer the primary audience of her conviction.

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

The point is that if you devote yourself to this mindset, and you try your hardest not to let your opponents see the stitches, you can convince some of the people, some of the times, that you are an idiot.

The List

The following is a short list of idiotic gems. This list is by no means comprehensive, for aspiring idiots looking to spread the seed of idiocy among their peers. As stated earlier, most idiotic behavior is situational, and thus impossible to catalog in a simple piece such as this one. Some might view this list as a primer for those looking to buy into the mindset. One can also use it as an explanation for the curious:

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

2) “What did he say?” is a much more difficult non sequitur to land, even for the seasoned idiot, schooled in the art of being idiotic. This response may never receive the laughter that a timed, “So’s your mother” or a “That’s what she said” response may. The sequential reactions this line receives may be better than those other two if we are strategic in the manner in which we place it in our conversations over time. All non-sequiturs, we should note, require deliveries that are measured and methodical. Our goal is to lead the listener to believe that we believe in what we’re saying, and that we may not know that they don’t follow the logical order, because we may be a little damaged, but none of them require the diligence and patience that “What did he say?” requires.

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

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

If our audience has no reason to believe that we’re total idiots, they may attempt to determine if our confusion is genuine at this point. If we are successful in completing this portion of the conversation, they will say, “I said it was Martha that did this …” This is the crucial point in the conversation, that which is referred to in idiotic parlance as crunch time. We cannot smile, act comedic, or let them in on the joke in anyway. We are not attempting to pull someone’s leg here. This is a serious attempt to pull off a difficult joke.

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

One other thing, before we continue, this space in time will also provide a chicken exit. If we’re more interested in having friends, and having people enjoy our company, or we’re the type that grows insecure or uncomfortable when people begin to view us as an idiot, we’ll want to pull the ripcord on the joke right here. We can say something like, “Ok, I heard you,” or “I’m just kidding you.” Some people also feel a little uneasy playing with another person’s head in this manner, as they fear it may lead the other to find them deceptive in some manner that may place a wedge between them and the other person, and this is the perfect moment to end it all before feelings are hurt.

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

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

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

If our reactions are pitch-perfect, “It’s a girl,” is something they might say. “Martha is a girl.”

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

This line of responses will not bear fruit at the outset, and you may want to skip the next story involving an agreed upon female name, like Barbara, to avoid them seeing the stitches of your situational humor, but when they approach you with a third story, about a person name Beatrice, you will say, “What’s he doing now?”  The emphasis on the word ‘he’, at this point in the joke, is acceptable, if you’ve set your listener up well enough.

This is the portion of the joke where you are to receive dividends for all of your hard work. Some may enjoy pursuing this façade ad infinitum, adding intricacy here and there to it as it expands, but most of us want payoffs. The payoff may not be immediate. You may not see that perfect expression on their face, as they become aware of all that you’ve done to them. They may not say anything, for it may be embarrassing to them that they fell for it so hard. If you’re knuckleball was successful, you’ll know when you try to pull the joke on someone else, and your initial victim turns to them, with empathy, and says:

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

3) “What’s that?” The best way to explain this joke is to provide an example of it.

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

We say all three sentences. To accentuate the joke, we will want to punctuate the third sentence with fatigue. This suggests that we’re tired of repeating ourselves. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this joke will produce nothing more than confusion, but if practiced enough, it can produce an hilarious reaction.

“I did not say what. YOU DID!” 

The person that said this colored her response with an ‘I’m not the stupid one here, YOU ARE!’ intonation that suggested that my impatience with her was “uncalled for”. She afforded me one more opportunity to pull this joke on her, and she was more adamant the second time through. Unfortunately, I was never afforded the opportunity to do this as often as it may have been necessary to see this joke to fruition, and no other person has fallen for this as hard as she did. This one is the most difficult to pull off, for most people see the stitches of this knuckleball and avoid swinging at it.

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

My modus operandi, brought to you, in part, by the late, great Andy Kaufman, is that while jokes are funny, reactions are hilarious. If we practice the art of deception, in one form or another, and we can deceive another into believing that we are an idiot, we can produce some jewels that will leave us with the feeling that we’ve created some rewarding moments in our life.

4) Recite an Inappropriate Song Lyric in an Appropriate Moment

Song lyrics capture a moment. This is such a staple in movies, and TV, that it has crossed over into our daily lives. It’s become a cultural trope. They use the device in marketing, business presentations, and in romantic gestures. It’s become such a staple of our culture that some idiots have developed the perfect non sequitur songs that appear to have significant and poignant song lyrics to match a number of different situations.

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

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

The purpose of this cryptic use of these lyrics occurs soon after your listener first hears them. If they are aware of the cultural trope of using song lyrics to capture a moment, and most of us are on some level, they may believe that you have a firmer grasp on the situation than they do. The joke reveals itself when they hear us use the same lyrics in an altogether different situation. When they hear us do it again, they may feel foolish for having believed in it the first time, and in every instance they hear us do it afterward they may begin to believe we are an idiot. The point, in evidence with the use of the APP lyrics in particular, is that most lyrics are so over-the-top, self-indulgent serious, that they are ripe for ridicule. The point is that this ridicule is so poignant that it doesn’t just mock the idea of a hopeless and dire situation, but the general practice of using serious lyrics to capture such a moment.

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

The Idiostory

Most true idiots acted idiotic before they ever heard of Andy Kaufman, but whatever it was he did opened up this whole can of unfunny hilarity to us. After seeing what he did, it became obvious to some of us that the constraints we placed upon ourselves to get along in the normal world, no longer require maintenance.

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

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

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

The Disclaimer

If the goal of the reader is that others consider them funny, they should never use this mindset. If this is your goal, you may want to learn how to incorporate your responses into conversations by putting acute focus on the beats and rhythms of your delivery. Quality humor, like quality music, should have pleasing beats and rhythms that find a comfortable place in the listener’s mind. After achieving that, the person might want to repeat the pleasing pattern that their listeners will recognize before hitting the punchline. This will allow the listeners’ brains to reward them for figuring out how you arrived at that point, before you did. That reward will be a shot of dopamine, and the joke teller’s reward will be their laughter. They may even say the punchline before you do.

If, however, the goal is to be an unfunny idiot that gets no laughter for the effort, the joke teller will want to know those same rules of comedy, regarding the beats and rhythms of humor, but they will need to know them even better than funny people do. As any gifted practitioner of the art of idiocy will tell those willing to listen, it is far more difficult to find a way to distort and destroy people’s perception of conventional humor than it is to abide by them. It takes practice, practice in the art of practice. It takes an ear tuned to the rhythms and beats of a conversation, or situation, and it takes a lot of trial and error.

As expressed throughout this article, the rewards for being a total idiot are far and few between. If the joke teller manages to achieve total destruction, or distortion, of what others know to be the beats and rhythms of humor, the joke teller may encounter a sympathetic soul that considers us such an idiot that they consult us about the beats and rhythm of our delivery. For the most part, however, the rewards we will receive are damage to our reputation as a potential funny person. Some might dismissing us as strange. Others may regard us as weird, and most will want to have little to nothing to do with us. Women will also say that they don’t want to date us, because they prefer nice guys that are funny, “and you, you’re just kind of weird, or some kind of idiot.”