I write the following crass piece of self-promotion in protest, as it was never my goal to establish a relationship with the reader. My goal was to allow these pieces to have an independent relationship with the reader, but you’re not bonding them in the manner I had hoped. As a result, I’m now forced to expose myself to you and let you see every nook and cranny of the process.
Anyone that knows an artist knows that the worst question to ask them is any question that references their process. If you value your time, and your just being polite, there are about a million other questions that will fulfill the need some have for polite, friendly conversations. Those that have unwittingly entered such a conversation know that at some point it’s better to just get up and walk away. Artists of all venues, love to talk about the process. I am no different. Having been on the other end of such a discussion, I know how tedious it can be, but you’re not reading these pieces, so I have nothing to lose by doing this.
Some of the pieces on this list will appear pleasing at first glance, but there will be others, and I may be forced to grab your head and train your attention into areas that are not as pleasant. This will be as unpleasant for me as it will be for you, trust me, but keep in mind that if you had just read these pieces when I told you to, I wouldn’t be forced to do to you what I’m about to do.
Everyone loves a piece about something familiar, but most of the subjects that intrigue me do not involve headlines. Of those few eye-catching subjects I’ve covered, I’ve often found an angle of interest that is less than traditional. I also chose to dissect these subjects in a critical manner, as opposed to those slavish, love pieces that do little more than ingratiate the reader to the subject. I prefer to analyze the other side of what drives people to try and accomplish something in their field, what their niche was, and how (or why) they chose to follow that vision to its end? A critical view attempts to analyze a subject from a more objective (some may say negative) manner that scrutinizes a subject in a more comprehensive manner.
The other pieces focus on less attractive characteristics. They are the result of people talking. Most of us talk so much about ourselves so often that those in our inner orb have grown disinterested. When we run across a person that will listen, and listens in an active manner, we become excited. We find ourselves saying things we wouldn’t say in the comfort of our bedroom. Our spouses may cringe when we say such things, but we’ve had thoughts bottled up for so long, and we’ve never had a person this interested before, and we can’t disappoint them. That would be a disappointment.
The talker may not know it, but the creative writer is carving them up, removing the extraneous fat of their testimonial, deleting the painstaking details involved in the talker proving a point, deleting their tired repetition, and even deleting the talker. The latter may come as a complete surprise, for as embarrassing as some of those details were, they were the talker’s details, and the talker didn’t expect to be deleted. They thought it was all about them. The talker has no problem laughing at themselves, of course, but to see a moment of crisis turned into a dance-able number is just beyond the pale.
The difficulty involved in selling these pieces to the masses arrived soon after the joy of completion. The joy I had immersing myself in each character that proved to be so different than the ones I wrote about prior, was a near-spiritual experience for me. The bizarre experiences I’ve had with the subjects covered in these pieces have been so unique, and in some cases so profound, that I couldn’t believe these subjects had never been covered before. The problem arrived soon after I realized that those fascinating and unique qualities would also prove to be their detriment when an attempt to tie them up in a tight, cohesive narrative was made. I realized that most of these pieces are what amounts to self-embodied dissertations.
So, enjoy these pieces for the glimpses into one man’s worldview, as I apparently am not going to make a thin dime off them. Also, remember, as you read through this crass piece of self-promotion that I never wanted to do this. You forced it upon me with your stubborn refusal to read them. This list of what I believe are my best posts is on you!
27) The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002 I, like all fans of sport, have a love/hate relationship with sports. I have been known to jump around the room a time or two, and this is considered fine for those that haven’t reached maturity. A grown man should never swear at a television set –particularly when watching athletes that are young enough to be his children– and a grown man makes a durned fool at himself in a bar when he draws attention with such antics. I wish I could stop, but some part of me feels compelled to let the world know that I am not happy. I’ve been frustrated a time or two … thousand with sports officiating. When the officials seem biased, and they often do to avid sports fans, there is a feeling of hopelessness. What can a fan do? They’re a fan. No one cares what they think.
For the purpose of greater mental health, I’ve managed to work most poorly officiated games out of my head, but there are a few that I may never shake. This decade old playoff game, between the Lakers and the Kings, is the number one (non-Cornhusker) game on that list, and I’m not even a Kings’ fan.
26) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art After walking through various art galleries in NYC and Connecticut, it dawned on me that just about every piece I encountered there was based on an anti-consumer theme. I thought of a cure. How about we find a true rebel? How about we find one artist, somewhere, that is willing to fight back against the current status quo of rebels fighting back against the status quo? How about we find one artist that is willing to create an anti-anti-consumer piece of art?
25) The Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence Led Zeppelin is my favorite artist of all time. How did I select Led Zeppelin to be my favorite artist when I was young? Why do I continue to believe that they are the greatest band of all time? Is their music that much better than every other artist’s that ever existed, or does my decision to continue to love them have something to do with the reason I selected them as my favorite artist, in the first place, when I was a teenager?
In the high school I attended, a Led Zeppelin fan was deemed to be cooler than cool. UB40 fans, Elvis Costello fans, Genesis fans, B-52 fans, R.E.M. fans, and Metallica fans all had their arguments, but the mere mention of the ‘L’ to the ‘Z’ shut down most debate. Some of their arguments consisted of a theme built around the quotes: “I don’t see what the big deal is” or “They’re just human beings for God’s sakes, why is everyone going ape stuff over them?” Their arguments operated from the premise that Zeppelin were the greatest band of all time, but they suggested that that was not set in stone, and that the only thing they could do was chip away at it.
The Led Zeppelin defender would say that it was, is and forever shall be about the music. They would say that there was something magical about what the band did from their first album Led Zeppelin to Houses of the Holy. Those six albums spawned near-spiritual devotion among the kids that I knew.
Here’s the point. Once a kid, often between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, selects their favorite band, that band is often the favorite band for that person, for the rest of their life. The formula I used for selecting my favorite band was A) they need to be hard rock, B) they need to have decent lyrics, and C) as much as I would’ve hated to admit this, they have to pass peer reviewed studies.
A part of me still believes that it’s all about the music with Led Zeppelin, but the question I have now is could I have developed a near-spiritual devotion for Genesis, if Genesis was considered, by my peers, to have such a vaunted, spooky, drug-riddled, iconography? What if Genesis, not Led Zeppelin, had been rumored to have sold their souls to the devil? What if we found out that Phil Collins lived in the mansion of renown Satan worshipper Aleister Crowley? What if word leaked that Collins had almost died, a number of times, as a result of heroin overdoses?
We’re now adults, and we continue to listen to Led Zeppelin. Some elements of nostalgia may come into play when we listen to them now, but some of us believe that our decision to continue to listen to the band is now based on a more informed, more adult basis. We no longer strive for the approval of our peers, as much as we did as teens, and we no longer listen to those artists that “it’s okay to like”. If that’s true, and this article disputes that, what if Genesis had been the band it was deemed “okay to like” in our youth? What if they were deemed cooler than cool, and we have been listening to Genesis for the past couple of decades?
The problem for Genesis in that era was, first and foremost, based on their music. They played music our parents enjoyed. They were poppy and cute. They were not hard rock, and their lyrics (for the most part) were kind of dumb. The second most prominent problem for them, and I point this out to elucidate the point of Led Zeppelin, was that they were every where during the years I spent in high school. They were on an endless loop on the radio stations in our big town, and they were on MTV almost as often. Zeppelin hadn’t come out with a truly great album in over ten years, by the time I hit high school, so their iconography was largely steeped in mystery.
Genesis didn’t wear leather jackets, and they didn’t snarl in their promo shots. In some promo shots they even smiled. They were happy. They probably even said, “Cheese!” to the cameraman. Smiles like that suggested that they were not troubled, or angry, and they even appeared happy to be alive. No one I knew, would’ve dared to build their reputation around a group of people that were happy. Add to that, the unfortunate fact that lead singer Phil Collins suffered from premature baldness that made him look like my dad, and Genesis was left with an iconography that no teenage boy, I knew, wanted anything to do with. The words “You’re a Genesis fan!” were not fighting words, but it was close.
The question that is asked in this piece is, do we still listen to the bands we did in high school? We may have branched out a bit, but have our core bands, or musicians, changed that much? Most of us remain trapped in the musical preferences we had in an era where we most enjoyed life. So, the question is, did we make an informed decision in our youth, regarding our favorite musician(s), or was that decision based on a primal need to belong to a peer group? Do we continue to enjoy the music based on our idea of what it means to be hip and young, and do we continue to enjoy the music we’ve been listening to decades to keep that myth alive? To elucidate this point, there are some that believe, at this point in 2016, that they maintain a feel for youth by continuing to listen to The Mommas and the Poppas. Were those decisions we made in youth all about the music, or did it have something to do with the iconography of a Led Zeppelin, the coke-snorting, oversexed Aerosmith, or the classic, naughty boy image of the Rolling Stones? Whatever the case was, a person had to be careful how they answered the question, “Who is your favorite band?”
Some artists were deemed “okay to like”, while others were deemed conventional sellouts trying to sell records, so they could be happy. The inclusive magazines later declared things like “Nirvana is the Guns N’ Roses it’s okay to like.” I know we’re not supposed to stick our middle finger up at magazine writers, because they’re hip, and they’re supposed to be the good guys that are only looking out for us, but I’m not going have anyone dictate taste to me based on some proselytizing of their agenda. Except we have had our tastes dictated to us by magazines, the culture, and the cool kids in class, and it’s based on our primal need for group acceptance that dates back to the cavemen knowing that when the mammoth, or the saber tooth tiger came to attack, our chances of survival increased in groups. Furthermore, while our artistic preferences do change somewhat with age, the reasons behind these choices are not as individualistic, and they do not grow more nuanced with age. As some have said, we never leave high school. The question this piece asks is, do you still enjoy the music of Led Zeppelin, and if so why?
24) Know Thyself is one of those pieces that may have been more fascinating to write than it is to read. It involves the idea of losing one’s identity in the fictional characters in books, TV shows, and movies. This piece begins with what I believe to be the counterargument to knowing more about one’s self. “I know myself,” one might say. “I know myself better than anyone else. It’s the rest of the world that confuses me.” I also add the idea that self-knowledge might be considered a useless, self-serving pursuit exclusive to pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.
Knowledge of self, as the author defines it, involves reflection, a true accounting of successes and failures, and an honest attempt to rectify the past by learning from mistakes.
As we progress to that “Who you are when no one is looking” definition of character, we supplement the deficiencies in our character with identifiable and glamorous traits that we’ve picked up along the way from fictional characters. What makes that swashbuckling hero a man that all the ladies want and all the men fear? How does that sardonic wit always seem to have the perfect comeback? On the surface, we know we’re not fictional characters, but we’ve identified with their characteristics so often, and for so long, that we’ve fallen prey to the conceit that we have a gift equal to theirs for putting people back a couple of steps with devastating witticism.
The Holy Grail for those that write characters in fictional formats is to have the audience identify with the fictional characters they produce so thoroughly that the audience begins to relate to them. The path to this Holy Grail is littered with idyllic images that a consumer may begin to associate with so often, that they begin to incorporate them into their personality.
It happens in those moments when we know that everyone is watching, and everyone thinks we’re boring. As a reflexive reaction to this attention, we develop a defensive posture that allows us to rewrite our character that we hope they find more interesting. We cop a line from a sitcom, we sit a certain way that suggests we just don’t give a fig. We buy a leather jacket, and we grab a beer, and we hold it in a manner that one guy did on that one show that looked so cool.
Then it happens. Some ahole has the audacity to insult us. They challenged our manhood. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t know that we just took out a whole mess of ninjas while eating a chipped beef sandwich. We said something witty to those ninjas, as they writhed in agony on the floor. We laughed in a manner that put us in the shoes of that strong woman, on television, that had the perfect redirect for the smart aleck that dared question her bona fides. On one level, we know that we haven’t done any of this, but a guy’s allowed to dream. Then it happens, we begin to daydream about being that sardonic wit that puts people in their place, and we realize we have yet to say anything to the ahole that had the audacity to insult us. Our opponent is now smiling in a smug, superior manner. We thought we had it all down, until we realized that it wasn’t us doing all the things we imagined we had. Somewhere along the line, we neglected to develop ourselves on a level that could’ve put such an ahole down. We spent so much time studying idyllic images, and imagining them for ourselves, that we’ve kind of lost track of who we are in the process. We realize that as self-professed kings of useless knowledge, we have gathered knowledge that is, in fact, useless.
23) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse Bukowski’s philosophy is used to describe the empty nihilist speaking out against the underpinnings of the zeitgeist. I used to be attracted to this mindset, and I tried to employ it as often as possible. I considered comments like “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” insurgent, revolutionary statements that America would have to learn if she ever hoped to progress.
As philosophers have stated, when the end of the revolution occurs, and the “preferred” leaders take their roles as the new leaders, the revolutionaries are often shocked to learn that their, new leaders, more often than not, co-opt the standard practices of the former leaders’ status quo. As a young ‘un that desired the pathway to nihilism, I learned of the name Charles Bukowski. He was considered the sentry to the palace of cool. He hated Disney, and everything considered “cute” America. The question this piece asks those that considered Bukowski’s line “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” a revolutionary statement that America needed to learn, is what would Bukowski replace “cute” America with?
From the piece: “Bukowski’s goal was to be the Anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality. By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her children awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about. He would want them to know the stark world of abusive fathers, and the idea that alcohol is the only form of escapist entertainment that has any soul. ‘And the track,’ Bukowski acolytes would remind, ‘Don’t forget about Bukowski’s routine trips to the track.’ We can be sure that the gospel according to Bukowski would include the belief that horses, not Mickey Mouse, can make all of your dreams come true, and if that child doubts that, they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.”
I then conclude this thought with my interpretation of Bukowski’s vision, as it might pertain to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech: “Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a world where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free, and Disney-free America.
“Bukowski had to know that the problem of happiness in America did not begin and end with Disney. He had to know that if he were afforded a Disney-free timeline, in a time machine, something else would’ve fallen into that gap. He had to know that Disney was but a symbol for everything happy. Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte, insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a routine basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.”
22) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard focuses on the minutiae involved in an individual carving out a niche for success. What’s the difference between an individual that has worked their tails off to succeed, in the arts in particular, and one that will succeed? No one knows the answer to this question, because there is no specific answer. They may have an answer, and they may write a book about it, but does that mean it is the answer? The answer to that which plagues us will be one that we need figure out, if we truly want to succeed. If we don’t figure it out, then we won’t succeed.
There’s only so much advice one person can offer another, before that other person has to take over. If a person is going to succeed, they will have to figure out what works for them, and their audience, before they step onto the proverbial stage to deliver it. If a person doesn’t know this immediately, they will need to make adjustments, and they’ll have to figure out what adjustments are needed, and which ones will work, or if they need to make other adjustments. If a person is going to carve out some beautiful niche in life, it will be on them to figure out how they should do it. If they don’t, as they say, the world needs ditch diggers too. This may seem to be obvious advice, but how many people do we know that seek out that perfect piece of advice that will help them figure it all out?
The best example I’ve ever heard about an individual achieving an against-all-odds success story is Gary Shandling. Gary Shandling was a standup comedian that everyone admitted had great comedic material, but his presentation sucked. He spent a decade adjusting his act in a manner that left the audience thinking he had excellent material, but his presentation sucked. Shandling used his greatest strength and greatest weakness to achieve one of the most storied careers in Hollywood.
21) Find Your Own Truth is about one piece of advice that worked for me. It’s an extension on “You’ll either figure it, or you won’t,” advice that there is a truth, a niche, and a (fill in the blank) that may not be apparent at first. If we need another avenue, we’ll find it if we’re open to that search, and we turn over enough stones. The truth, and the niche, will not be the same for us as it is for everyone else, and it’s incumbent on us, if we want to make an artistic creation, to find it.
20) Finding a Better, Happier Person Through Change This piece dawned on me after a discussion with an unhappy relative. This relative spent the time we were estranged changing. Her changes were extreme measures she pursued to ease her present and past suffering. She also spoke of future changes and future remedies. She no longer wanted to speak of the past we shared. She wanted to speak of the present, and how happy she was now, and how much happier she was going to be in the future. The only discussion she wanted to have about the past, was what our deceased relatives would think of her extreme changes. I thought of how happy we are now, even if we don’t realize it. We don’t realize it, because the present is littered with the pain of the past, and it is kind of boring. Or, if it’s not boring, it’s at least not as exciting as the prospect of what the future could bring, with changes, and more changes, until we are so happy that our deceased relatives wouldn’t even recognize us now.
19) Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine Some theories cry out for further exploration. Some should be left to die on the vine. I have been informed that this one should have been left on the vine.
Those of us that have listened to such claims from the misguided to the hilariously obnoxious friends that have far too much time on their hands, have known about this theory for decades, whomever wrote the scene below for television, brought the theory back to mind for me. I researched it, and I found that though there were more skeptics than backers of this idea, the theory had received peer review.
The primary reason that this theory was begging to be explored rested in the theory that all great comedy should contain an element of truth to it. It’s quite possible that future science could determine this theory to be a complete ruse, and it’s possible that it could be found to be more true than not. Whatever the case, I search for theories, similar to these, as I believe they are ripe for comedic input.
This piece was influenced by a scene from HBO’s Lucky Louie. In the scene, a side character, named Rich, played by comedian Jim Norton, has a noticeable wet stain on the front of his shorts. (I can only guess that they chose shorts, because the stain proved not as noticeable on blue jeans.) When he is called out on it, Rich says:
“Urine is rich in pheromones. When I pissed my pants just now, I released millions of pheromones, and that triggers attraction in the female.”
“Yeah, but you pissed your pants,” another side character suggests, as if to state that the sight of one that has peed in his pants would override any idea that there may be subtle attractants to the smell of urine.
“And I suggest you do the same,” Rich replies. “Now let’s go. I have to (get to the bar) before this dries,” Rich concludes, alluding to the urine on the front of his pants.
The scene is sheer ridiculousness, delivered in a straight and conceivable manner. The ridiculousness of it is, however, based on science. The scientific community is skeptical of it, and it is widely regarded as specious science that is debated throughout the community, but those that ascribe to its tenets claim that the human is no different than any other animal in a surprisingly large number of ways. They claim that these instincts are the basic, primal instincts we have for procreation, no different than the boar or the house cat.
As I write in this piece: “Even those laughing at this laughable idea, would admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. Enter the word subconscious into the argument, and most people would, at the very least, be open to the suggestion.”
While writing this piece, as with all other truth/comedic essays of this variety, I think they should be delivered straight. There are, of course, some attempts at humor, but these lines have been rewritten a number of times to drain them of the more obvious comedic rhythms. I wanted this piece to be delivered in the manner a straight man would, for I believe that attempting to be funny in a piece of this variety is so obvious that it drains the comedic value.
18) Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud This is a prime example of my desire to take a well-known figure and analyze them in a manner that is a little different than most of the wealth of knowledge provided by writers that know a lot more about the subject than I do.
17) Mechanical Animals I think it should be considered a cultural violation for a mechanical animal to get us all horny with talk of their expertise on a project that plagues our home before disappointing us while lubing our joint. I have my areas of expertise, but I qualify my advice on these subjects with the appropriate terminology that informs my audience of my limitations. Mechanical animals have no qualms about letting another person think they know everything about a subject that they know little-to-nothing about.
You can fix my ‘what have you’? Without me having to paying an exorbitant rate? Holy stuff partner, welcome to my humble abode.
It is interesting to watch this type speak from their backside, and it provides communal laughter to those standing on his lawn, with a beer in hand, and machismo punctuating his sentences, but what happens to those people that don’t see these primal, chest bumping contests for what they are? What happens when one member of the mechanical animal’s audience grows so desperate that they fall for those sweet, late night whispers?
I have been that puppy dog on that lawn soiling myself when I hear great ideas and simple how-to, fix-it solutions. I make no pretenses about my knowledge in this area, and the mechanical animals love it. I don’t know if they view me as smart, but they do love the idea that they have superior knowledge in this arena, and it has led them to enter my home and perform some half-fix that was stalled by a variable that they couldn’t foresee on that lawn, with a beer in hand. They need a tool that they left at home, and they’ll get back to me in a week, and my (what have you) is left dangling in the breeze. I’m forced to call the fix-it guy and pay that exorbitant fee to not only fix what has needed to be fixed in the first place, but to repair the damage that the mechanical animal did to it. (At this point, a descriptive expletive would be appreciated to round this description off and describe for the audience the degree of frustration an inordinate amount of exclamation points can’t capture.)
16) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland. This piece wrote itself. It is the result of a lifelong hatred of those that say, “Do you know what is in that?” when I’m about to consume something. *Spoiler Alert: I don’t care.
It would be one thing if the sole concern busybodies had was for my health. I might be able to move on if all they did was occasionally advise me, but these “Do you know what is in that?” people, badger. They’re so relentless that anyone that has encountered them knows, if they know nothing else, that it’s about more than a general concern for greater health. If it were about a concern for health for them, they would advise the consumer and move on, but they cannot do it. They would be able to sit there and allow the consumer to consume without further comment or incident. They cannot conceal their disgust for you. There’s a superiority element to it. “I would never put something like that in my mouth,” is something they might say. Or, if they are of the more polite variety, they sit there watching a person consume with an element of disgust on their face. We all have thresholds, and some of us have no problem eating like cavemen, and some of us have developed a STFU mentality that awaits the next “Do you know what is in that?” comment.
15) The Balloonophilia Conflict. Make a general assessment about a noun (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, and the one making that assessment is bound to encounter a wonderful person that will defend that noun. This “wonderful” defense is based on the idea that all assessments are based on generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that while it is true that there is an exception to every rule, that exception does not make a general rule untrue. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses.
“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense they may employ.
“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply. “But if it’s true 99.8% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”
The wonderful hope that their argument will seduce the speaker into making the leap that everyone is an exception to every rule, until the only reaction that can fill that void is confusion. The wonderful also hope that the speaker will join them in the realization that the only problem lies in the speaker’s need to label.
The wonderful person will also hope that the speaker arrives at the notion that the constructs they use to label are flawed, and that they’re woefully uninformed about human behavior, because everyone is different, and that a freak’s reasons for being different vary. The problem that could arise, as a result of this ever-present anecdotal argument, is that the collective stops examining what makes us unique, and different, and damaged in a fundamental manner that could’ve been resolved long before it became an identity crisis, if we had properly identified it for what it was in the beginning.
14) Busybody Nation is an attempt to turn an event from my life into a battle cry. It is built on a theme that is the polar opposite to the Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You essay, to discuss the people that care so much that they have no qualms about infiltrating another person’s day. Busybodies are begrudged individuals that acted right as children, while authority figures fiddled as Rome burned. They were the types that said:
“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” only to find out that Ms. Johnson did little-to-nothing about it from their standpoint. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce and authoritarian, and it was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve the busybody’s sense of order with a fire and brimstone style punishment for the disorderly, the busybody was confused and resentful. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear of authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody informed her of it, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, with all of the evidence the busybody compiled against the culprit, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil that led the busybody to spend the rest of their life trying to correct. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.
13) The Unfunny. I’m not funny. I’ve been told that I’m not funny. I’ve been told that to whatever extent I might be humorous, exists in a weird, strange, and perhaps clever place that isn’t all that funny.
This piece is dedicated to those that have learned they’re not funny. Most of us think we’re funny when we’re young. We have insider jokes about our dad that makes our brother laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to material that is more universal. When we, the unfunny, step out into the world, they run into a wall. No one knows what we’re talking about, until we gain some points of familiarity with them. We want to be funny, everyone does. Girls like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy funny analysis of people, places and things. This piece is for people like me that have little-to-no talent for being funny.
Those of us that strive to make people laugh have tried copying the great comedians, and their sitcoms, and we’ve all grown a little frustrated that no one has recognized our breadth of talent.
This piece is an homage to Andy Kaufman, the most hysterical, unfunny person that ever lived. When I write that Mr. Kaufman influenced my sense of humor, the word understatement feels like an understatement. I’ve read just about every book written on Sir Kaufman (I’ve personally knighted him in the halls of comedy). I’ve watched every videotape, Taxi episode, and YouTube video there is available on him, and the one thing I learned when I walked away from the proverbial temple I had built for him is that his genius was, in fact, limited. It pains me to write that, and it took me a while to reach this point of objectivity on the man, but if Andy Kaufman had lived for another twenty to thirty years, I’m not sure he would’ve done much more to add to what he did, by the time he became ill.
You never know what could’ve happened of course. He could’ve reinvented himself, and all that, but I think the entry into woman’s wrestling confirmed for all of us that this man was, if not a one-trick pony, then a limited one. With that said, what he developed in his short life, was something that led those of us that are unfunny to believe we had something to offer the world of comedy … Whether or not our brand of comedy is limited to our own peculiar definition of funny is inconsequential, for being funny has its own rewards.
As I wrote in the piece, we had no idea we could be someone that someone, somewhere, regarded as so unfunny that we were an idiot, until Andy Kaufman kicked that door in and showed us all of the beautiful furniture.”
11) Are you Superior? and Are You Superior? II Part I of Are you Superior? focuses on explaining the roles a sense of superiority and inferiority can occur in the most innocuous interactions. The second piece focuses on an interaction that provided arrows of superiority and inferiority based on the variables that occurred in that brief conversation. It was, in essence, an algorithm that left me completely confused about my status in that conversation, until I realized that I missed a day when I didn’t obsess about status, and that I just missed what should have been an enjoyable conversation based on the fact that I was so consumed with these ideas.
10) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes. I am a foodie. The self-described, slightly snobbish foodie may not be indigenous to America, but I would guess that there are more foodies in America, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. Part of that is based, I think, on the fact that we are blessed with such an overabundance of food.
My recognition of this personality trait was born in comparison to the young people around me. Young people eat. Most of the time, they eat in a manner equivalent to the method they use to breathe. They have preferences, but they don’t value food in the manner adults do. Eating is just something they do, before they do something else. As we age, we begin to realize that we can no longer eat the way we did before we turned thirty, unless we have no problem with failing to register on scales that only go up to three hundred.
The rest of us learn that we’re probably going to have to limit ourselves to about one and a half meals a day. That self-imposed limitation makes the one and a half meals a day an event. When we force ourselves through a number of unmemorable meals, we begin to seek out memorable meals more often, and we relish them, and we begin to look for ideas from those that have had an exciting meal. This culminates in us putting thought into our meals. We think about what we’re going eat that evening, when we leave for work in the morning, and the thought of that meal consumes our day. If that evening meal turns out bland, it ruins our night, and to prevent that from ever happening again, we spend the next day looking for ideas from others, until we end up talking about meals so often that we reach a point that we can’t understand grown adults that say, “It’s just food. It gets me through the day.”
Then it happens. A person gives us an excellent recommendation. They become our resident expert, and our go-to-gal, when it comes to restaurant recommendations. We develop a bond with this woman that goes to her head, and we’re not sure if that mindset was always there, or if she only showed it to us after we developed this bond, but she has evolved from being a fellow foodie to a foodist. She begins to regard those that don’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Is this a natural progression, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something?
Why is a dining experience at a Thai restaurant superior to one at Chucky Cheese? I’m not talking about the quality of food there, I’m talking about the sense of superiority one feels when telling another they ate exotic last night. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience that you must have and, and, detail for your friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, McDonald’s coffee is judged to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler at work the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the water cooler crowd will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.
9) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias We all have ‘no fear’ friends. These are manly men and headstrong women that believe fear is a sign of weakness. These people have precedents stored in their biological hard drive for unexpected anomalies that cause others fear. Fear is weakness to them. Fear is propaganda. They are well-traveled and experienced individuals that have lived in other locales far more tumultuous than the silly city you two now live in, and no silly weather anomaly can compare to what their cosmopolitan metropolis offered.
This mindset is indefatigable. Even when an anomaly is documented to be unprecedented, they will proclaim that they’ve been through worse. ‘What would cause you fear then,’ I ask. “I don’t know, but it’s not this.”
Our lives should not be ruled by fear, of course, but acknowledging fear and using it to prompt one’s self to action is the theme of David McRaney’s brilliant essay Normalcy Bias on the topic. In this essay, McRaney points out that if one encounters a life-threatening episode, all the qualifying they’ve done to this point is bound to catch up to them, and it may be their undoing.
There is a state of mind called the fear bradycardia state, or tonic immobility, that occurs in life-threatening episodes. It is a state individuals fall into that that is near-catatonic. It is a state that first responders have documented where a victim of such an episode freezes in place. Some of these first responders have spoken about not being able to talk victims out of the burning airplane, because that victim is sitting in their seat wishing that this episode would just go away, or they are immersed in the ‘It’s not that bad. Shut up!’ mindset. The mindset is the culmination of a life spent rationalizing fear and explaining it away in all the ways described above.
The mindset is also borne from this belief that we will know what to do when tragedy arrives, because we’ve already experienced tragedy in the form of a third party, at a movie theater, mentally informing the characters in these movies to do the right thing. We know what we would do, in other words, and now that it’s upon us, it’s beyond anything we ever imagined, and holy stuff! It can’t be that bad. The victim cannot deal with it, because they’ve never truly prepared themselves for a true, life-altering tragedy.
This piece is based on the essay Normalcy Bias, by David McRaney. After reading that brilliant essay, I decided that his piece wasn’t as focused as I thought it could be, or as visual as I thought it should be, or as humorous as I thought it might be. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.
8) When Geese Attack! On some level, I flirt with the notion that we are being deceived by When Animals Attack videos. Most of these videos have after-the-attack testimonials from the victims. In these testimonials, the victims declare that they aren’t bitter about the attack that left them legless and sexless. I don’t think these victims are lying, though I suspect that some may fudge the truth to get on the air. I do suspect that the producers and editors of the show are engaged in some deception, in the process they use to select which testimonials to air. I think that the team involved in the production of the video have reasoned that if they’re going to make such a violent video, with the expressed purpose of showing animals at their worst, they had better round it out with a forgiving human at the end that says, ‘I don’t blame the animal. I was in their environment.’ If that’s not true. If the producers and editors air every testimonial available to them, even the angry ones (I’ve never witnessed one of these in all the videos I’ve watched) then what these victims say goes against everything I think I know about humanity.
I know that some people can have their arms and legs torn off by a homicidal maniac, and they manage to find a way to forgive that person, or pray for them, or try to better understand why they did what they did. I guess there’s something wonderful about a person that can do this. I know they’re out there, I’ve met them, and I know they’re more evolved than I am. I also respect the Christian ideal of forgiveness, and I know that holding onto bitterness, as the victim Charla Nash basically said, will ruin your life, but as a man that supports vigilantism against violent criminals, I cannot imagine how victims of violent acts can arrive at such a rational, healthy mentality.
7) You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! The exclamation point forms the thesis to this piece. How can a punctuation point form a thesis? The apt title is, of course, taken from a Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand song, but the simple exclamation point forms the demand of the thesis that can only be discerned through a reading.
To protect the innocent, let’s just say that this story has six different testimonials in it. There were six different blocks that the author had to weave together to form the term adult baby. In this piece, I felt more like a reporter than a storyteller, as I reported on the stories that people around me told me.
The main thrust came from a friend and her sister complaining about former husbands, and how one husband bought his wife so many flowers, so often, that it put them in financial peril. Another husband complimented his wife for getting them out of the financial messes he got them into. She thought that was great, until it became obvious that he had no plans to alter his lifestyle in any way to make things easier for her in the future, but that he would continue to admire the way she got them out of financial dilemmas.
“You’ll work it all out,” he said. “You always do.” What kind of adult mind thinks that way, I wondered. What kind of adult continues to live like an irresponsible teen and moves on? It was explained to me that this man didn’t expect others to clean up after him. He didn’t give it that much thought. He just did what he did, and it would get cleaned up. It always did.
There is something about true stories, like the You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! piece that trumps the greatest, most creative fiction. I had some initial thoughts of making a short story about this, but I realized that it had to contain straight fact, because I think readers can sense when a story is real or not, and that adds an element to the narrative. In fiction, I think there’s a need to go over the top with details of a story, and a recognition by the reader for that need. Thus, when they finish the story, they reach a conclusion that it was an entertaining story, but it wasn’t all that plausible. No grown man can be that irresponsible, and if they are, they aren’t that oblivious to it. There was a eureka moment that occurred in this making of this story, but that amounted to little more a couple paragraphs. The rest involved weaving those six blocks together, until the piece achieved a sense of completion.
6) And Then There’s Todd is another piece that wrote itself. Anytime an author writes the words ‘wrote itself’ it should be followed by an asterisk and a footnote that says: “Some pieces do flow with such ease that an author merely documents them, but there is a lot of pruning involved for a smooth, clean flow. Some require artificial enhancements, some do not.”
As opposed to the other pieces on this list, there is no central message in this story, no theme, and no arc that will lead the reader to a greater understanding of humanity through my mind’s eye. It’s just a true story about a man named Todd. Todd was (and probably still is) an enigma that only an author seeking a definition of humanity through an atypical lens could appreciate. The material that the real life Todd provided was such that all I had to do was document my experiences with the man.
One of the beauties of this ‘Todd piece lay in its understated beauty. This beauty may be relative to the reader, of course, as it leaves the reader with a ‘who gives a (blank)’ feeling when it’s done. I know this feeling, because I felt it when it was completed. It didn’t feel complete. I thought it needed some oregano, some rosemary, or something. I didn’t know what it was, but as I smacked my lips together, I thought it needed something profound to make it worthy, until I realized that every addition felt like an addition, and it was then that I realized that some stories are complete in the essence of that sense of in-completion that everyone knows soon after digestion. As with most unusual items we consume, however, some of them stick with us, and we’re forced to rediscover their essence in various ways.
Write as many stories as I have, and you have that built in ‘beginning, a middle, conflict, arc, and ending’ requirement. With narrative essays of this sort, an author is only given a snapshot. Some of the experiences an author has in life are incomplete, and the author is required to complete them. Some of the times an author cannot complete a piece, and some of the times they shouldn’t. We don’t know what happened to that person, and our perspective on them is limited by the perspective they have of themselves, and our limited experience with them. There is no profound conclusion to be had in other words. We just run into some guys and girls that have a twisted logic about life, and we happened to hear some of them. Todd was quirky man that even an interested observer could never quite grasp, and this observer never would because he’s just that different. I still thought this story had to be completed, in the sense that all storytellers feel a need to complete, until it dawned on me that the sense of completion for some stories exists in the idea that they are to remain incomplete.
5) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind. Some of the descriptions in this essay are bold and heartless. As with the better He Used to Have a Mohawk article, part of what some may consider ridicule in this Simplicity piece, is what I consider straight forward talk regarding how one deals with the fact that they were, are, and may forever be an anomaly. I could’ve qualified each thought I had with a statement that suggested that I don’t think mental health sufferers, or people with Mohawks are all that I’ve defined, but I’ve had friends that qualify everything they say and write. It’s tedious. Plus, much of He Used to Have a Mohawk concerns my thoughts of what a man that used to have a Mohawk must think regarding what other people are saying about him. We don’t often qualify thoughts in our own head when we ask ourselves what we thought of those days when we used to have a Mohawk. We just miss it, or we declare it a mistake in our lives that we now want to forget. On that note, how does a mental health sufferer view themselves, and how do we view them? One of the ways we deal with anomalies in life is through ridicule. Ridicule is, in this sense, a coping mechanism that helps the normal human mind deal with the fear of someone that is different. If the patient reader is able to overcome some of the offenses to their sensibilities that these two pieces contain to read through to the end, I think they will find that what the author seeks is an unvarnished, universal truth. The path to the conclusion does not adhere to the rich tradition of provoking empathy, as time-honored ABC After School Specials and Lifetime Network movies will, with stark definitions of good guys and bad guys, for even good guys can be offensive. As such, the reader may be confused by the characterizations of the players involved, for they are not bad people, but people seeking a greater understanding through what some could consider offensive venues. If the reader is blinded by offensive statements, and they don’t believe that a greater understanding of humanity can be derived from them, they may want to forego reading these pieces.
4) Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You Among the many ways in which humanity is divided is the difference between optimistic people and cynical thinkers. The optimistic view their fellow man in an optimistic manner, until they are proven wrong, and those that have a more cynical take regard themselves as more prepared for the snakes around us.
Among the many pieces on this list, this piece may be one of my two personal favorites (He Used to Have a Haircut being the other). I tried very hard to disassociate my personal feelings from my professional assessments when compiling this list, but the material in this piece was so fun to write that it will forever hold a special place in my heart.
This piece focuses on a quote from an old professor that I approached with the age-old argument concerning the optimism versus cynical approach to humanity, and my expressed question regarding whether it is healthier to approach humanity from an optimistic point of view.
“I’ll give you a third possibility, have you ever considered the idea that most people don’t pay attention to you, near as much as you think.” That was the exact quote that I spruced up for the nature of this piece. This quote changed my outlook on many matters. As I approach a person, I’m always wondering if I should trust them. Are they trustworthy, and should I take into account what it says about me that I don’t? Is my inability to trust them steeped in racism, misogyny, jingoism, or xenophobia? Most people don’t care one way or another what I think, at least to the extent that we may think they do. Most people don’t care if the people they encounter are more optimistic, pessimistic, or cynical in regards to them. Most people don’t care what caused us to be sad today, or that we’ve survived a tragedy intact. Most people just want to go home and live the lives we don’t give a crap about.
Even after exploring this mindset to whatever extent I did, I find it astonishing that some people can achieve a plane of certitude regarding the idea that nobody gives a crap about them. Some of us think that everyone is paying attention to everything we do, some of us have realized that people aren’t paying attention half as much as we once feared, but some of us (and I’ve met them) are convinced that no one is paying attention. If I could achieve that plane of absolute certainty, I would probably find it liberating on one level, but on another level I wonder why these people would even bother wearing different clothes on different days, if they considered it pointless to try to make an impression. On yet another level, I think that if people found out how little attention people paid to them, it would depress them, and they would attempt to fix whatever others so much disinterest.
3) That’s Me in the Corner This little essay began its gestation cycle in the womb of the He Used to Have a Mohawk essay. Its life began as nothing more than three paragraphs that could not remain in the Mohawk essay, and they couldn’t exist on their own either. As anyone that has ever written anything knows, the difficulty involved in excising material can be as painful as the surgical removal of an organ. The painful decision came and went, and I left the three little paragraphs roasting in some forgettable file for about a month. I couldn’t get this kid out of my mind, however, and I loved (and I mean loved!) the idea of it. At some moment after its exorcism, approximately one month later, it began speaking. It was gibberish, at first, but it was something. I considered it such a beautiful, little idea that when it began walking on its own, I took its hand and began correcting some of the more immature mistakes it made, until it found a way out of its mother’s basement and grow into the beautiful, independent essay you know today.
2) He Used to Have a Mohawk This may not be the best Non-fiction narrative essay I’ve written, but it does capture the essence of what I’ve been trying to accomplish better than any of the other narrative essays. This piece and That’s Me in the Corner take place at the same wedding, a wedding my uncle forced me to attend. Those in attendance were different. I would say that they qualify for the weird or strange designations I’ve laid out in other essays, but they were different. They also didn’t do things that were that different. The entire event was unusual, but nothing of substance happened at this wedding.
My guess is that 99% of the world’s population could’ve attended this wedding and found nothing of note. This is not to say that I’m more intelligent, or more observant than 99% of the world’s population, but that some, otherwise routine occurrences can happen in a manner that applies to one person more than 99% of the population. Capturing that element, and personalizing it, may be the definition of art I love more than any other.
Having said that, if someone informed me that this wedding would produce 5,000 of my favorite words, it, it probably wouldn’t have. If they instructed me to enter this wedding with a scribble pad to document the goings on, because “Something fundamental to whatever it is you’re doing will occur,” I would’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat, documenting everything, and absorbing little-to-nothing. If someone had hoped to inspire me to thought by requesting a 5,000 word essay on it later, it may not have coalesced into the material that I have now pined over for over three years. I would’ve expected something groundbreaking, and under that mindset, I would’ve been disappointed.
“You cannot go get the game. You have to let the game come to you.” –Joe Montana
Once the game comes to you, you do with it, what you do. Some of the moments in these narrative essays have been immediate, but most of the moments ended up coalescing into my favorite material, after spending a great deal of time browning in a slow roaster.
The gist of this essay, and why it personifies so much of what I’ve been doing on this blog, can be condensed to an effort I make to combine all of my unconventional knowledge with my conventional knowledge to reach what I consider a hybrid of the two that leads to unique analysis.
Conventional thinking may have it that a man that decides to cut his hair into a Mohawk should be regarded as an outcast. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he, or she, is as a person, and the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have a Mohawk.
What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them after they change back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as the perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they experienced when they had the haircut? Do they regret having the haircut in the first place?
One of my favorite critiques basically stated that the immediate concepts of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read through the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece that requires deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers.
No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure. Some would say that a Mohawk wearer generates unwanted attention on themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.
If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy the perspective of detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.
People wanted to know this man that I had a brief encounter with, that had a Mohawk, that was blue at one point, and they discovered that he was nice. As a bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better, based solely on that man’s haircut, a little condescending. This man, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.
1) The Thief’s Mentality I tried to make the argument that this wasn’t the best, most original concept I’ve developed. I’m going to guess that just about every artist goes through this act of denial, especially if they’ve created a wealth of material after said piece. In the original version of this list, I attempted to do just that. Based on some reflection, I realized that I was trying to convince myself that what I’ve done more recently is better. Hindsight has led me to realize that this was an error, and I have since come correct.
With that said, I just want you to know that I’m expending great effort to economize my words here to inform you that this little 4,000 word piece was decades in the making. I have always had these thoughts about a person with this type of mindset, in other words, but it wasn’t until a loved one informed me that this succinct characterization helped her frame the accusations that her loved one had made against her for years that I thought it had any literary merit.
If you’ve ever met an actual thief, you know that they believer everyone is a thief. The thief’s mentality is one that top security firms seek when hiring, because they want their employees to be as sneaky and duplicitous as the culprits that seek to steal from their clients. If you’ve had some form of extended involvement with a person that thinks this way, you know that its logical extension involves a thief suggesting that most people are rotten and rotting. It also extends out to those that don’t believe the same, and the laughter and ridicule they direct at them for being hopelessly naive. The decades of interactions I’ve had with these types, and all of the reflection and introspection that has been devoted to them just needed a title, and once I had it, I sat down to write it.
I’ve never been accused of cheating on a girl more than I was by the girl that cheated on me the most, I’ve never been accused of stealing more than I was by the guy that stole the most from me, and I’ve never been accused of lying more than I was by the person that lied to me more than anyone else. These people know who they are, on some level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than them, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know what we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.
The thief’s mentality is about a search for truth by the cynical, and while they may not think the world is as awful as they portray it, it makes them feel better about themselves to think it is. It allows them to think they fit in better. The accusation is more important than the truth in this regard, for by leveling the accusation they hope to inhibit the searches for the truth in their mind, and the introspection such a search might cause the thief.
The thrust of the thief’s aggressive strategy is to locate a truth, and a definition of trust, for modern times, but their definitions of truth and trust are subjective and self-serving, and it requires an arbitrary level of street smarts that the thief will exert on the unsuspecting, naïve, and honest individuals that may judge them for their actions. In this sense it’s more of a redirect, or a slight of hand, to deflect judgment.