Willie and Kenneth


“I have a death voice,” Kenneth Greene said after interrupting a conversation I was having with my fellow employees on break. Kenneth Greene was the manager of this restaurant, and the only time he interrupted our conversations in the breakroom was to inform us that the restaurant was so busy that we would have to cut our breaks short to help the staff out. When he first entered our breakroom we thought that’s what he was doing, but he looked so insecure about it.

Kenneth Greene operated from a baseline of insecurity. Kenneth didn’t think the staff took him seriously enough in the first few months of his tenure as our manager, so he grew a Fu Manchu. Kenneth’s Fu Manchu did not have handlebars, a la Salvador Dali, it was more late 60’s Joe Namath. Kenneth would never admit that he grew a Fu Manchu for the sole purpose of generating respect from his peers, but when that Fu Manchu grew to fruition, the psychological effect on his was all but emanating around his head. Kenneth Greene went from a greasy, overweight ginger with a mullet to a greasy, overweight ginger with a mullet and a Fu Manchu.

The psychological influence of the Fu Manchu became apparent when he progressed from a manager that asked his employees if they wouldn’t mind cutting their breaks short for business needs to a manager that instructed us to do so. Thus, when the new Kenneth Greene stepped into our breakroom, it appeared that the Fu Manchu might have lost its psychological influence. After a moment of hesitation, in which it appeared that Kenneth had something to say, he left without saying a word. When he returned, after apparently recognizing how vital this moment was to the new Kenneth Greene, he stared at me with renewed conviction.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I have a death voice,” Kenneth Greene said.

“What’s a death voice?” I asked.

“I front a death metal band,” Kenneth said. “In my off time.”

Kenneth Greene’s goal, I can only assume, was to display a talent that matched the subjects of the discussion he interrupted. In that discussion, a friend and I spoke about the various artistic talents of those on the staff, and Kenneth Greene wanted us to know that he had a talent equivalent to those that we were discussing. He wanted us to know that he was much more than a manager of a low-rent restaurant chain that would go out of business within a year, and he wanted us to know that this death voice was his gift and artistic calling.

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ is an expression that dates back, in various forms, to the Ancient Greeks. The reason such a notion exists, as Benjamin Franklin’s version of the expression states, is that at the core of one’s definition of beauty is an opinion.

I would never consider myself an arbiter of art, in other words, but I thought Kenneth Greene would have a tough road ahead of him if he hoped to convince those of us sitting in a restaurant break room that we should consider a skilled death voice for our conversation of artistic talents. I was, as I always am, eager to have another prove me wrong.

I didn’t know what to do with this information, however, so I assumed that he wanted to show us. After several attempts to goad him into it, Kenneth decided against performing his death voice for us. I think he saw something in our faces that suggested that the moment after one lets loose a death voice in the middle of a restaurant breakroom, they become the person that let a death voice loose in the middle of a restaurant breakroom. When he invited us to hear it in person, at one of his shows, I could tell he knew we wouldn’t attend, but he needed to say something to get out of the uncomfortable situation he created.

***

I thought Willie Bantner was a real character when I met him. Willie and I found that our backgrounds were similar, and I thought this was odd considering that our outlooks were so dissimilar. Willie’s worldview was foreign to my own, yet there was something about him I couldn’t quite put my finger on. This sense of familiarity became so hard to deny that it stirred feelings of déjà vu, until Willie revealed to me the actual character he was playing in life.

My initial inclination was the once one meets a significant number of odd characters in life they begin some overlap. There are only so many odd characters out there, in other words, and I thought Willie reminded me of one of them.

These odd, weird sensibilities were the reason I was so fascinated with Willie Bantner. It was the reason I would go to him with very specific scenarios. I wanted to learn what he thought, why he thought what he did, and how someone can arrive at such a notion. The funny, thought-provoking things he said were the reasons that we became friends. This friendship lasted for over ten years. Over the course of those ten years, I grew so familiar with Willie that his peculiarities were not so peculiar, but there was still that nagging sense of familiarity about him that plagued me.

When we began one of those lists that seem indigenous to the male gender, this one of the best television shows ever, we mentioned the usual shows that we considered the best of their day. When we entered into the list of what we thought should be on a list of honorable mentions, the list was lengthy. I mentioned the show Family Ties. Willie agreed that show should be on the list of honorable mentions. I added, “If nothing else, the show gave us Michael J. Fox, and the character Alex P. Keaton, and I think Alex P. Keaton was one of the best TV characters ever written.”

“I modeled my life after him,” he said. After some confusion, Willie clarified that he did not model his life after Michael J. Fox. He modeled his life after Alex P. Keaton.

Over the years, I’ve learned that one of the reasons young men swear so often is that they lack confidence. They don’t know how to articulate an opinion in a manner that will impress their peers. They are also unable, at this point in their lives, to provide detailed analysis of the subject of their opinion, so they choose to coat those opinions in superlatives that they hope will provide cover for any unformed intellect. If one person says that Marlon Brando was the best actor of all time, another may agree with that person. Rather than enter into a detailed discussion of that sense of spontaneity Brando brought to his roles, or the fleshed out nuances he brought to method acting that influenced a generation of actors, they say, “I’ve built a personal shrine to him in my bedroom.” When one person says that a movie was the scariest movie they’ve ever watched, another might say, “That movie was so scary that I didn’t sleep right for weeks.” In most cases, there were no shrines built or hours of sleep lost, but in the absence of detailed analysis, a young man thinks he has to say something over the top to pound the point home. I thought this was all Willie when he said he modeled his life after Alex P. Keaton. The more I chewed on it, however, the more I began to see a truth mixed into that admission.

I would watch him, going forward, with that admission in mind. The idea that the man modeled his reactions, his physical gestures, and his life after a situation comedy character became obvious once I had a conclusion for my search for that nagging sense of familiarity. Once I saw that elusive sense of deja vu for what it was, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it earlier. 

I was also disappointed that my initial assessment of Willie Bantner proved so prescient. I thought he was a character, and he was, but not in the general sense that I intended. I was disappointed to learn that individual experiences did not inform Willie Bantner’s personality as much as I thought, unless one considers tuning into NBC’s early to mid 80’s, Thursday night lineup at 7:30 central to be an individual experience.

Willie Bantner made me think, he made me laugh, and I thought he earned it all with ingenious, individualistic takes. After his admission, I began to wonder how many of those comments were off the cuff, and how many of them he lifted from Family Ties’ scripts. The unique personality that I wanted to explore became, to me, a carefully manufactured character created by some screenwriters in a boardroom on Melrose Avenue. The odd sense of familiarity plagued me as I wrote, but I can’t remember putting much effort into trying to pinpoint the core of Willie Bantner’s character. If I had, I probably would’ve over-estimated what influenced his core personality, but that’s what young men do. Even if I was able to temper my search to more reasonable concepts, I don’t think I would’ve considered something as banal as watching too much TV to be the sole influence for what I considered such a fascinating personality, until he admitted it.

Now, I have no illusions that I’ve scrubbed the influence of TV characters from my personality. I imagine I still have some remnants of the Fonz in my cavalcade of reactions, and I’m sure that Jack Tripper is in there somewhere. I also know that an ardent fan of David Letterman could spot his influence somewhere in how I react to the people, places and things that surround me, but I think it’s almost impossible to develop a personality without some degree of influence from the shows we watched every week for years. To model one’s entire life on one fictional, television character, however, speaks of a level of insecurity I think the American Psychiatric Association should consider in their next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

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The Master Reset on Washing Machines


 

Our washing machine stopped spinning. It would reach the spin cycle and just stop, until the spin cycle ended. I went to the phone for answers. I pictured YouTube videos that would instruct me to tear the machine apart to get to a belt that needed replacing. I pictured an afternoon of frustration and uselessness, as I attempted to fix something above my pay grade.

The first internet page I pulled up, informed me that my first step was to perform what it called a “Master Reset”. It sounded complicated. I read the definition of the Master Reset. It said, “To perform a Master Reset, carefully unplug the washing machine from the power outlet and leave it unplugged for one minute. After one minute is up, plug the washer cord back into the wall. Next, open and close the door of the washing machine 6 times within 12 seconds to send a “reset” signal to all the components.” I read through those steps a couple of times. It seemed too simple, and I knew that a remedy this simple would not work for someone like me. My cynicism leads me to believe that corporations build these things to keep people like me from fixing them, and to keep the whole industry that surrounds washing machines, and repairmen afloat. I also thought this sounded like one of those “home remedies” that people spread via word of mouth, but no one uses, because they don’t work for “me”, and such solutions only leave those of us that are not able to fix anything with this inept feeling for being one of the few for which miracle cures don’t work.

In my mind, I was already at Sear’s writing the check for a new washing machine, but I considered the idea of trying this step-by-step process on a ‘what the heck’ basis. I thought this option might have a better chance of working than stabbing myself in the eye would, so I tried it and it … it worked. It worked so well that we did it twice just to convince ourselves that it actually worked.

I went back to the website that said, “This is a common fix that many appliance repair mechanics use – it works on about 50% of all washing machines.” This led me to wonder how many times has an appliance repairman has removed the back panel on a washing machine while we were in the room? How many of them fiddled with the machine, until we left that room? How many of them then executed the steps of this master reset and called us back to show us their prowess, and a bill of $130 for parts and labor?

“You just needed a new flux capacitor, and I happened to have one on me,” they said to our amazement.

How many of us were so relieved that our old washing machine now works, and that we do not have to pay $300 for a new one, that we didn’t question it. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars have passed from desperate customers to appliance repair mechanic over the years and decades in which this master reset option has been available to us? How many new washing machines have desperate customers purchased to replace a washing machine that most people, salesmen or not, will tell you are cheaper to replace than fix? How many of those same washing machines just needed a master reset? This led me to two conclusions, I could either become an appliance repairman that specializes in fixing washing machines, and fix 50% of them, or I could spread the word and hopefully prevent others from being duped by repairmen and salespeople that tell their customers it is in their best interests, over the long haul, just buy a new one.

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 achieves, or the level of intelligence they gain through experience, a charge as harsh as that hurts. The subject of such an assessment might attempt to diffuse the power of the characterization 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 that she assigned. I worked my tail off on that paper. I poured my soul into that paper. The reason I devoted 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.

Some people pose this notion as often as possible. It’s a silky, smooth method of stating that they think the speaker is wrong, and so wrong that they might be stupid. They often pose the notion as if the speaker has never considered that idea before. If it’s not that, then they need the speaker to satisfy their needs, and their ego, before the speaker continues. As for the idea that I’ve never considered it before, I want to ask them if they’ve ever met my dad. The person that asked me this question, on this occasion, knew my dad well. They knew that my dad questioned everything that came out of my mouth. They also knew that my dad believed I was wrong about everything, and he assumed that I didn’t have the facilities to be 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 try to prove him wrong, but that was the result.

The interesting dynamic in these conversations is that prolonged involvement with a person that makes such a charge will reveal the idea that they’ve never considered that they could be wrong. Their vantage point is often that of the contrarian, and that contrarian challenges what they consider a status quo relative to their own life. This mindset does not lead to reflection on one’s own set of beliefs. They have focused their energy on refuting the speaker’s words and the “Have you ever considered the idea that you might be wrong?” is the best weapon they have in their arsenal.

The ideal method of refuting further questions of this sort is to qualify every statement a speaker makes with, “I could be wrong but-”. As I’ll note below, I used to do this, but I found it tedious after a while.

***

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 such 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 one person 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 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 a comprehensive study of human nature. What if every belief I’ve had over the course of the last twenty years are 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 for those plagued by the enormity of trying to explain the otherwise unexplainable, my advice 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 with an eye towards developing content, in other words, but 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 others to hear, to fortify a thesis, and listen to what these people are saying.

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 in these stories, 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 they told their story. When they told their story, the author asked suitable questions, the characters opened up, and the author engaged with the storyteller until he all but physically entered the dark caverns of their mind.

Even though most of these stories are based on real life experiences, there will always be some readers that require “I may be wrong, but …” qualifications, lest they view the author as obnoxiously sure of himself. This reader should wonder how interesting it would be if an author qualified all of their characterizations and conclusions with various forms of “I could be wrong here, but …” For these readers, I would suggest they find another author. 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 those authors fear they might be wrong, they should be so with conviction.

Find Your Own Truth


“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer the helps us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feel like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.

Bradbury went onto define this relative vision of “the truth” as he saw it, but that definition didn’t step much beyond that precipice. I had already tuned him out by the time he began speaking of other matters, and I eventually turned the channel. I may have missed some great advice, but I was frustrated.

If the reader is anything like me, they went back to doing what they were doing soon after hearing advice, but the quality of deep, profound advice starts popping up in the course of what a person does. It begins to apply so often that, we begin chewing on it, and digesting it. Others may continue to find this vague advice about a truth to be nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but it begins to infiltrate everything an eager student does. If the advice is pertinent, the recipient begins spotting truths that should’ve been so obvious before, and they begin to see that what their thought was the truth –because it is for everyone else– is not as true for them as they once thought.

Vague advice may have no import to those that don’t bump up against the precipice, and for them a platitude such as, “Find your own truth” may have an of course suffix attached to it. “Of course an artist needs to find their own truth when approaching an artistic project,” they may say. “Isn’t that the very definition of art?” It is, but go ahead and ask an artist if the project they are currently working on is any closer to their truth than the past pieces they attempted. Then, once they’ve completed that project, go ahead and ask them if they’re any closer to their truth. The interrogator is likely to receive a revelation of the artist’s frustration in one form or another, as most art involves the pursuit of a truth coupled with an inability to capture it to the artist’s satisfaction. Yet, it could be said that the pursuit of artistic truth, and the frustration of never achieving it, may provide more fuel to the artist than an actual, final, arrived upon truth ever could.

Finding your truth, as I see it, involves intensive knowledge of the rules of a craft, locating the parameters of the artist’s ability, finding their formula within, and whittling. Any individual that has ever attempted to create art has started with a master’s template in mind. The aspiring, young artist tries to imitate and emulate that master design, and they wonder what that master of the design might do in moments of artistic turmoil. Can I do this, what would they do, should I do that, and is my truth nestled somewhere inside all of that awaiting further exploration? At a furthered point in the process, the artist is hit by other truths, truths that contradict prior truth, and this begins to happen so often that everything the artist believed to be a truth, at one point, becomes an absolute falsehood, and this is where the whittling comes in.

In a manner similar to the whittler whittling away at a stick to create form, the storyteller is always whittling. He’s whittling when he writes. He’s whittling when he reads. He’s whittling in a movie theater, spotting subplots, and subtext that no one else sees. He’s whittling away at others’ stories to what he believes to be the core of the story that the author of the piece may not even see. Is he correct? It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t believe that the author’s representation of the truth is a truth.

Once the artist has learned all the rules, defined the parameters, and found his own formula within a study of a master’s template, and all the templates that contradict that master template, it is time for him to branch out and find his own truth.

The Narrative Essay

Even while scouring the RIYL (read if you like) links provided at the bottom of the webpages of books I’ve enjoyed, I knew that the narrative essay existed. Just as I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, that others call creative non-fiction. The question I have, is have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the idea of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life? If you have, I’m going to guess that it had more to do with your diet than it did the actual taste of that strawberry. A person may go long stretches of time carelessly ignoring the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for. They may suffer from a vitamin C depletion, for example, in ways that were not apparent to them, until they took that first bite of this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry.

That first bite caused a person inexplicable feelings of euphoria that they didn’t understand, until they learned of the chemicals of the brain, and the manner in which the brain rewards the person for fulfilling a biological need. The only thing they may have known at the time was that that strawberry tasted so glorious that they stood at the strawberry section of a buffet line gorging on strawberries while everyone behind them waited for them to starting moving.

I am sure, at this point, that the reader would love to learn the title of that one gorgeous, little narrative essay that caused my feelings of creative euphoria. The only answer I can give the reader is that if they’re suffering a depletion, one essay will not quench this depletion any more than one strawberry can. One narrative essay did not provide a eureka-style epiphany that led me to an understanding of all of the creative avenues worthy of exploration. One essay did not quench the ache my idea-depleted mind endured in the more traditional parameters, with the time-tested formulas and notions I had of the world of storytelling. I just knew that I needed more, and I read all the narrative essays I could find in a manner equivalent to the effort I put into exploring the maximum benefits the strawberry could provide, until a grocery store checker proclaimed that she had never witnessed one man purchasing as many strawberries as I had at one time. She even called a fellow employee over to witness the spectacle I had laid out on her conveyor belt. The unspoken critique being that no wife would permit a man to purchase this many strawberries at once, so I must be single and self-indulgent.

An unprecedented amount of strawberries didn’t provide me an unprecedented amount of euphoria, of course, as the brain appears to only provide near-euphoric chemical rewards for satisfying a severe depletion, but the chemical rewards my brain offered me for finding my own truth, in the narrative essay format, have proven almost endless. As have the rewards I’ve experienced reading others reach their creative peaks. As I’ve written, I knew narrative essays existed, but I considered most of them to be dry, personal essays that attempted to describe the cute, funny things that happened to them on their way to forty. I never thought of them as a vehicle for the exploration of unique creativity, until I found those authors that had.

It is difficult to describe an epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener with an “of course” face on. I could’ve informed them that, more often than not, an epiphany does not involve the single, most unique thought ever considered, but a common place “of course” thought that the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord. When that doesn’t make a dent in their “of course” face, we can only concede that epiphanies are personal.

For me, the narrative essay was an avenue to the truth that my mind craved, and I may have never have ventured down this path had Ray Bradbury’s vague four words failed to register. For those that stubbornly maintain their “of course” faces in the shadow of the maxim the late, great Ray Bradbury inscribed in the minds of all those that heard it, I offer another vague piece of advice that the late-great Rodney Dangerfield offered to an aspiring, young comedian:

You’ll figure it out.”

If a vague piece of advice, such as these two nuggets, appear so obvious that they’re hardly worth saying, or the recipient of such advice can’t understand how it might apply, no matter how often one thinks about it, does it, attempts to add to it, or whittles away at it to find a core worthy of exploration, I add, you’ll either figure it out, or you won’t.

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:

Anti-Anti-Consumer Art


I may be in the minority, but I prefer the work of angry, bitter artists that tend to be maladjusted people. If I deign to offer an artist my bourgeoisie, Skittle eating, domestic beer drinking, and Everybody Loves Raymond-watching opinion on their artistic creation, and they don’t offer me a red faced, spittle-flying “YOUR OPINIONS ARE EXCREMENT!” rebuttal, I might begin to question if they have the artistic temperament I require of those that have no other way of venting their rage on the world than through artistic creation.

Margaret Roleke “Hanging”

If I am going to view their art in a serious manner, they had better view me as symbolic substitute for that America loving, God-fearing, football fan of a father that ruined everything the artist held dear as a young child. I want them to view me as a symbolic substitute for that art critic that deigned to call their work pedestrian, the fellow artist that told them they’d never make it in this world, or the art teacher that told them to consider changing their major to Economics.

The path to artistic purity is different for every artist, of course, but most true artists do not set out to create pieces consumers enjoy. For most, the struggle of art artistic expression is to locate and expound upon unique, individual interpretation of nouns (people, places, and things). For these people, the idea that others may share their interpretations is exciting and fulfilling, but it is not why they felt the need to express themselves. Outside adulation is of secondary concern, but it is also gravy. Some, however, create complicated pieces of literature, or other forms of art, for the expressed purpose of airing their complications, and for these people the loathing they have for the common man’s opinion is so complete that they’re looking at something else before the common man can complete their second sentence. Even those authors that write bestsellers, for the sole purpose of writing a bestseller, will argue till they bleed that their intention was not to create something that consumers love. They will argue that they just happened to create something that consumers love. We can’t blame them, no matter how much we might disagree, for if they stated that they intended to create a product of universal appeal, few would consider them serious artists.

If a starving artist declares how much they love fans in their artistic statement –and they’re hoping to one day have their art exhibited in a New York City gallery– they may want to avoid the heartache, and headaches, and just consider another profession. They may want to consider trying out for the Atlanta Falcons instead, because they’re probably going to have a better chance of making that team than the ones that have their works considered for a New York City art gallery. A true artist can say that they value input from those that have experienced their piece, but they must word it in such a manner that avoids anyone interpreting their artistic statement as one of appreciation.

The best chance an artist might have for achieving the placement in a prestigious gallery is to condemn everything that that consumer purports to stand for. Their best bet might be to find an artistic method of denouncing everything everyone believes in. Their best bet might be is to find an anti-consumer theme.

The anti-consumer theme has a timeless quality about it that goes to the heart of the artist. Its provocative nature does not yield to pop culture winds. It is anti-pop culture, and thus a “hot ticket” in any era that appreciates their artists.

Little, old ladies that are attempting to be young and hip, will walk up to an artist in these galleries and try to find some way of telling them that they find the most disturbing pieces in their portfolio: “Wonderful”, “Amazing”, and “Wonderful and amazing?!”

“You are so not my demographic,” is something a true artist of an anti-consumer piece of art might say if they received such comments from a little, old lady. A rejection of such compliments, from such an artist could enshrine that artist in the word-of-mouth halls of the art world, and their opportunity for such prestige might increase, if the artist puts some sort of exclamation point on their rejection, by spitting on the old lady’s shoes.

Receiving a compliment from a little, old lady has to put an ant-consumer artist in an odd place. The intention of such a creation is to reject everything that old lady holds dear. Its purpose was to disturb her, and its intent was to shake up her conformist thoughts of the world. To hear that such a woman “gets” the artist’s piece denunciation of her generation, and the way her generation screwed us all up with their toys, and wars, and unattainable gender-specific imagery has to be vexing for the artist. The artist must feel a reflexive warm glow rising whenever someone compliments them on something they worked so hard on, but the artist knows better than to concede to that impulse.

The best way to handle that might be to spit on her shoes. An enterprising, young, anti-consumer artist may even want to set a situation like that up, in a publicity junket, for she could become the talk of the town if she pulled it off.

“Did you hear what happened when some old bag complimented Janice on her anti-50’s piece?” word-of-mouth patrons would say to one another. “She spit on her shoes.”  It could become the artist’s folklore.

Criticism of the theme of the piece would be the next-best reaction for the angst-ridden, bitter, and angry artist, were it to come from some old crank from the 50’s. This would allow the artist to say, “Good, it was meant to make you angry. It was meant to have you re-examine all that your generation has done to us.”

If the patron is not of the 50’s generation, and they deign to criticize anti-consumer art, they might want to consider if they’re part of the problem. They may want to consider going outside more often, or carefully considering the full scope of the artist’s narrative. It would seem that the sociopolitical theme of anti-consumerism is immune to criticism by its very nature. If that were the case, why wouldn’t a curator want their gallery lined with anti-consumer pieces?

The anti-consumer artist doesn’t have to worry about using current products in their art either, for an anti-consumer artist can use whatever consumer-related products they need to, to denounce the ethos of an era. A pro-consumer piece does not have such allowances, for to try and create an artistic expression that professes an enjoyment of Superman cereal the consumer must have some experience with Superman cereal that they can use to relate to the theme. That piece may evoke some sentiments of quaint nostalgia, but little more. If the artist is not willing to include some underlying, angst-ridden subtext regarding the ways in which eating Superman cereal created unrealistic expectations in the patron’s mind, and thus messed up patron’s childhood, the artist can be sure that their piece is not going to fetch the kind of price tag that a bitter, condemnation of being forced to ingest the cereal, and thus the ideals of Superman, will.

The question that I’m sure many anti-consumer, starving artists would love to know is, is there a sliding scale on anti-consumerist statements? If their piece contains sophisticated irony in its anti-consumer theme, with an ironic twist, what kind of return can they expect for their time? If the artist is vehement in the declarations they’ve made with this theme, how much more profitable will that piece be, and is there a percentage by which the price tag increases in conjunction with their bullet point adherence to the sociopolitical, anti-consumer theme?

Walking through these galleries, one can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the amount of anti-consumer art for sale. It has become the most consumer-related, rebellious, and radical theme in the art world. It’s become a staple in the art world. If a starving artist is not painting, sculpting, or putting together some sort of disturbing, anti-consumer collage, I’m guessing that their fellow artists have already approached them with the ‘what the hell you waiting for?’ question. It’s become the safest theme for an artist to explore if they want their work exhibited.

Curators don’t have to worry about fads or trends in the art world, for the very idea of fads and trends are anti-consumer, and that which an anti-consumer artist speaks out against in their work. All a curator has to do is rotate their anti-consumer art year around, and their gallery can exist in the radical, counterculture milieu 365 days a year. It’s progressed to a point where one would think that a righteous rebel –looking to be capture a counterculture theme in their work, regardless what it said in their pocketbook– would take one look around at all the anti-consumer art in the art world and stick their artistic, middle finger up in the rebellion to expose it for the unintended parody it has become.

The question of how to frame such an artistic creation would be an obstacle of course, for it would be career suicide to have your anti-anti-consumer art be confused with pro-consumer art.

“Eat at McDonald’s”

“It says eat at McDonald’s,” a curator might say with absolute disgust.

“Right on,” the anti-anti-consumer artist would say. “It’s my attempt to highlight the stereotypical art of anti-consumerism. Grimace is a vehicle for the larger idea through which I attempt to explore the tendency our counterculture has to use social media and propaganda to prescribe narrow, contrived definitions of art to individuals and the nation.”

The hip, avant-garde patrons of the anti-anti-consumer artist’s piece would be prone to consider the artistic statement to be a stab at consumerism that contains sophisticated irony. They might consider it quaint, hilarious, and an incredible salvo sent to consumers around the world that don’t get it. If the artist were made available to answer questions, and they implored their artistic friends to accept their anti-anti-consumer theme for what it is, the hip, avant-garde smiles would likely flatten, and they might consider the anti-anti-consumer theme obnoxious, and they may even consider such an artist to be a whore for corporate America.

“I just want to celebrate the history and tradition of the McDonald land character Grimace,” would be the anti-anti-consumer artist’s intro to the patrons of their exhibit. “I also want to explore, in my painting, all the joy and happiness Grimace has brought to so many lives?”

“Is that sophisticated irony?” the patrons would ask.

“No. It’s an anti-anti-consumer theme that I attempt to explore here.”

“So, it’s a pro-consumer statement?” one of the more obnoxious patrons might say to intrude upon the artist’s pitch.

“Good God no!” the artist would be forced to say at this point, if they hoped to generate the amount of interest that might result in a sale.

If the anti-anti-consumer artist has the artistic temperament of one that doesn’t care about the sale, however, and they’re able to maintain focus on the artistic theme, they might be forced to engage in a substantial back and forth with the patrons of their piece before they came to the conclusion that the artist wasn’t putting them on, and that they weren’t being obnoxious. As stated earlier, being obnoxious in an anti-consumer stance is not just acceptable, it’s expected, but stubbornly pursuing an anti-anti-consumer stance will cause others to deem them obnoxious and pro-consumer.

I’m guessing that attracting patrons to the anti-anti-consumer exhibit would not even be the beginning of the artist’s problems, as no self-respecting curator would deign to showcase their work. I’m guessing that most curators aren’t bad people, and that they would have some sympathy for the anti-anti-consumer artist’s frustrations that would follow. I’m guessing that if the curator knew enough about his industry to be objective about it, they would sit the artist down, at some point, and say something along the lines of this:

“I know you are a passionate artist, but you should reconsider this anti-anti-consumer theme. I know that you built it to counter the counter, but you should know won’t play well over the long haul. If you want serious cachet in the art world, you have two genres to consider, the anti-consumerism theme and the anti-consumer works that are vehement with their theme. I’d suggest you drop this whole anti-anti-consumer statement and make it known that your works contain a sophisticated irony with an anti-consumer twist, if you ever hope to sell anything.”

If the anti-anti-consumer artist somehow managed to achieve some degree of success with their theme, they would likely become the scourge of the art world, and at some point, their fellow artists would form a consistent condemnation for their audacity. “You’re ruining this for all of us. What are you doing?”

At which point the anti-anti-consumer artist could look them in the eye and ask, “Is that sophisticated irony?”