An Unhealthy Competitive Streak


“The next time we play a video game, can we do it without complaining so much and criticizing each other?” my son asked me. The question was illustrative on so many levels. I know that I’m an overly competitive person who can get a little frustrated when I don’t succeed in video games, but I didn’t think I was so competitive that it was affecting my relationship with my son. I saw friends of mine pound their face into coin-op game screens, when I was younger. I heard kids swear so loud in arcades that I was embarrassed to be around them, and I knew kids who viewed their inability to get to the next level of a computer game as some sort of personal failing. I remember these kids, because they were so hilarious. Now, my son implied that I might be one of them.

Anyone who knows a seven-year-old knows that seven-year-olds don’t imply. They discovered language fairly recently, and they don’t fully understand the full power of it. They say the meanest, most awful things, and if their words offend you, that’s on you. We might use their comments as examples of what not to do. We might take them by the hand to help them retrace their steps to show them how others might misconstrue their words as offensive, but those lessons require months and years of repetition, and in the interim, we have to deal their unvarnished truth.  

Most fathers want to spend time with their kids. Most fathers want their kids to enjoy spending time with them. My son wanted to play games with me, and he wanted to have as much fun as the father-son combo did on a YouTube video he watched. I watched this YouTube video with him, of a father and son playing a game together, and they did appear to be having one heck of a good time. My son wanted to do that with me. I, too, wanted to play a game with him just for the fun of it, but to do so, I knew I would have to reverse engineer some 35 years of conditioning.

If you’re the type who plays games, because you enjoy playing games at the end of the day, and you don’t really care if you win or lose, you can stop reading now. You can leave with the knowledge that I envy your healthy mindset, but I could probably never be friends with you.

For the rest of us, it’s always all about winning. Our grandfathers taught our fathers to teach us that there’s something special about winning, and it’s something that we all need to learn. We need to learn it, they suggest, because we need to be it. Winning is an attitude we need to learn when we’re young, and a life well lived is all about fortifying that attitude with our own special ingredients. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring businessman who is willing to risk it all for a profitable business, playing a video game with your kid, or joining a group of young girls you’ve never met before in a game of hopscotch, it’s all about winning.

When I played games as a kid, video and otherwise, I don’t remember ever doing it for fun. Games weren’t fun for me then, and they aren’t now. Games are a test of my abilities and the qualities of my character. I still remember some games I won in sports, when I was young, and some of the games I lost still weigh on my soul. Some games require strategy, some require brute force, and others require some combination of the two? Video games rely on strategy, ingenuity, and all of the creative ways a player can find to defeat their opponent? These games involve one winner and one loser, and it wasn’t enough for us to finish second when I was younger. If you finished second, you lost. Before those of my generation dismiss this argument that there might be something wrong with being overly competitive, we have to consider how unhealthy this mindset can be at times.

We all love to read stories about how six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan needed to beat everyone on the team bus in checkers, cards and any game he could think up. We love to hear about how NFL Quarterback Phillip Rivers constantly challenging his teammates to a game of dominoes, and how Tom Brady needs to beat everyone he knows in any game that they want to play. It wasn’t enough for these guys to be at the top of their respective fields, they needed to win relatively meaningless games in their free time. These three decorated and accomplished athletes have a ferocious, almost to the point of the unhealthy, appetite to win all the time. Some suggest this ferocious competitive nature is what separates them from those of equal ability, but is there a another side to their stories, a dark side?

What would those people who love to hear stories about famously competitive athletes think if Phillip Rivers upended a table after losing a game of dominoes to his seven-year-old son? Phillip Rivers never did this, as he likely has a very healthy hold on his competitive instincts now, but if he did, wouldn’t we say that’s a little unhealthy? We can guess that Rivers probably never felt the need to do that, because he has an outlet for his ferocious competitive instincts. He has already accomplished great feats among the greatest athletes in the world, and such a display would speak of frustration. My guess is that earning one of the most prestigious positions in all of sports quells those frustrations and any other sense of unhappiness that would drive such a display.

Yet, how does one earn one of the most difficult and prestigious positions of  quarterback in the NFL. How does one earn such a position when they lack the athletic talent necessary to achieve it, as many have said Tom Brady does. How much drive does that require, and is there an ugly side of that drive that no one discusses in these fun-loving, “He’s so insanely competitive” stories?

Most of us would be satisfied to be the starting quarterback of one of the most prestigious college football teams in America, as Tom Brady did at Michigan, some might be satisfied just to be drafted to play quarterback in the NFL, then start. We might consider it a life well lived to earn chance to play in just one Super Bowl. For Tom Brady, that wasn’t enough. He worked through whatever demons chase a player throughout a season to appear in nine of them and win six. Does Tom Brady have a secret formula to maintaining such a consistent, championship levels of success, or does the state of being perpetually unsatisfied almost require some level of perpetual unhappiness and inner frustration? We all know the follow-up joke to this. If a coach, or a fan, learned that certain levels of unhappiness drove Brady and Jordan to win six championships, they’d ask what do I have to do to get four or five more unhappy, frustrated people on my team? It’s funny, because it’s true that professional sports teams, corporations, and anything and everything between want ferociously competitive people who crave whatever challenges put in their way to greater achievement. 

Does being unsatisfied with some success lead to more success, or is there some measure of fundamental unhappiness and frustration attached? Imagine being Tom Brady’s sibling, growing up, knowing that every time he loses he’s going to freak out and upend the table? Imagine purposefully losing to him, so he doesn’t cause a scene. Imagine what you might have to do to keep such a person happy as a spouse. Imagine being their seven-year-old child, and your dad questions your character when you’re not able to keep up with them in a game of Super Mario Brothers Deluxe. We probably assume such people don’t take it home with them, but if they’re that competitive, we have to assume that their loved ones see some of the components of the dark side that drive their ferocious, competitive instincts.

I’m sure that there are men and women from as far away as China and Liechtenstein who think it’s not worth playing the game if you don’t do everything humanly possible to win, but the idea that narrowly finishing second destroys a person emotionally appears endemic to males who are Americans.

If we enter into a friendly contest for money, and we lose that contest by cents, it upsets some of us so much that we can’t sleep at night. Most second place finishers might feel some frustration by being so close to winning, but some view this as just as devastating as a last place finish loss by hundreds of dollars. I’m competitive, and I might be so bad that it’s a little unhealthy, but that ferocious level of competition is something I can’t completely comprehend.

If I suffer from this unusual, and unhealthy, need to win, that does not extend to games of chance. I know I have no control of the dice or the next card a dealer sends me. These games involve some strategy, and an advanced poker player could clean me out in under an hour, but there’s still an overriding element of chance to these games. Gamblers talk about the thrill of victory, and I’ve experienced that, but my experience with games of chance almost always involves the agony of defeat. If I ever won, other than the few times listed below, I might develop a problem, but I’ve never had a problem with gambling.   

I may be upset when chance doesn’t roll my way, but it does not destroy me emotionally. These are games of chance, and I know if I get lucky, I don’t expect that luck to continue. In a friendly game of craps, for instance, I once committed what others considered a cardinal sin of pulling my money off the table in the middle of a hot streak. I knew my luck couldn’t continue, and I knew that with every roll, so I stopped right in the midst of it. I did so, in my opinion, before my luck could run out. I was satisfied by my meager winnings, and I knew that the chances that I would continue to win were against me. My friends complained that true craps players don’t pull their money off the table, without giving the other players a chance to win their money back. “But I was playing against the house,” I said.

“Still,” they said. “It’s considered poor gamesmanship to take the money and run. Plus, if you let it ride, you could’ve been the biggest winner of the day. You were on a roll.” 

To their utter amazement, I was just fine with my meager winnings.

I did this again, sometime later in a poker game. This time, I let my money ride and ended up finishing second. If anyone, anywhere, considers this bragging, I add that in a lifetime of playing these stupid games of chance, there’s a reason these two instances are memorable. The game ended with me drawing one relatively inferior card, and I finished one card away from winning the pot. I finished second in the winnings of that day, and I had no designs on playing a bluff and pushing my pot to the middle. I was perfectly happy to finish second that day, and that didn’t make sense to my friends.

It didn’t matter to them that I played the big money winner down to the final hand. It didn’t matter to them that I managed to walk away with the second most money. He won. I lost. Game over.  

“You need to learn how to lose if you ever hope to win,” Woody Allen’s mom once told him. I don’t care if you’re Tom Brady, Tony Gwynn, or Michael Jordan, you’re going to lose more than you win in life. Tony Gwynn didn’t get a hit 66.2% of the time, Michael Jordan missed 50.3% of the shots he took, and Tom Brady had to fight in college and in the early years of his NFL career to become, and remain, a starting quarterback for those squads. We need to learn to manage and learn from our losses if we ever hope to win. Yet, we don’t want to manage it too well, for as O.J. Simpson said, “He who loses well loses often.”  

I apparently didn’t manage losing well, as evidence by the fact that I don’t win often enough. “But did you have fun?” my mom would ask to start the healing process after I finished second. “If you did, that’s all that matters.” She enjoyed racing her peers, when she was young. She didn’t care if she won. She just enjoyed spending time with friends. She had the healthy mindset of course, but it didn’t ease my sense of devastation. Having fun was for girls as far as I was concerned. I enjoyed winning, and I wanted to beat my opponent so bad that I demoralized them.

There was one kid I could never beat in one particular game. There was nothing I could do different to beat this kid. He was just better than me at this game. He didn’t rub it in, and he didn’t celebrate his victories in any way. He was just better than me, and he knew it. When I finally overcame him, I continued to play hard, and ran up the score. “How’s this any fun for you?” he asked. “Do you enjoy humiliating me?”

“I do,” I said. “I consider it fun.”

Seven-year-olds know nothing of these complexities. They want to win when they play sports, and they want to beat video games, and they feel some frustration when they don’t. They might even see upending tables as a way of coping with loss, until they see an example of the opposite. They might also find playing video games with Dad to be less than fun, because he always gets so upset, and he’s always criticizing me and complaining about his own inability to defeat the game. Seven-year-olds don’t view the video game as a vicarious way of accomplishing what they can’t do in real life. They might view getting past stage eleven of the game as a moment of pride, but they don’t have the baggage on their back that the rest of us do. They don’t lord it over their friends who haven’t done it. They just think that video games are fun, and they look like more fun when others play it than when we do.

After my son issued his character-defining challenge, I accepted it and attempted to erase my lifelong conditioning, and I did it. When we played the game together, and he fell behind, I patiently waited for him to catch up. When he killed us, I said, “Hey, it’s just a game.” He freaked out however. When I fell behind, or caused us to die, he was rude, insensitive, and ferociously competitive. “What happened?” I asked. “I thought we were supposed to be playing this game without criticizing each other or complaining?” He had no answer for that, which led me to believe that as hard as I focused on putting my conditioned responses in the off position for one game, he couldn’t do the same with the conditioned responses I taught him.

The Biological Control of Flatulence


Farts are funny. It’s immature to laugh at them, but we can’t help it. We’ve all dealt it, and we’ve all smelt it. Its universal appeal stretches across demographic lines, income brackets, and various levels of sophistication and intelligence. We might laugh out loud, behind a hand, or wait until the alleged perpetrator has left the room, but sooner or later, most of us will be laughing. Depending on how bad it smells, flatulence might be the one bodily function that offends everyone and no one at the same time. It embarrassed us (most of us) when we do it, but most of us don’t mind laughing at ourselves most of the time. The jokes we tell about them play as well in the seediest bars as they do in the most refined churches. They’re funny, and we laugh, but are we laughing so hard that we forget to ask why we have at least some ability to control this biological quirk?

Those of us who have a layman’s interest in evolution find it fascinating to read scientific theories regarding the most basic bodily functions we all take for granted. The theories are based, in part, on evolution and natural selection, but they are just theories. Most of these discussions involve relatively trivial, yet fascinating theories regarding why we have the ability to blink, fingernails, earlobes, and goosebumps. We don’t analyze these actions, because what’s there to analyze? Have you ever met a person who couldn’t blink. A friend of mine had this problem, due to necessary surgeries, and she had to regularly drop saline into her eyeballs. I didn’t value my ability to blink before I met her, and I never appreciated the greater mechanization of the human body before I met those who have a deficit in the basic functionalities we all take for granted. 

Most of our functions were born of need. If animals didn’t have levels of functionality necessary for survival, they either developed them or went extinct. When the species found a way to survive, a level of natural selection occurred, in which the animals passed those adaptations along. How has the otherwise indefensible ball of mush, we call the octopus, managed to survive hundreds of millions of years? They adopted and adapted various intricate survival techniques that are almost inexplicable to science.

At one point in human history, early humans realized they were near the bottom of the food chain, and they tried to find ways to neutralize the other animals’ dominance. In the course of developing weapons and other techniques necessary for survival, they developed the most complex organ in the animal kingdom, the human brain. Fossil records indicate that the human brain grew in size, relative to the body from early primates to the current Homo sapiens. The need to survive, in other words, dictated our brain’s current size and complex level of functionality. The owl needs acute vision to see small prey from their perch high up in trees, and they need to be able to fly down to catch them. Due to the complexities of the human brain, we didn’t need either of these abilities to survive, so we never developed them.

We don’t need goosebumps, but according to some theories, humans may have needed them at one time to ward off prey. When man was more hairy, the goosebumps made the air stand up and appear more abundant, so they would appear larger to the prey. The other, more widely accepted theory is that our hairier ancestors strengthened their hair fibers to stay warm, and the scientists suggest that raised hairs trap air to create insulation in a manner we still use. Thus, when we’re creeped out or cold, our brain still sends a message to the body to raise the hair fibers or strengthen them to make what we have more abundant, or appear more abundant. The point is that there’s nothing really interesting about basic, common bodily functions, until we delve into the idea theories regarding why we have them. 

If we have scientific explanations for why we might have needed something as trivial as goosebumps, why no explanation for the control we have of gaseous releases? Ashley Cowie wrote an interesting, historical guide to famous flatulence in history that includes stories of fart gods and various other spiritual connections to the breath between the legs, and the idea that if a person pushed hard enough they could “fart out their soul”. Other articles list some scientific theories we have to explain the biological need to release gas from the system. There are scientific explanations to explain why some flatulence smells and others don’t. There are even scientific explanations to explain why some farts are louder than others are, but there are no scientific theories I can find to explain why we can control (for the most part) the force and volume.

All animals have this ability of course, but humans are the only ones who voluntarily deploy it on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. Watch a young wild animal let one go, and the force and volume is apt to startle them. Older animals, like older humans, are unmoved by them. Some humans say they do it to gain relief, others suggest they require it for medicinal purposes, but most of us just do it for fun. Was there ever a reason for this ability, a source for it that would define its need in such a way that we enhanced it?

The science behind it suggests that the volume of flatulence depends on how much gas we have bottled up and/or how tight the sphincter is. The digestive system needs to remove/release gas, and if it served that biological need alone, the rectum would be similar to a building’s exhaust flapper. Instead, we have muscles that we can voluntarily (for the most part) expand and contract to release anything we want, at any volume, to disrupt or enhance, social gatherings, and no one has come up with a sufficient explanation why.

Some have theorized that louder flatulence might be equivalent to some sort of biological alarm to warn us when there is too much CO2 in our system. The louder the flatulence, the more CO2 buildup we have, and the greater need for one to switch to a healthier diet. If true, that might explain why some flatulence is louder, but it doesn’t explain how we arrived at this ability and if natural selection played any role in it. We don’t need the control now, but we don’t need goosebumps either, so why do we have these abilities? Is it possible that at one time, a time when modes of communication weren’t what they are now, prehistoric man manipulated their flatulence to communicate coded levels of alarm to their fellow man? If a wolf was near, they let loose some silent killers to inform those in their clan, by scent, that a wolf was near, stay still, or prepare the weaponry for the hunt. If a sabretooth tiger was near, they let her rip. Is it possible they communicated with flatulence in a manner similar, but different from the Native Americans’ smoke signals, and that which the military would later use with the Morse Code in WWII, and the predators couldn’t figure out our secret signals to one another in time.

Seeking answers for why we have this ability might also help explain our individual view of God. Most Christians believe God created everything from life to the universe and everything in between to support the harmonious relationship between the heavenly bodies. If God created everything from the Sun to Jupiter to the flagellum and the atom to serve a purpose, what was the purpose behind giving us the ability to control the force of our flatulence? Both literal and contextual readers also agree that God gave us autonomy, but they disagree on how much. Literal and contextual readers of The Bible both agree that God is of unlimited omniscience, so the only conclusion we can arrive at is that He knew how we would use this ability. Some might consider it heretical to suggest this, but did God design the intricate anatomy down to the smallest, most insignificant elements of the anatomy, or did He allow for some autonomy on the part of the being in the same manner he provided autonomy of belief? Was the control of the force and volume of our flatulence a gift that He gave us, knowing how we’d use it, and an indicator that He has such a wonderful sense of humor? Did He decide to give us some wholesome fun with our body or, was the ability to control our flatulence a biological quirk we discovered on our own in the process of forcing waste out?  

Atheists, who also happen to be scientists, suggest that too often religious people explain any gaps in modern scientific understanding with the idea that there had to be a miracle involved, and that miracle had to arrive at the hands of a creator. Religious people suggest that scientists do the same and that if God inspired the writers of The Bible to explain everything from creation to goosebumps to this control of our flatulence we might not be having these debates. We probably shouldn’t question the content, or the purpose, of the best-selling book of all time, and it might have damaged The Bible’s legacy as a serious philosophical document to waste time on such trivial matters, but it would’ve also provided us some much-needed information and some levity if God inspired The Bible’s authors to include some incidents, and discussions about, flatulence in the various stories and parables of the book. Whatever the case is, some of us prefer to think that God gave us The Bible as a philosophical road map to figure out the larger things and a progressive intellect to figure out the rest.

Daniel’s Disconnect


[Writer’s Note: I know of no one named Daniel McVie or Shea Lynch. I changed the names of the people in this story to protect the innocent, and the presumed innocence of those we’re required to maintain regardless of conviction. Any resemblance to people named Daniel McVie or Shea Lynch is purely coincidental.]

Before he was senselessly murdered, Daniel McVie developed an unusual knack for making connections. He did whatever he could to make little kids giggle, and little old ladies enjoyed his clever sense of humor. Daniel McVie greeted every customer who walked into his store as if he were welcoming them into his home. Those who saw him, thought he had a gift for making these connections. Those who knew Daniel McVie well, considered this idea a bit of a gift a misnomer, because they knew how hard he worked at it.

If he had a gift before being promoted to assistant manager at a discount department store, his day-to-day duties enhanced it. Those who loved Daniel say that when his managers spotted Daniel’s ability to make connections with such a wide variety of people, and they trained him how to use it as a greeter for the store, they immeasurably improved his life. Whether it was a gift or not, Daniel McVie loved meeting new people, and he had an unusual ability to make each customer who stepped into his store feel special.

If Daniel had such a gift for making superficial connections, he also had an equal inability to make more complicated, deeper connections. To summarize his difficulty, based in part on a rare disease that attacks the nervous system and causes chronic dizziness, Daniel didn’t understand how Isaac Newton’s law (“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”) applied to human interaction. Those who knew him intimately suggest that this deficit might have played a significant role in his murder.

“It was just sad,” Daniel McVie’s cousin Julie said. Julie interrupted me to say that, and she made it quite clear that she didn’t want to discuss the matter further. When she saw my reaction to that, she softened, “I’m sorry, it’s just that things like this don’t happen to people like us, and when they do we’re curious. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity, but some of us go overboard. Some of us have a morbid curiosity about the intimidate details of what happened, as if it were part of the plot of some crime show. It’s none of your business, I want to say to them. Not you, sweetie, I’m not saying this to you, but some people just need to butt out. 

“Some of the times bad things happen to good people, as a result of a sad set of circumstances that didn’t have to happen, and shouldn’t have happened,” Julie continued. “I think about it every day, and at least once a week, I’m a blubbering mess about it … What happened to Dan was just such a sad thing that didn’t have to happen.”

I felt bad when Julie added the last part, as I could see how she could misinterpret my polite interest for morbid curiosity, but all I said was, “I heard Dan was murdered. What happened?” and she insinuated the rest. When Julie snapped at me, I have to assume that by that time so many who knew Daniel, or heard the story secondhand, inundated her with questions, and her reaction to my question was the result. I could see how sensitive Julie was on the topic, however, and I felt bad for being a part of that, however incidentally, and I dropped it.

I wasn’t morbidly curious about what happened to Daniel McVie before my conversation with Julie, but I was after it. I knew I shouldn’t be, but when someone plants a “Here, there be Dragons” flag at an outpost, warning me to go no further, the only thing I want to do is go further. This might be my character flaw, but my curiosity, morbid and otherwise, often overrides my general sense of social decorum.

When I arrived home, I used every resource at my disposal to find out what happened to the man. I wish I hadn’t to be honest. I wish I didn’t know what I know now, because even though I didn’t know Daniel McVie very well, I liked what I knew. He was personable and funny, and I liked being around him when I was a kid. When I found all of the details available, I discovered the whole situation involved, as Daniel’s cousin Julie said, a sad set of circumstances that didn’t have to happen.

When Daniel McVie broke out his record collection, it was it was anything but sad. His eyes lit up, and his face beamed when he started in on what his friends and family called the record collection presentation. Daniel was so proud of his collection that when he spoke about the accomplishments of the individual records in his collection, he sounded like a proud father, detailing the accomplishments of his son. He also sounded like a salesman giving a sales presentation, and we thought he was trying to sell the collection to us.

“How much do you want for it?” we asked.

“Wait. What?” he asked. “These records are not for sale my friend. This is my private collection.”

We didn’t really want to buy the records, but the pause in his presentation appeared to beg for some progression of our otherwise polite interest. When he corrected our error, we asked him how much he thought they were worth.

“They’re rare collector’s editions,” he said. “Some of them contain outtakes, demo versions, and live songs not found on any other editions. They’re also in mint condition, as you can see. They’re still in the original cellophane.” He didn’t know how much they were worth, in other words, but he knew everything else there was to know about these albums, and he didn’t mind sharing.

He knew the lyrics of every song on every album he owned, but he didn’t concern himself much with the deeper meaning of the lyrics. He knew every player in every band on every album he owned, but he didn’t know enough to know if they were considered accomplished musicians in a technical sense, and he didn’t care about any of that stuff. He didn’t know anything about the intrinsic qualities of the albums, in other words, but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of their sales, how well they performed on the charts, and what he considered their subsequent historic value.

His passion for music didn’t run so deep that he ventured out into more obscure music, as most music aficionados do. Daniel’s presentation didn’t venture into the quality of the deep tracks on his albums. His focus remained squarely on the hits. How many hits did the album Escape produce for Journey? Daniel could not only tell us how many, but he knew how high they charted, and how many weeks they remained on the charts. He could provide the same details about Men at Work’s Business as Usual and Steely Dan’s Aja. He also recited for us some pull-quotes of the critical reception of Aja. He had quotes from various outlets and everything. It was information overload, at times, but it was still quite impressive.

We were kids when we knew Daniel McVie, so we didn’t know much about music, and we knew even less about collectibles and their value. His confident presentation relied on popularity, yet he knew nothing about scarcity and the influence it has on the value of collectibles. Daniel also had yet to face the harsh reality all collectors face if they ever decide to test the market, and that is that the collectibles we love so much are only worth what someone else is willing to pay for them.

The idea that he didn’t know how much these albums were worth did not hamper his presentation however, for he knew enough about what he considered their value to spark our imagination. By the time he completed his little presentation, the albums took on a glow reminiscent of the glow that appeared on John Travolta’s face in Pulp Fiction when Travolta opened the briefcase. Some think Daniel’s enthusiastic presentation, and his ability to transfer that enthusiasm to his audience might have contributed to his fate.

Daniel McVie didn’t have any kids, and he didn’t have any pets, so he directed all his love to his nieces and nephews, and to a lesser degree, on his record collection, and his blue Honda Civic. They were his pride and joy. Listening to him speak about them, we could forgive his audience for thinking he loved these items more than people. The truth was he loved people. He was, as they say, a people person. He was an extrovert who could talk to anyone on any given subject for at least twenty minutes.

He was the assistant manager of a discount department, in charge of greeting customers at the door. He did so with uncommon gusto. He loved his store, as if it was his home. He loved the people with whom he worked as if they were members of his extended family, and he treated anyone who entered his store in the same manner. He might as well have greeted people with, “Welcome to my home.” Those who knew Daniel well say that he was always a gregarious person, but his daily duties at the discount department store enhanced that element of his personality.

Daniel McVie wasn’t the type we need to see when we’re young, for all the reasons young people look up to adults, but we thought he was. At that age, we can’t see us for who we are, so we have no ability to see others for who they are. Yet for all of his flaws, he was a great listener who always seemed to be present.

Most adults vie to impress adults in the key demo, but Daniel McVie focused his attention on kids and the elderly. He made those who couldn’t do anything for him feel special, and we couldn’t help but return the favor. Yet, Daniel McVie wasn’t special in the manner we thought he was. He was a man who suffered from a rare disease that attacks the nervous system and causes chronic dizziness. He was not the extraordinary talent we thought he was, in other words, and as the years passed, we realized our deification of him was mostly uninformed. We had one occasion to watch him when he didn’t know anyone was watching, and we discovered he was almost childlike, and that his trained focus on the particulars of rock music was probably a result of his illness, but he knew more about that than anyone we ever met, and we were in awe of his knowledge.

Practice makes perfect, as they say, and Daniel practiced his record collection presentation before friends, family, and anyone who would listen. He didn’t assign specific value to it, as stated, but anyone who witnessed him take the stage felt the general value he placed on them.

“Wow!” is what we said when he was in his element.

Shea Lynch

Daniel was also an old softie. He suffered from some physical and mental difficulties, and he couldn’t stand seeing other people suffer. When he met individuals at the local shelter, he took them home and allowed them to clean his apartment for a couple bucks and a square meal. “He was always helping people like that,” his neighbor said. “We saw him welcome people into his home for a variety of reasons. That was just Dan.”

One of the men Daniel welcomed into his home was Shea Lynch. Daniel saw Shea sitting at a bus stop one day, in the middle of a torrential downpour. Without thinking twice about it, Daniel pulled over and offered the man a ride. Who does that? “You don’t know who you’re picking up?” our mothers have told us for generations. Daniel didn’t care. His Catholic upbringing informed him that when you see a man in need, you heed the teachings of the Lord. Daniel didn’t see Shea as a troubled or confused young man who was so down on his luck that he needed to sit in a torrential downpour to wait for a bus. He saw someone who needed a ride.

Daniel and Shea got along so well, on that first trip to Shea’s home, that the next time Daniel saw him sitting at the bus stop, in clear weather, he stopped to give him a ride again. Before long, they found that their work schedules matched up so well that Daniel was picking Shea up almost every day. After a couple more rides, the two of them developed a conditional friendship. They found that they both enjoyed talking about movies, so Daniel invited Shea to attend the local theater with him. When they talked about bowling, Shea informed Daniel that no one could take him. He was right. Shea smoked him.

Age is a determining factor in all relationships. The young view the old as wizened characters, who have a lot to teach in the beginning. They eventually figure their elders out, and they often find them quite boring. Daniel was different, and Shea saw that. Daniel’s age probably appealed to on some deep, subconscious search for a father figure.

Prior to meeting Daniel, Shea Lynch was suspicious of everyone he met. Some considered him so suspicious of every little thing that they thought he was a little too cynical. He knew he was cynical, “But who wouldn’t be,” he said, “if you’ve been through what I have? People beat you down. They’re always coming at you, and after a while you just say enough already. I’m going to hurt you before you hurt me.”

He was suspicious of Daniel McVie too, that first day, but it was raining like crazy. Shea would’ve accepted a ride from just about anybody that day, but Shea liked Daniel and warmed up to the man the first time he met him, and Daniel’s joke had a lot to do with it.

“You’re not a serial killer are you?” Daniel asked when Shea entered the car. Shea laughed and said no. “Let me see your teeth.” Shea was confused but he gave Daniel a toothy grin. “All right, let’s go,” Daniel said pulling the gear into reverse to leave the parking stall.

It was so confusing that Shea laughed. “What do my teeth have to do with me being a serial killer?” Shea asked.

“I was watching cartoons with my nephew one day, and I asked him how he can tell the difference between good guys and bad guys. He said, ‘look at the teeth. If they’re jagged, you know it’s a bad guy.’”

“Let me see your teeth then,” Shea said.

Daniel’s joke disarmed Shea. He didn’t trust the man yet, but the joke was so child-like that it helped Shea characterize the man as child-like. It became an ongoing joke between the two of them. On subsequent rides, Shea would enter Daniel’s car, show the man his teeth and Daniel would put the car in gear.

There was something so warm and fuzzy about Daniel. He didn’t believe these things he said, like his nephew’s analysis, but he said them so often that Shea found them endearing. The man was always joking around like this, and there were times when it was tough to know if he was really joking. Regardless, Shea enjoyed it. He considered Daniel a confused, harmless old man who was a little naïve, and almost child-like, especially when the man started in on stupid stuff, like his beloved record collection. After a number of rides, some bowling nights, and a couple of movies, Shea considered Daniel trustworthy. The only reason that the raging cynic considered this man trustworthy was that the alternative, that Daniel might be up to something, seemed so ludicrous as to be almost laughable.

“How do you know so much about these old records?” Shea asked in the midst of one of Daniel’s record collection presentations.

“What are you talking about?” Daniel asked. “These are the greatest bands of the late 70’s to the early 80’s, the greatest era of rock and roll ever. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Foghat. Don’t tell me that please. You’re going to make me feel old,” he said with a sly smile.

Daniel’s presentation allowed for questions and comments, but no touching. When we approached his beloved collection, Daniel scolded us. He wouldn’t allow us to handle his precious albums, and he probably wouldn’t let Shea either. Daniel insisted that anyone who handled his albums should do so with a level of care that a museum curator exhibits when handling artifacts, and he knew kids didn’t have that in them. It was a matter of respect to him. “You don’t enter a man’s home,” he told us, “and start rifling through his belongings, especially when it comes to albums like these. They’re in mint condition, and they’re quite valuable.”

Daniel knew kids and teenagers have no regard for private property, and that it was on him to protect his private property. We thought that was all Daniel was doing when he assigned special value to his personal possessions, but he wasn’t. He truly thought that these ubiquitous albums had value, because they were “rare editions”. He truly thought we should admire and cherish these albums the way he did, and he probably passed those sentiments along to Shea Lynch.

Something to Believe In

Prior to meeting Daniel McVie, Shea Lynch never had anything to believe in. Everyone he knew failed him in one regard or another. Every single one of us wants someone, or something, to believe in, but after a time the crushing weight of disappointment breaks us. Shea didn’t believe in anything or anyone, because no one believed in him. They viewed him as a thief and a bully, and no one ever tried to see the person inside.

It’s tough to pinpoint how such things start, but Shea remembered discovering the power of money one day. He went to the store that day and bought things. Shea learned the definition of a glorious term called purchasing power that day. He never heard this term before that day, and he enjoyed it. Those who wouldn’t talk to him the day before wanted to be his friend that day. Girls smiled at him. They talked about his smile, and they said they never saw it before.

“I smile,” he said.

“Not like this,” they said. “Look at you.”

They didn’t say anything about his general sense of confidence, but it was so obvious that that was the difference. He felt more confident, more alive, and he didn’t want that day to end. When that day ended, he wanted more of them, but his parents installed a new door handle with a locking mechanism on the inside of their bedroom door. They accused him of stealing money from his dad’s wallet, and they locked him out of their bedroom.

“Who does that to their own kid?” Shea asked anyone who would listen, “It’s like they’re locking me out of their lives.” When his grandmother’s jewelry went missing, they accused Shea of course, even though they could never prove it, and she began locking him out of her life too. No one knows why these things happen, but everyone remembered him as the kid who always seemed to have more money than anyone else did.

No one knows when where and how we started to lose faith in humanity, but we remember what it felt like to have our loved ones begin to lose faith in us. We remember the day our grandmother turned suspicious, and we’ll never forget when our mother began joining the chorus of those who suspected us of wrongdoing, but what’s crystallized in our memory is the day our father lost faith in us. For some reason, we think about that more than anything else, when we’re all by ourselves in the dark corner of our cell.

His father’s harsh corrections were so unrelenting, for so many years, that no matter what Shea did he knew that the minute his dad got off work, he would hear about it. It was almost like a game after a while. Shea would test his dad’s boundaries, and his dad would come out of his corner. As any skilled boxer will tell you, knockout artists make headlines, but boxers win belts. A trained boxer knows that the key to victory is to work the opponent’s body and duck their blows until the knockout artist begins wears down, and he can’t throw his punches as effectively. It worked. Shea could see the man tire, until he finally gave up. Shea initially considered that his victory and he all but danced the dance of the victor.

It felt so liberating in the beginning. He felt free to do whatever he wanted to do without guilt. He laughed at the “old man” behind his back. He said he broke him. He considered it something of an accomplishment, until he noticed the hold his friends’ dads still had on them, and how they somehow, for some reason, didn’t mind it. He tried coaxing it out of them, but they said, “Hey, I hate my dad as much as you do yours, don’t get me wrong, but I still have to live under the man’s roof, and I think somewhere down deep, he does it because he cares.” Lines like those infuriated Shea, and he mocked his friends for them, but they also illuminated the idea that Shea broke his dad down so much that the man might not have cared what happened to him. He couldn’t articulate how devastating that realization was, but he felt it over time. He felt abandoned, betrayed, and alone. He knew a special bond was broken, even if he wouldn’t acknowledge it. He tried to maintain that what he did to his dad was kind of funny, but he stopped laughing about it so often.

A wise man once spoke about how the relationship we have with our father profoundly influences our view of God. As young people, we cannot deal with the immensity of the concept of God. We also can’t deal with the abstract of an ultimate authority figure. We only know more immediate definitions. We know that if we do something wrong, our teachers and our mothers will be on us for it, but nothing strikes fear in us the way our ultimate authority figure can. Thus, for most kids, but boys in particular, a father sets the template for our definition of ultimate authority. This relationship influences our definition of all authority figures, including, but not limited to law enforcement officials, teachers, principals, and God. A son’s relationship, and view of his father can also trickle down to affect every relationship they have, and it can inordinately affect his view of himself. The theory states that we’re likely to view God as a lenient or authoritative deity based on the manner in which our father dealt with us. So, what happens when a father gets so tired of the constant barrage of misbehavior from his son that he just gives up? What happens to that son’s view of God, his view of humanity, his worldview, and his view of himself when his father gives up so completely that he agrees with the judge that their best course of action is to enter his son into the foster care system? This is the ultimate definition of a father abandoning a son in a physical and spiritual manner.

“I just can’t deal with him anymore,” his father conceded, in the judge’s private quarters. “Maybe it’s for the best.”

We’ve all met young boys in dire need of a father figure. We’ve witnessed them desperately cling to any authoritative, adult male who shows them any kind of attention. What do they seek? Some suggest that they may be looking for a role model, and while that might be true on a number of levels, those of us who witness this behavior think it goes far deeper than that. We think these young men seek some personal definition from within the constraints of consistent measures of any ultimate authority figure they encounter. Mothers try very hard to play that role in their son’s life, in the space of a father’s absence, but women, in general, have a more compassionate and understanding nature. They’re nicer people, in general, and they’re more apt to want to believe in their sons. At some point, they accidentally begin taking this belief so far that they end up believing their son’s excuses. Most men were once manipulative boys, and they have firsthand knowledge of the ways a deceptive young man can deceive the compassionate and understanding adults around them. They remember important it was to them to have an authoritative figure say, “Just cut the crap and act right!” For reasons that are tough for a young male to comprehend, this no nonsense, no excuses framework is so attractive to them. Anyone who has witnessed a situation like this cannot help but think these boys are desperately crying out for some personal definition from within the constraints of consistent measures of any ultimate authority figure they meet.

At some point, in the conditional friendship that began between Daniel McVie and Shea Lynch, Shea began to view Daniel as a surrogate father of sorts for all of those reasons, and the childless Daniel McVie enjoyed playing that role for this younger man. We can guess that one of the few things Shea learned after bouncing from foster home to foster home is that one of the key ingredients to developing a relationship is to invest his own emotions into it. He didn’t believe in any of those people, and they didn’t believe in him. He learned from that, and he hoped to apply it in this situation so Daniel might help him right some of the wrongs that occurred with his father.

After Daniel picked him up a number of times, Shea found that he actually looked forward to seeing that old Blue Honda Civic pull up to his bus stop every day. He still considered the old man a joke, but he was a harmless old man who volunteered to drive him home from work. Shea didn’t realize how much he looked forward to it, until Daniel failed to pick him up three days in a row.

“What happened last week?” Shea asked the following Monday, when Daniel picked him up again.

“I was under the weather,” Daniel admitted. “I am sorry about that, but I had no way of reaching you to tell you that I wouldn’t be able to pick you up.” When Shea expressed some doubt, Daniel said, “I’ll tell you what, you give me your phone number, and I’ll call you when I’m sick, just to let you know.”

“I don’t have a cell.”

“All right,” he said. “I’ll give you my number. You can call me throughout the day, and I’ll let you know if I am able to pick you up.” Daniel scribbled his name and number down on a piece of scratch paper and handed it to Shea. The name read Dan. “You can call me Dan,” he said with a wink and a smile, as Shea read it.

Even with that little piece of scratch paper in hand, Shea couldn’t come down. He was so angry the week before that he couldn’t find a way to forgive Daniel easily, no matter how valid the man’s excuse was. He felt so empty when those minutes clicked by, and the old Blue Honda Civic didn’t pull around the corner. He had no way of contacting Daniel to find out what was going on, when the man failed to pick him up. He just had to sit there and wait for his bus. Shea spent that week thinking Daniel abandoned him, the way his father had.

Shea Lynch wasn’t the type to reflect on his emotions in any given situation, but even if he was, he wouldn’t have been able to explain these feelings very well. He just got angry, and he left all the explaining up to the other guy. If Shea had someone to talk to, perhaps he could’ve explored his reaction better, but he didn’t tell anyone about Daniel, the rides Daniel gave him, or the little outings they had, because having a surrogate father of this sort, and all of the feelings they unearthed made him feel weird. How weird? Well, if Shea were the type to reflect on his emotions, and he confided those feelings for Daniel to another, and they were to mock him for it, Shea would knock that person out. He might not know all of the particulars behind it, even while he’s punching the guy.

The feelings Shea experienced around Daniel were so confusing that he pretended that the man meant nothing to him. He called Daniel names like “Old man,” and “that confused old fart.” He convinced himself that he was using Daniel for rides, free food, and free movies and bowling. He convinced himself that he was in charge of this situation with lines like, “Hey, if he’s willing to pay for all that, who am I to stand in his way.” He probably convinced himself of all of this, until Daniel failed to pick him up for three days straight.

When it happened, Shea felt all the old feelings of betrayal creep back up on him. He remembered the sense of abandonment he felt when his father didn’t fight the judge who ordered Shea into the foster care system. He remembered how his parents didn’t try to contact him to see how he was doing, as he bounced from foster home to foster home. It’s tough for anyone to describe the feelings a young boy goes through in such a situation, but Shea determined that he would never let anyone do that to him again. When Shea did begin to believe in someone, and that someone left him at the bus stop to rot, he seriously considered the fact that Daniel was messing with his head the same way Shea’s dad did. He thought Daniel was treating him like a dog.

When Shea threatened to avoid Daniel the next time he pulled up to Shea’s bus stop, Daniel finally opened up to Shea. Daniel did not want to do it. He wanted to keep the details of his ailment vague, so Shea wouldn’t think less of him, but Shea’s insistence that Daniel was messing with him prompted Daniel to say, “I’m not a well man Shea. I wasn’t able to pick you up last week, because well, I fell. Ok? I had to be hospitalized and I hate hospitals, but I’ve been falling a lot lately. It’s why I have to walk with a cane now. It’s why my family decided to rearrange my apartment, so I would have something to grab onto, so I wouldn’t fall so often. They wanted to check me into an old folk’s home. They said I needed round the clock care. That’s where people go to die, I told them, and I’m not ready to die yet.” When they stopped at a stoplight, Daniel turned to Shea, “I had a heart attack two years ago, and I thought I was going to die. I don’t want to die yet, not yet anyway. I told my family that if you put me in a home, I won’t be there for all my nephews and nieces, and for Shea Lynch. That’s what I told them,” he added with a smile.

That didn’t help. Shea was still angry. To try to quell his anger, Daniel continued to apologize, but it wasn’t enough. Even after Daniel offered Shea his phone number, with the assurance that it would never happen again, Shea couldn’t calm down.

We might interpret Shea’s reaction to Daniel’s detailed explanation of his ailment, as a manifestation of Shea’s inability to deal with any emotion other than anger. Anger was all he knew, and every other emotion he experienced morphed into various displays of anger to keep the rest of them at bay.

The secret ingredient to Shea’s surprising display of anger was that he cared about what happened to Daniel McVie, and he didn’t know how to express it properly. They might have been selfish emotions, but figuring out how they were selfish was so complicated that Shea couldn’t explain it. The realization that Daniel was more frail and fragile than Shea imagined had to play a role in Shea’s display however, for he did not want their relationship to end for all of these reasons, and everything Daniel was telling Shea about his condition belied the fact that their relationship could end quite quickly.

“I don’t give a fig,” Shea said when Daniel detailed his ailment, and he said it all loud and forceful to convince Daniel, and himself, that he meant it. The truth was that the concern he had for Daniel’s well-being might have been one of the other emotions he wanted to quell, because it felt so weird caring about another someone else, and it felt even weirder to be all good and decent about it.

For the purpose of self-preservation, Shea learned to turn those spigots off long ago. He hadn’t cared about what happened to anyone else, family or otherwise, for so long that he not only didn’t know how to do it, he didn’t want to do it. Even if he couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate it that way, he sensed it. Yet, it made him feel closer to whole to have someone care about him, even if it was some old, crazy dude, and he knew it felt good to care about Daniel in that same way. He would never show it, and he would beat the crud out of anyone who dared suggest it, but it was there.

Something that was so absent in Shea Lynch for so long was reborn in those little rides home in that beat up old Honda Civic that saw it’s best days ten years ago. There was something different about those days in the movie theaters and bowling alleys, and Shea didn’t know what it was, but he liked it.

He laughed one day when the bowling alley attendant asked if they were having a father-son day. Shea said, “He ain’t my dad, he’s just some crazy old dude.” It took a half a beat, but they all laughed at that, even Daniel. Daniel and Shea also laughed hard when they ran into an old man that Daniel knew, at a Cracker Barrel. The old man asked Daniel if Shea was his grandson.

“For cripes sake, I’m not that old Chet,” Daniel said.

To which Shea said, “Yeah, he is Chet. He’s old enough to be my great-grandpa.” Shea laughed so hard at that, he thought he was going to bust a gut, because it was true. “He’s almost old enough to be my great-great grandpa.”

The joke focused on Daniel’s age, but there was also an “I’ll bite” joke on Shea. Shea had a teacher in grade school who was always saying that. The teacher said it when someone would say the thrust of a joke was on him. “I’ll bite, how’s the joke on me?” that man always asked. I’ll bite, how’s the joke on me, Shea asked himself, You’re an eighteen-year-old who should be hanging out with other eighteen-year-olds. You should be dating a myriad of young women your age, and look at you. You’re hanging out with a man who is almost old enough to be your great-great grandpa. “So?” So, what are you laughing at? The joke is on you.

Another reason Shea laughed so hard and so loud was that he kind of liked it. Somewhere deep in the caverns of his untapped mines, he liked it when others thought that he was a son, hanging out with his dad, or a grandson spending an evening with his grandpa. He liked it, because it felt so good to be confused for a good son or grandson. When someone confused him for being so normal, it was funny because he couldn’t remember the last time someone confused him for being normal. He didn’t just miss these feelings, as one would if they had such memories, he never knew them. For this reason, and for all reasons described above, Shea freaked out on Daniel when the man placed a hand on Shea’s leg while they were driving down the road.

“I’m not like that,” he said shoving Daniel’s hand off his leg forcefully, “and I’m never going to roll that way Dan.”

“Okay,” Daniel said. “Okay. I’m sorry Shea.”

Daniel seemed genuinely contrite, but that didn’t stop Shea from freaking out on the man. He reached over and grabbed Daniel’s throat. He felt the old man’s tendons and muscles squirm under his fingertips while they drove down the road. When Shea strengthen his hold on Daniel’s throat, Daniel tried to break free, and they went over the median into the oncoming lane. They almost hit another driver head-on, and they almost died. Shea wouldn’t release the man, while screaming in his face, until the man began screaming with fear. “I’m never going to roll that way,” Shea repeated, after Daniel jerked the wheel to go back onto the median.  

“Do you know how close that was?” Daniel asked, after he coughed and collected himself enough to speak. “Do you know how close you came to killing us all?”

“I don’t care,” Shea said. “I would rather die than go down that road with you.”

***

If they spent as much time together as has been reported, Daniel probably gave that record collection presentation to Shea, so many times that Shea grew tired of it. Daniel probably went overboard, but he couldn’t help it, he wanted to impress the young man with his knowledge of music. He probably gave it so many times that Shea could recite it, and as we all know repetition can convince a person of just about anything. The near-fateful decision that Daniel made to place his hand on Shea’s leg, surely undermined much of what Shea thought of Daniel, but Shea was in so deep at this point that he eventually decided to forgive Daniel. Even if he began questioning Daniel’s motives now, Shea felt if he stressed the point that their friendship would not include anything like that, that Daniel would realize his error and move on and be everything Shea needed him to be.

When Shea left Daniel’s shower, days later, to discover that his clothes were missing, he didn’t make the connection. He didn’t think anything of it at first. He tried to retrace his steps and remember what he did with his clothes. “Hey Dan, did you see what I did with my clothes?” he asked through the door. “Dan?” he asked opening the bathroom door. Shea was still trying to figure out what was going on, when he saw Daniel McVie standing in the limited hallway of his apartment, clothed in nothing but his undergarments.

“I told you I don’t go that way,” Shea said. Daniel looked befuddled. He said nothing. He just stood there looking at Shea’s bare chest, and his towel. “But you don’t understand how serious I am. Do you?”

To this day, Shea swears that he never intended to kill Daniel McVie. He just wanted to convince Daniel that he didn’t go that way with some finality. He thought he left that impression the first time, but Daniel obviously didn’t get the message. Shea decided he needed to use more force this time to send the message more clearly, so he took Daniel’s cane away from him and struck him over the head with it. Then, when he had his hands on Daniel’s throat again, all those feelings of abandonment and betrayal reared their ugly head. He remembered some of the looks of disappointment his father gave him, until the man just gave up on him. He remembered how badly it hurt when his grandma stopped inviting him over, and how when he stopped over for a family reunion all of her jewelry was locked up. He remembered how it felt when his parents, and his grandma stopped calling the various foster homes he was in, just to check up on him. All of these images flooded his mind, until he realized how good it felt to hurt someone else before they could hurt him, and he increased Daniel’s pain by putting a knee into the small of the man’s back. He didn’t intend to kill the man, but he could think of no other way of sending a message. When he heard something pop, he was as scared and sad as everyone else was later, because he never intended to kill Daniel McVie.

Although Daniel’s family couldn’t conceive of Daniel being the aggressor in any situation, he might have become increasingly insistent. We don’t know how insistent Daniel became, or how many incidents there were. We don’t know everything that fueled Shea Lynch’s reaction that day, but we can guess that in the midst of all of the other emotional reactions that Shea didn’t know how to express, disappointment might have been most prominent.

If we believe disappointment in Daniel was a factor in Shea Lynch’s extreme reaction, we must also concede that he must have believed in Daniel in measures that were, for him anyway, equal. This belief might have had something to do with Shea’s need, or desire, to believe in something. He might have viewed Daniel as old and fragile, and he probably assumed the man didn’t have his wits about him. Throughout the month they spent together, Shea thought he established some level of control by scaring Daniel, and he believed that that left Daniel in such a harmless state that the man was incapable of disappointing him again.

Whatever the case was, Shea believed in Daniel McVie, because he wanted to believe in him, because he wanted to believe in something in an otherwise hopeless existence that turned so hopeless that he was cynical about everything and everyone, and he viewed Daniel McVie as a beacon in the darkness.

Those who knew the man couldn’t believe Daniel McVie could ever do anything in a deceptive manner, and he probably didn’t here, but he wanted or needed something so badly that he wasn’t as forthright in this situation as he should’ve been. Shame probably drove Daniel to be a little more disingenuous that he normally was, and there was likely some level of disconnect between what he wanted and how bad it hurt Shea to witness it.

Shea was so scared after Daniel fell from his hands that he considered burning the apartment down to conceal the evidence, like they did on TV, but he chickened out. Before leaving Daniel’s apartment, he grabbed the man’s valuable record collection, and the keys to Daniel’s beloved blue Honda Civic, and he drove to the local pawnshop store to once again display the purchasing power he knew as a kid.

We can only guess that when Shea Lynch presented the record collection to the pawnshop owner, he had to haggle with the owner. We can also guess that elements of Daniel’s presentation made their way into Lynch’s. Lynch probably argued that the pawnshop owner did not know the true value of these albums. “These are rare collector’s editions,” he said, repeating the terminology Daniel often espoused when presenting his albums to the unsuspecting. Shea Lynch knew nothing about the true value of these items, because the source of his presentation didn’t either. Neither of them knew, for example, that record companies, and their artists, release these “rare collector’s editions” to try to make a couple more bucks off a decades-old product, and that by the time they’re done, the rare collector’s editions are almost as ubiquitous as the standard product, and scarcity defines value in the collector’s world. Shea also didn’t know that in the world of collecting, the true value of any item is limited to what someone else is willing to pay for it. Daniel paid a heavy price for his collection, but the pawnshop owner would not, and Shea Lynch was very surprised to learn that the life of Daniel McVie, and his beloved record collection, was worth a little over one-hundred dollars.

Aftermath

At one point in his incarceration, the state penitentiary placed Shea Lynch on suicide watch. Most suicide attempts are a cry for help, but Shea wasn’t the type to plead for help. At some point in everyone’s life, we search in vain for answers, but some of us don’t think there are any answers. We just do. There are doers and thinkers, and doers rarely reach a point where they search for answers. It’s confusing, time-consuming, and often pointless.

Shea Lynch reached such a helpless point in life that he felt he was hopeless, and hopeless people reach a point where no one can help them. Some suggest that the prospect of spending thirty to forty years behind bars could do that to the strongest among us. Most of us cannot imagine what it could do to us to have our freedom taken away at eighteen, with the prospect that we might not be able to set foot outside the penitentiary grounds until we’re at least thirty-eight, if we are lucky enough to receive parole. Others might guess that the massive amounts of solitude could drive a person crazy, especially when considering how much time they must spend reflecting on the awful thing they did to end up there. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine moving on from such an event. Some of them do, but most of them spend so much time reflecting on what they did, and what drove them to it, that they develop such a solid excuse that they believe it or they end up trying to take their own life to try avoid the only thing such solitude permits. Some of the times questions can be more maddening than the search for answers.  

One of the reasons most convicts continue to plead their innocence, regardless of the evidence compiled against them, is that very few them can acknowledge that they’ve fallen that far. They might know they don’t have enough evidence to make a formal appeal, but on a personal level, they continue to plead their innocence to anyone who will listen. They were a victim of the circumstances that led them down a bad road, but they’re not bad people. Even most serial killers, who act with knowledge and forethought, will never concede that they’re bad. They’re more prone to list off the circumstances that led them to do what they did, as if they had no other choice in the matter.

Who among us haven’t stole an item here and there? That’s theft. We’re no better than they are. They just got caught. Who among us haven’t hit someone in a blind flurry of anger? That’s assault. We might list off the reasons we did what we did to separate us from them, but how different are we? Are the conditions of our upbringing so different that we’re immune to impulsive acts of violence?

The big ‘M’, however, is a lot more difficult to justify for the perpetrators know could’ve made different decisions along the way. They might talk to jailhouse counselors, and whatever few family members come to visit them, and those people might lie to them and tell them that they’re a good person inside, who made some bad choices, but both parties know that murder is almost impossible to re-characterize. Even among fellow inmates, the big ‘M’ has to be tough to justify, for it’s the ultimate taboo and the ultimate failure, and it affects what others think of them so much that it affects what they think of themselves.

These elements all played a role in Shea’s decision to attempt to take his own life, but we have to think that one of the things that tore his soul up in the long hours, months, and years he spent reflecting on what he did, also involved reflecting on how close he came to something achieving something real with Daniel.

It would’ve been a pleasant surprise if someone Shea knew showed up for his trial, but he knew better than to hope for it. He couldn’t help but look, right before he sat, hoping to see one face he knew. He probably thought at some point in his trial, one of the many friends he accumulated over the years, might be there. He probably had an uncle, aunt, cousin, or someone who showed him unwavering support through everything that happened to him in life, who he thought might make a symbolic appearance just to show their support. When no one showed, Shea didn’t show disappointment, and no one could tell how it affected him. He didn’t show it, because he expected it. Even when we expect the worst, however, we reserve a small spot in our soul for hope. We hope to be pleasantly surprised. When we’re not pleasantly surprised we revert back to the idea that we expected it, but that final disappointment probably cemented for Shea this idea that Daniel was his last chance in life to have one real, quality relationship. He probably went through everything we’ve described here, and he probably went through some feelings of remorse, but by that time he probably found some way to disassociate himself from act, because he had to, to strengthen the last vestige of sanity available to him.

He might have convinced himself that he was a victim of circumstance, based on what Daniel did to him, but he would keep all of that general. He wouldn’t admit that the reason he believed in Daniel was that he wanted something to believe in so bad that he would believe in anything. Daniel, for a relatively short time in his life, gave Shea something to believe in. He wouldn’t admit that he fell so hard for Daniel’s deception, because he wanted a surrogate father so bad that he would’ve believed anything Daniel said. Even though the man was a crazy old fool, he appeared to be one of the kindest, most genuine people Shea ever met.

Beneath all the layers of anger that Shea felt more comfortable expressing, were the sentiments Shea felt before Daniel revealed his true intentions. They spent a total of one month together, but in those thirty some odd days, the crazy old man named Daniel McVie introduced Shea Lynch to a level of hope Shea never experienced before. He was a nice man who displayed a level of genuine kindness that Shea thought he didn’t deserve. When that turned out to be fraudulent, in a relative way, Shea’s final ray of hope went with it. He never intended to kill Daniel McVie, but he was so angry that he fell for that belief that he felt like a sucker. He was also so mad at himself for needing it so bad that he put blinders on. The idea that Daniel was scamming him the whole time might have been an exaggeration, but it left Shea with the idea that nothing good in life was real, and that final dose of cynicism left him feel so devastated and hopeless that he didn’t want to live anymore.

Distant, Disengaged, and Detached Parents


Why does it sicken Adrienne so much when we attend to our child’s injuries after an accident? I don’t get it. Are we overreacting, as she says? I don’t know. She seems pretty convinced that we are, and when I disagree with her, in the most polite and respectful ways, she becomes visibly agitated. She takes it personal. You can see it in her face. I understand what she’s saying. I’ve seen parents overreact. I think we all have, and it makes us sick too when we seek a parent overreact to a kid who cries out for no reason. We know when they’re not truly hurt. We know when they’re crying out for attention, and some of the times, their parents give it to them. Some of the times, we give such unwarranted attention to our child. No harm, no foul right? Well, she acts as if this is a violation of nature. There are other accidents. We know those too. Those that call for a special kind of TLC that only a mother can provide. She berates me on those occasions too. “It’s just not good for the kid to do that,” she says, “and he’ll never learn if you don’t teach him how to deal with it himself. You know what the kid’s doing, and yet, you still go so far overboard. You’re coddling the boy.”  

We know that there are extremes in both situations. We know it’s vital for their growth that our child learns to be self-sufficient, and we employ tough love on a case-by-case basis, but how often are we supposed to reinforce these measures? We know we shouldn’t cater to his every need and whim and that it’s not good for the kid when we do, but it disgusts Adrienne so much when she witnesses us console him that she can’t hide it. Why does it sicken her so much, and why is it so important her that we do nothing when our child gets hurt?   

Most childhood accidents are relatively benign, but some of the times those harmless incidents shock and scare kids. Proponents of tough love, such as Adrienne, don’t see that in the moment. Perhaps, the kids fear that they’re hurt more than they really were. They’re kids. They don’t know any better. She doesn’t see that either. She just sees a kid blubbering and a parent smothering. She thinks that if we employ tough love often he will learn what he doesn’t know any better. She thinks we need to let him cry it out of his system, and she suggests that we “Rub some dirt on it. It will better for him in the long run.” There are arguments to on both sides, but if we’re to follow her advice how far do we take it?

“Our parents employed tough love whenever we were injured,” Adrienne says, “and look how we turned out. I just think most parents coddle kids too much in the modern era. No one sprinted to our rescue, when we were kids, and we turned out just fine, and so did our kids and their kids.”

Adrienne has far more experience in parenting than we do, so our natural inclination is to cede to her knowledge on this matter, but who is Adrienne. Who informed her ideas on parenting. She would be the first to admit that her parents didn’t know how to love. “They were dirt poor, and they probably had too many kids, but they loved us the best way they knew how,” she said. When she went out on her own, she made the mistake of marrying a man she now admits was a person who “didn’t know the first thing about love”. She was young, too young to know any better. She probably married a man who reminded her of a father “who didn’t know how to love”. We all make mistakes when we’re young and we could chalk her first marriage up as mistake of youth, but how did it affect the kids she had with the man? Her first daughter entered into a loveless marriage, but she was young and she made the same mistake Adrienne did. Why did she make that same mistake? Was it a cyclical mistake? Now that we’ve met most of Adrienne’s children and grandchildren, we know that they’re all good people. They appear, at first glance, to be the type of children and grandchildren we all want. Everyone from the matriarch of the family, Adrienne, to the youngest grandchild, appears to be nice and well mannered. It’s obvious that she taught her kids how to raise their kids to be pleasant and respectful people, but if we spend time getting to know them, we notice that they all have a certain detached quality about them. They’re all successful in their own right, and they know how to be on their own, which is a quality all parents should strive for in their children, but they’re not exactly warm, inviting people. They’re reserved, detached, and they don’t accept outsiders well.

Tough love is such a vague term. We can employ it on a case-by-case basis, but we can overdo it. We can use it so often that we accidentally slip into some realm of ambivalence to our kids’ injuries, and we can do it so often that we slip into some level of emotional detachment? Is it possible that such progressions could serve to harm the child’s adult relationships, later in life? If we fail to react to his small accidents and accidentally begin to ignore his larger accidents too, our children will be disappointed. They’ll adapt and all that, and they might develop tough skin, but they could also develop some problems with attachments and love as an adult? Our initial instinct is to laugh that off as a dramatic example, but the human being is so complex and varied that there is no one-size-fits-all guide to parenting. Could our child develop such a thick skin that he develops personality disorders that lead to unusual levels of selfishness? When a child doesn’t receive the kind of attention from their parents that they need, some adjust and adapt to it wonderfully, and they become more independent and everything the tough love proponents profess, but others seek refuge in the form of substance abuse to mask that pain. We can say that Adrienne’s generation was tougher that we are, but how many of them became alcoholics to swallow the pain they could never communicate properly?

“No matter what you do, you’re going to mess up as a parent, we all do, and the kid will have to deal with the ramifications of your mistakes, but they’ll probably be in the same exact place, at around age 35, whether you were the best parent who ever existed or the worst. The trick is to prepare them for the years between 18 and 35, and the best way to do that is with tough love.”    

Those of us who had parents who intended to employ touch love measures and probably took it too far now find it difficult to watch those movies, or TV shows, that depict parents who don’t care about their kids. With the full power of honest reflection, those of us with an adult, rational mind know that our parents cared about us, but something about the depiction of emotionally detached parents still affects us so much that we can’t watch. The art of comedy involves breaking taboos, and at this point, there aren’t many left to exploit, so the exaggerated jokes about parents not caring about their kids is one of the few left. This situational story line is not new though, as there were shows, movies, and various other productions in the 70’s that depicted narcissist parents who wouldn’t make time for their kids. The kids were the main characters of these productions, as the parents floated in and out of their lives, and the thrust of these pieces involved how children learn to adapt. The children in these pieces would say heartwarming things like, “Our mother was a wandering soul who couldn’t stay in one place for long. We knew her, and we knew she loved us in her own way, but we had to learn how to love her [on her terms].” These productions never portrayed such parents as selfish narcissists, and their perspective was invariably favorable to the mother. They painted her as a strong woman who considered the term mother stifling. We were too young at the time to ask the question, “Why did she have them then?” but that question wasn’t too far away. Most of these concepts were too complex for us, but the portrait they painted in these productions left us with a pit in our stomach, and we often just changed the channel. We didn’t know the details regarding why we considered this such a painfully flawed model, but our exaggerated reaction to it should’ve told us more than we wanted to know about our situation.

Our exaggerated reactions to our parents’ emotionally detached ideas on child rearing might also result in our exaggerated reactions to our child’s accidents. Those of us who cater to our children too much might be trying to rectify the problems of our past, and we might be trying to break the loveless cycle.

Kids learn the nature of their world at a very young age, and the imprint their parents provide often shapes their worldview in an almost irreversible manner. They have a wonderful ability to adapt to the changes that occur in the home, but that imprint often remains. They also gravitate to the notions people have regarding their characteristics. If they’re pretty when they’re young, for example, they gravitate to that notion. Similarly, if they’re funny, smart, strong, athletic, etc. they develop a passion for the pursuits that call for those attributes. In this sense, we could say that passion is almost exclusive to the young for they don’t know better than to invest emotions in something otherwise consider unattainable by more experienced adults. The pain involved in learning limitations is also the province of the young, for nothing hurts worse than discovering limitations for the first time. “You’re pretty,” the guardians at the gate say, “but you’re not that pretty.”

We all learn our limitations, at some point, and we adjust. We learn our limitations when that employer says we’re not smart enough, when our peers say we’re not as funny as we thought, or when a woman says we’re not so handsome that they will date us. We might adapt and adjust by choosing a different pursuit, or a different profession, but we never have the same amount of passion for our adjusted pursuit as we do the dream we pursued in youth when we fantasized about what we might become. On that note, we could say that when a child cries out for attention, as opposed to pain, they are passionately seeking the extent of their parents’ unconditional love, and if the parents fail to respond, the children will adapt, but they might never pursue love again with the same passion. That might prepare them for the ways of the world, but it will also leave an almost irreversible imprint.

In debates such as these, we often reach an impasse. One of the two parties might say, “Can we agree to disagree on this matter?” Proponents of tough love might even say yes, at first, and they might try to move on, but they can’t drop it. It sickens them too much to see parents climb all over themselves to react to a child’s obvious cries for attention to remain silent in the face of it. They cannot hide it, and they keep coming back to it.

Why does this make me so angry?” I asked myself while witnessing a parent fall all over herself to run to the aid of her child. I never considered that question before was the first thing I realized. I was so convinced that my dad, Adrienne, and all proponents of tough love were right that I never considered the ramifications of overdoing it before. I considered the ‘smothering’ reactions to benign accidents such a violation of everything I knew that I considered it a limited ‘I’m right, they’re wrong’ debate, and I still do to some degree, but I never explored why seeing egregious violations makes me so angry before. The answer to that question is that some of the times these impulsive reactions are so impossibly complex that we don’t even bother searching for them. Another answer that calls upon Occam’s razor, suggests that some of the times the answer is so simple that it gets lost in our search for complexities. The answer also has something to do with the idea that when we get so angry over something so trivial that we’re all but baring our teeth is that it might involve some deep-seeded begrudged feelings and psychological underpinnings. The simple answer might also have something to do with the idea that when we were involved in accidents no one ran to our aid. We remember how everyone probably employed tough love a little too often, and while we concede that we might’ve been drama queens, it hurt our feelings when they left us alone, in the middle of the park, crying. Some of the times, the answer is so simplistic that it can’t possibly be true, but when we think about how bent out of shape we, otherwise reasonable people get on this issue, we realize that we might just be jealous.   

The Complex Art of Lying


Most seven-year-olds are barely capable of lying, and their “tells” are often so obvious when they do that they’re hilarious. They need to learn how to do it better, and that knowledge only comes with experience. A Scientific American piece by Theodor Schaarchmidt suggests that lying is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind, and the complexities involved often require peak capacity of the mind. Those with some frontal cortex injuries are incapable of lying, due to their injuries. The young aren’t yet capable of lying with great proficiency, and “Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability.” When elderly people display the fact that they’ve lost some of the complex functions required to lie, we make the mistake of believing they voluntarily disregard the filter we all maintain for polite conversations. “They’ve been on this earth 85 years, and they don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” we say. “They’re done with trying to spare our feelings.” We think it’s funny and intriguing to see this live, but studies cited by Schaarchmidt suggest that there is a U-shaped curve to truth telling, or an ‘n’ shaped curve to lying, and it’s all based on the complex functions of the brain that operate in some of the same peaks and valleys of our physical abilities.

The Scientific American piece also cites an illustrative story involving a man Schaarchmidt names Mr. Pinocchio. Mr. Pinocchio was a 51-year-old who “was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth [lying]. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous it was bad for his career.” The article states that doctors found that a walnut-sized tumor caused seizures whenever he told a lie. “Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties [his lying]. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome”.”

Some lie to advance an agenda, some tell white lies to be nice, and some BS to make others think they’re more successful, more adventurous, and happier. If we catch them in the lie, we’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Everybody does it,” or “if you say you don’t do it, you’re lying.” Those lines are effective, because there is some truth to them. We all tell harmless white lies occasionally. We fabricate, and involve some creativity in our truth telling. Yet, we all know the difference between stretching the truth and lying, and we fear that greater acceptance of small, white lies can affect our relationships with these people, our society, or our culture. The latter might seem like exaggerated hyperbole, but we fear that the society and culture cannot operate properly without some demand for some level of consistent honesty from our fellow man. We can’t help but think that such lines also give liars license to continue to lie without guilt.

***

“A lie is not a lie if you believe it,” the writers from Seinfeld wrote for George Costanza. The implication in this line is that the art of deception requires some effort on the part of the liar to convince himself of a falsehood if he wants to convince another party effectively. Schaarchmidt’s piece suggests that if the liar is between 18 and 29, they might not have to put forth as much effort, as the lie will flow more fluently, if there is no damage to the area of the brain required for the convincing lie.

Who’s lying, and why are they lying? How about we take the Costanza lie one step further and suggest that the liar believes what he’s saying with every fiber of their being. Is it still a lie? The separation of the two is, of course, that the liar doesn’t have to convince himself of the lie. He believes it. Even if it was technically a lie and we can prove its lack of merit beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be difficult to prosecute or persecute them in just about every court in the land, including the court of public opinion.

Perhaps, the liar is guilty of the “blind spot” lie. Blind spot lies are often momentary blotches on the liar’s otherwise stellar record of honesty. Yet, they loathe their adversaries so much that their competitive spirit gets the best of them. They cannot see the hole until they fall into it, and some of them cannot see even see it then, but their followers wonder if he hates them so much that he can no longer see the truth with regard to their opponent. If he can see it for what it is, the blind spot lie often permits its purveyor to lie without compunction if it serves his goal to do so.  

Regardless, he can no longer view simple disagreements with his opponents on how to resolve pressing matters in a nonpartisan manner. He can no longer see an honest disagreement as a simple case of differing values. We don’t know if he has a personal grudge or a professional one, but it’s obvious to everyone but him that his is an emotional pursuit as opposed to a rational one. He is convinced that nefarious influences affect his opponent’s agenda. He views his opponents’ motives as impure. He views his opponents as uninformed, incompetent, selfish, and divisive. He does not view any of his opponents’ mistakes as genuine, of if he does, he capitalizes on them and characterizes them as intentional. He does not think that his opponents are prone to human failure, or if they are, he seeks to characterize them as some sort of institutional failing on their part. In his quest to seek motive, he incidentally accuses them of matters for which he has the most guilt. If he accuses his opponent of thievery, in other words, chances are he knows the thief’s mentality™ better than most. Whatever form of deception lines his accusation, pay careful attention to the particulars of his charge for it might say more about him than it does his opponent. We call this psychological projection.

This blind spot is most disheartening to the liar’s believers, for they believe in him and feel disillusioned by his actions. When they see him dismiss his opponents on a personal level with unfounded charges and names, as opposed to defeating their argument on a granular level, his followers are disappointed. We might enjoy the name-calling, and we might even believe it, but on some other level, we thought “our guy” was above such street games. We thought he was an intellectual that no other intellectual would dare battle until he decided to use his power to shut his opponents down to shut them up. He then called upon others to help him shut down dissenting voices, and it shocked those of us who thought he was a fellow dissenting voice. We didn’t think he would stoop to the other guys’ tactics of corruption, lies, and the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to bring his foes down, but we find some of his actions troublesome. Some blind spot liars knowingly engage in wanton deception, but others have such an emotional blind spot of hatred that they can’t see it for what it is. Most of the times, it is difficult to see the difference, as we can’t know what’s in a man’s heart.

***

The late 1800’s housed an historic rivalry between two West Virginia families. The Hatfields vs McCoy rivalry went beyond a simple disagreement between families. It involved pure hatred that led to murder in some cases. Many consider it one of the greatest family rivalries in history, pitting two families who genuinely hated each other with every fiber of their being. It was not blind hatred, as both families could provide a laundry list of incidents that stoked their ire. As with all animosity and grudges, if the families wanted to find a less violent solution to their dispute they could have at some point on the timeline.  

The Hatfields believed the McCoys were so awful that they accused them of dastardly deeds and vice versa. Some of the times, the charges they made were lies, and some of the times, they committed an equally egregious offense sometime in the past. Yet, the Hatfields viewed the McCoys as evil personified, and they thought everything the McCoys did should offend the sensibilities of every good person who learns of any incidents involving a McCoy, and vice versa. Even if we caught them in a lie, I’m sure they considered it justified on many different levels.

Some famous writers suggest that it’s preposterous to suggest that the most fair-minded among us are objective, as we don’t have the capacity for it. Our opinions, regarding the other side, are so emotional that they colorize how we view their actions. Our emotions, on the matter, blind us to facts, thus the term blind spot. The term blind spot and blind hatred are different, of course, but they intertwine when the latter provokes the former to view the other side as villains who are incapable of truth. We write pieces like this with a certain person in mind, but we run the risk of having a reader read this piece with one of “our guys” in mind.   

We choose sides. Those who follow sports, religion, politics, and the history of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys choose their guys vs. the other guys. Our side is right, and the other side contains villainous liars and corrupt cheats who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. They don’t care about us. We can guess that disinterested parties chose sides during the Hatfields vs. McCoys and proceeded to follow the newspaper stories from their side. They probably developed loyalties that led to their own blind spots on the matter. Even though most of them never met a Hatfield or a McCoy, or ever saw one speak, we can guess that their interest in the story spawned some loyalties on the matter that let them to believe “their guys” were incapable of having blind spots, lying, or any form of corruption bent on destroying the other side. We still have matters that divide us in seemingly trivial ways, as observers around the nation were intrigued, and divided, by this episode in history. We might never know the truth of the matter and in some ways, we don’t care. These episodes rarely affect us directly, so no one really suffers, until it dawns on us that everyone does when it becomes apparent that by picking sides we forego the quest for truth.