The Voluntary Visit to the Dentist


“As nice as you are, I’ve come to realize that you are not my friend,” I told a dental hygienist named Ms. Mary after she provided me a deep cleaning procedure that involved the sights and sounds of my worst nightmares.

Ms. Mary is a very nice, professional woman. Some might even go so far to say that she’s a sweet woman who engages her clients in pleasant conversation. Ms. Mary also has such an unusual, almost melodic laugh that we can’t help but smile and laugh with her. In a place many of us consider one of the scariest places in the world, Ms. Mary’s bedside manner (or in this case chairside) sets us completely at ease. At some point, however, and we both know that this moment is inevitable, Ms. Mary will be putting that chairside manner aside to get to business. Her business is not kind, sweet, and endearing. Her business involves something called a Sickle probe, a Scaler, and the most feared of all dental tools the drill. She doesn’t cackle when she picks that drill up, and no one cues up harrowing music to inform us that the setting is changing. She just quietly turns around to gather her tools, perhaps while we’re answering her last question, and she returns to us in a manner that allows the worst elements of our imagination to take over. 

Some of Ms. Mary’s tools make the most awful sounds, and some of the other ones help her chip away at the plaque and other buildup her patients have so recklessly acquired over the years. They’re all painful. At some point in her process, we inform Ms. Mary that we obviously don’t have enough painkiller, and at another point in the process we realize there never will be enough. Ms. Mary appears to do her best to accommodate us, but we know, somewhere deep in our heart, that Ms. Mary is an awful person who enjoys this far too much. 

When I tried to assure Ms. Mary that I was just joking when I said ’you are not my friend,’ she said, “Oh, don’t worry about that. I love my job.” That convinced me that she knew I was just joking, but it also led me to wonder if she might be something of a psychopath. She loves doing this to me? She loves doing this to kind, well-meaning people like me so much that she’s been doing it for over ten years? Ms. Mary appeared to be such a pleasant, well-centered, and happy person that I’m sure I’ll feel different about her next week, so I have to write this now.

I know this is Ms. Mary’s job, and I know someone has to do this job, and I know that neglectful clients like me need someone to do this to me, but I can’t help but suspect that if Ms. Mary enjoys doing such awful things to otherwise pleasant men and women like me, who never do anything to harm anyone, she might have some psychopathic tendencies. If as Diffen.com says, “[Psychopaths] can pretend to be charming and loving, so those around them can’t always detect their lack of empathy,” I think Ms. Mary might have some tendencies that remind us of psychopaths. Before we dismiss this idea, I think we should look up the job history of some of our country’s worst psychopathic serial killers to see if we can find some corollaries. My bet is we find one who says:

“I was a dental hygienist for a couple years, and I found it absolutely thrilling, but I realized I needed to inflict more pain after a while. There was a reason that I was attracted to the profession in the first place though.”

No one portrayed the sadistic tendencies of a dentist better than Laurence Olivier in the movie Marathon Man. There was one relatively horrific scene in this otherwise boring movie in which Olivier threatens to pull a healthy tooth from his patient without painkillers, unless the patient gives him the information he needs. The reason I consider the horror in this scene relative is that when I’m nowhere near a dentist’s chair, I don’t understand why anyone would consider having a healthy tooth pulled without painkillers so frightening that they would give up state secrets. When Ms. Mary and the dentist liberated me from their office, after a couple hours of a level of torture most of us know, however, I remember that movie scene with a shudder.

The entire scene of lying supine, mouth open, awaiting whatever they have planned, is such a vulnerable one. I know I would’ve talked if Laurence Olivier prodded some sensitive nerves, telling me, “You need to take better care of your teeth.” If he hit those sensitive nerves with the high-pitched sounds of his drill, and I had no painkillers, I suspect I might give up every state secret I knew.

Some talk about the high-pitched sounds of a drill with abject horror. This conversation is so common and the need to address the fear is so prevalent that most dentist office’s now provide their clients headphones to drown the sounds out. Clients and prospective clients also talk about how much they hate the pain involved, so they take all of the painkillers the dentist has to offer, plus the nitrous oxide. Some potential clients seek dentists who have all of painkillers the state will allow. 

Prior to this particular dentist office visit, I informed these people that I turned down all but the basic painkiller, because I just want to hurry up and end whatever procedures they proscribe for the horrors going on in my mouth. I preferred to endure the pain to expedite the process. I did not want to wait for the nitrous to take hold. I just wanted them to start, so they could end sooner. Something changed for me this time. I don’t know if I psyched myself into a frenzy or what, but when they started drilling, I raised a hand and asked for more painkiller and more time for the nitrous to take hold. I took all the painkillers they had at their disposal this time and the headphones.

***

I’ve heard about the Stockholm syndrome in which the captive begins to develop unusual feelings of trust and affection for their captors. Some of the captives, used in various case examples, developed an emotional attachment to the captors who tortured them, and they did so because they became reliant on their captors for survival. At some point in the torture, they slipped from being a hostile captive to a cooperative one, and finally to one who unwittingly began to side with their captors’ cause. Everyone develops coping mechanisms for stressful moments, and while we understand that sitting in a dentists’ chair is not in the same league with all of the various forms of torture, it does give those of us who know nothing of real torture some insight into what we might do if our captors knew the right nerves to hit to get us to talk. 

My coping mechanism for dealing with this low-level stress was writing the article you’re reading right now. I wrote most of this article, in my mind of course, while Ms. Mary chipped away at my plaque, and I completed it when the dentist did what he did. When Ms. Mary tapped a sensitive nerve, I laughed. I did not laugh because I’m impervious to pain. I laughed because I thought of a great line that I hoped to add right here … but I lost it after my drug-induced state wore off. I remembered thinking that it was such a great line that I should hurry up and do something before I forgot it, and I knew that it would get lost in the ether, or to the ether, and I probably should hurry up and write it down. I didn’t write it down, or even say it to Ms. Mary to make it more memorable, because as much as I live for great sentences, I didn’t want to prolong the process for even a minute more.    

I experienced a small window into how I might fare under torture when Ms. Mary drilled into a nerve that was not sufficiently dulled with painkillers. She responded in the manner I hoped she would, but I couldn’t help but think of what I might do if my captors not only didn’t stop when they hit that nerve, but they continued to explore the extent of my pain to get me to do whatever they wanted. We’d all love to think we would be that heroic captive who never talked, but receiving a drill to a tender, exposed nerve reminds us why we revere those who endured what we cannot even imagine. I thought about how much I might hate the people doing this to me while they were it, and I thought about how glorious it would be for me when they decided to stop. 

When the dentist finally decided I had enough, I appreciated his mercy so much that I felt grateful. It’s over, I survived, and I appreciated his contributions to my survival. The Stockholm syndrome suggests that the captive might appreciate their captors mercy for stopping. Those who study this effect say it doesn’t always happen to captives, but it’s obviously happened so often that we’ve developed a term for it. For those who want to understand how this anomaly might happen, try going ten years between dentist visits. When the scraping, grinding, and drilling finding stops, it feels like they’re being merciful, kind, and sympathetic, and the euphoria you feel might lead you to inexplicable feelings of affection that you don’t have for people who have never drilled anything into your face for a couple hours.

***

The thing about going to the dentist is that it’s voluntary. If we want to keep our teeth, and keep them in such good shape so that they might last for most of our lives, we must visit the dentist biannually. Yet, it’s still voluntary. When we don’t visit the dentist’s office, no one will think less of us, because no one will ever know. They might see the destruction of our teeth, over time, but no one suspects that it has anything to do with the fact that we haven’t visited a dentist’s office in a while. They just cringe when we smile, and they think less of us, but they don’t associate it with how often we visit the dentist.

My dad had a miracle cure, milk. He thought the calcium in milk helped preserved his teeth so well that he didn’t have to brush, and he didn’t visit a dentist’s office for most of his life. He thought milk, and the calcium therein, were the miracle cures to maintaining oral health to the point of having his natural teeth into his old age. A high school friend of mine never brushed his teeth, and he never visited the dentist’s office. His miracle cure was Listerine. Both men found the error of their line of thinking in “the most painful experience I’ve ever had” when they eventually found their teeth so painful that a visit to the dentist proved to be the lesser of two evils. 

If they hadn’t volunteered this information, we would’ve never known, because no one lauds a responsible person for responsibly visiting a dentist biannually, and no one talks about a person who doesn’t. “There goes Bud, he hasn’t visited a dentist’s office in ten years.” I’ve never heard anyone say this, or anything else, about a person and the regularity of their dentist visits. There’s no peer pressure, parental pressure, or any form of pressure, other than internal, to routinely address what could be a problem if we don’t.

“It’s voluntary? You mean I don’t have to subject myself to pain if I don’t want to do so? I have to be self-motivated to subject myself to the pain involved? Even those who regularly visit the dentist responsibly experience some pain in every visit? Who, in their right mind, would do this on a biannual basis?”

“The longer you wait the more painful it will be.”

“So, the only motivation to endure regular visits, and the resultant pain involved, is to stave off the prospect of more pain?”

Most of the rewards for enduring everything Ms. Mary has at her disposal on a biannual basis, to maintain a healthy mouth, are not short-term. If we maintain that regular schedule, it’s possible that we might never experience a toothache. Yet, if we never have a toothache, how much do we appreciate it? If there are so few tangible, short-term rewards, what are the long term ones? Well, if we’re lucky enough to live to our 70’s, 80’s, and beyond, we might be able to luxuriate in the idea that we’re one of the few who still have most, if not all, of our natural teeth, but we’ll have to wait decades to lord that over our peers. How will they respond to that? What will be our lifelong reward for having the various dentists and their Ms Marys drill into our face for a couple of hours two times a year for decades? If we’re lucky enough to live that long, we might one day receive nothing more than an unceremonious shrug from that guy who is now forced to wear dentures.

The Fear of Getting Punched in the Face


“I just hit that guy as hard as he’ll ever be hit,” a professional boxer said of his opponent, “but I don’t see at as cruel or mean to do so. I see it as a liberating that guy from the fear of being punched in the face, because no one else will ever punch him that hard as long as he lives. He’s free now, as I see it, and I hope he uses it.”

Wow, that guy had to be joking. That was just so over-the-top that it was almost funny. Once we’re done laughing, we chew on this unusual, unorthodox philosophy, and we realize that it makes some sort of twisted sense. We think about how much we did to avoid a fight in junior high and high school, and we think about how liberating it might have been if we had no fear of getting punched in the face so hard that no one will ever be able to duplicate it. Aside from the pain involved, there is something shocking about getting punched in the face. If the same person delivered a similar blow to our stomach, it might hurt just as bad, but it wouldn’t feel quite as shocking or personal. 

If we didn’t receive such a blow by the time we graduated from high school, it’s likely we never will. When we were younger, however, the perceived threat of being punched often led to a fear of the unknown. Most of us didn’t have an older brother, a neighborhood kid, friends, or enemies to diminish this fear of fighting, or getting punched, so no one ever liberated us from this fear in the manner the boxer proposed.

I never heard this theory when I was young, but I can tell you that this fear of getting punched did not influence my reaction to Sean throwing a wadded up ball of piece of paper at my face, and it wasn’t a feat of bravery either. By the time Sean threw that at me, to impress Dave, I’d simply had enough.

Dave was the superstar defensive tackle, in our high school, who would go onto play college ball. Dave never had anything to prove to anyone in high school. Sean, however, was a medium-sized guy who was always on the lookout to prove himself. Those who were near him, on the hierarchical totem pole of teenagers, often received his proverbial boot to their face, so Sean could define himself worthy of the respect and friendship of someone like Dave. The proverbial boot to the face, in my case, was a wadded up ball of paper that landed so flush that Sean and Dave found it hilarious.

I didn’t waste a second. I grabbed that ball of paper, threw it in Sean’s face, and loomed over his desk.

“Knock it off!” the scariest teacher in our school yelled. “Return to your seat!” he said yelling my name. It took me about fifteen seconds to cool down, and I did after the scary teacher screamed at me again at the top of his lungs. I sat back down, and I tried to cool off. “You two, see me after class,” the teacher yelled, calling out our names, in his baritone voice.

“You think you’re a tough guy don’t you?” the football star, Dave, whispered to me when class was over.

“I don’t,” I said. “I really don’t, but I’m not going to put up with that.”

What Sean and Dave didn’t understand was that I put up with such incidents for years, and I never did anything about it, because I feared I might not fare well in the final confrontation. Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a strategy, until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s true, but how many failed strategies do we employ to avoid getting punched in the mouth? How many bullies proceeded unimpeded with the implicit threat of a punch to the mouth? “We both know you’re not going to do anything about it, because you don’t want to get punched in the mouth.”  

Getting punched in the mouth hurts, and losing fights is so embarrassing that we do whatever we can to avoid it. In the cushy world our parents provided us, by sending us to good, quality schools, we never had to fight before, and we feared that the guy, challenging our manhood, might expose that.

We’ve witnessed all of the non-confrontational tactics our fellow nerds used to try to end their torment. We’ve witnessed some try laughing with their bullies, as if that might convince their bully that they’re in on the joke. It’s as if the nerd is saying, “That shot at my character not only failed to hurt my feelings, I thought it was actually pretty funny.” Most of us never tried this tactic, because we never saw it work. We’ve also witnessed some nerds laugh when their bully picks on another nerd in a desperate quest to form some level of solidarity with their tormentors. This calls to mind another Tyson quote, “A man that’s a friend of everyone is an enemy to himself.” We empathize with the nerds’ efforts of course, as they desperately try anything to end their torment, but those of us who survived high school know that nothing works better than finding a way to prove that we don’t fear the final confrontation. Nerds cannot overdo it either, for that exposes the effort for what it is. We nerds need to muster up the courage to look the bully in the eye (and that’s essential) and say something that suggests we don’t fear being punched in the mouth. I wish I could give my fellow nerds a great line to end to it all, but the best lines are usually situational.

After Sean and I received our tongue-lashing from the teacher, Sean turned to me, as we walked away from the teacher’s desk, “Why did you do that? Why did you get us in trouble?” The disdain in his voice, and face, made it clear that Sean wasn’t trying to double-talk me into accepting blame for what happened. His attempt to deflect blame did not dumbfound me either, for I knew a number of kids who genuinely didn’t understand the role they played in such incidents. Kids, and young adults, aren’t equipped with rational or objective thinking, but some of us were forced to acknowledge our roles in such incidents so often that we knew better. Others, particularly only children, only boys in the family, and the youngest child, often luxuriate in a golden child syndrome without consciously knowing it. Sean obviously thought he was just being silly, and he thought the act of hitting someone flush in the face with a ball of paper is funny. Doesn’t everyone think that’s funny? I probably shouldn’t try to psychoanalyze Sean’s reaction too much, but it was obvious that he thought my reaction to it was so over the top that if I wasn’t going to apologize for it, I should at least accept most of the blame for us getting in trouble.

Thus, I knew saying, “You started it” was a complete waste of everyone’s time, because he would’ve said the same back, and we would’ve engaged in that stupid, little dance. “I’ll tell you what,” I said, looking him straight in the eye. “You stay in your little corner of the world, and I’ll stay in mine. As far as I’m concerned you don’t exist from this day forward, and if you are able treat me the same way, then we’ll get along just fine.” That wasn’t a line I dreamed up, or some sort of nerd tactic. I meant every word of it.

Sean did not abide by that resolution. He tested my resolve in the ensuing days, by walking uncomfortably close to me, looking me in the eye, saying things like, “Hey, what up dude?” in a deep, baritone voice. These greetings were as confrontational as any non-confrontational greeting can be. He was testing our boundaries for some reason, but I ignored him as if he were on another planet, as I said I would.  

This continued for a couple days, until he said “What up?” in a non-confrontational tone that lacked confrontation. I ignored him as if he were from another planet, but I did notice that his tone was no longer sarcastic. In the following days, this kid wouldn’t leave me alone. Every time Sean saw me, he hello’d me in all the variations a teen hellos another teen. Was he violating my dictum? He was, but in some peculiar ways he wasn’t. Sean obviously developed some odd form of respect for me in the course of that week.

“I meant what I said,” I told him after about the third such greeting.

“Ok,” he said, and he said nothing more.

“Then, what are you doing?”

“Just saying hi.”

I was suspicious, skeptical and cynical, but I replied, “Hi!” back in a deep, baritone voice that mocked his earlier one. After doing that once or twice, I began saying hi back to him on occasion, and begrudgingly, because I felt some bizarre need to be polite. Other than those few occasions when I acknowledged another human being, being polite, I maintained the suspicious, skeptical and cynical nature combined with whatever distance I established a week prior.      

Before turning polite, I think Sean believed that my desire to get him to like me and/or respect me fueled my reaction to him. As much as I hate to write this, girls adored that kid. They considered him good-looking, well dressed, and cool, and they considered me the antithesis of all that. I can only guess that that in Sean’s world order, he thought I spent the time we shared in school involved me looking up at him with some form of child-like adoration. We’ve all seen that movie where the nerd eventually manages to find some unique ways to gain respect from the cool kids. We leave those movies thinking that’s every nerd’s goal in life. This was not one of those stories. I’m not going to write that I didn’t envy him, or that I would’ve loved to change places with him, but I did not like him, and I didn’t respect him. 

I didn’t know what he was up to when he started saying hello to me in a polite, nice manner, and I was so suspicious that I figured it was only a matter of time before I found out what the master ploy of his congenial manner was. I figured it might result in some cinematic scene of the cool kid exacting some revenge for getting him in trouble, but it never did.

We nerds try a number of tactics. We try telling the teacher, and we try out smarting our bullies. I can only guess that the tactic I used in this case worked, because it wasn’t a tactic. I also proved, over the course of the next week that it wasn’t a tactic, and that I didn’t care if my reaction to his wadded up ball of paper led to a final confrontation.

By the time Sean tested my boundaries, I’d had enough. I didn’t care, at that point. Even if it was the 6’5”, 250 lb., defensive tackle who threw that ball of paper at me, I would’ve risked a hospital stay, and a month spent in traction just to send a message that I was done with it all. I was done with fearing a punch in the face. I was done, with figuratively and literally, taking it on the chin, because I feared that the other guy might have older brothers who taught him how to punch and how to fight. This whole idea that I feared the unknown world of fighting just didn’t have the mystique it once did for me, when the alternative involved me allowing them to do whatever they wanted to do to me.

I’m smaller than average male now, but I was a little one back then, and I wasn’t one of those scrappy little guys who knew how to fight. In the few scrapes that came my way, I proved that I don’t know what I’m doing. There is, however, that flirtation we all have that if driven to the extreme, we might surprise them all with a sweeping haymaker that would be a shot heard ‘round our world. The truth, if we ever found out, is that our most “devastating” punch will probably come off as uninformed and untrained as we fear, BUT, more often than not, so will the other guy’s.

How many of us wish we could go back in this world and redress the wrongs done to us? I changed the course of one incident, and as you can probably tell I’m quite proud of it, but it was the result of silently putting up with so many others. I also thought that if I did this to one person, word might spread, and I might not have to put up with others bullying me. Life doesn’t work that way, especially in high school. I also thought that if I displayed the temerity necessary to prove myself one day, I might be better prepared to do it again later. Again, life doesn’t work that way. Each confrontation is its own separate entity, and each high school student has to deal with it accordingly.

How many of us so feared the thought of being punched in the face that we allowed far too many confrontational teases to go unchallenged? How many of us would love to go back to that world and say, “I honestly don’t give a crap if you punch me anymore. Punch me! Do it! Let’s just get this whole thing over with. I should warn you, however, that I’m going to help you christen this moment by bleeding and crying all over you.”

That probably wouldn’t diffuse any situation, but I thought of the unusual rebuttal one night, thinking of another incident that occurred so long ago that it is laughable that it still bothers me. When I found out that my sister-in-law does the same thing, I didn’t feel so alone. Her confession did lead me to wonder how many of us remember these character-defining, yet decades-old incidents at three in the morning? How many of us get so tense over these moments that we might as well climb out of bed, pour ourselves a bowl of cereal and watch a sitcom to try to erase that 5th grade memory from our mind. Did we dream about it? We don’t know, but we know we won’t be able to get back to sleep until we rewrite the whole memory in such a way that we end up whipping them with Indiana Jones’ bullwhip for some reason. 

The best advice I can give someone facing a similar incident is that your liberation from fear will probably occur a short time after you’ve exhausted every tactic you can think up and every resource available. It probably won’t arrive in the midst of your desperation either. The moment of liberation, in my experience, occurs shortly after you stop giving a fig what might happen. If we do it to get the Seans of our life to respect and like us, we probably won’t be able to muster up the conviction necessary to stop it. Similarly, if we use tactics, we probably won’t believe in them half as much as we should. What it took for me to get one of the most hated bullies in our school to leave me alone was being done with all that to the point that I no longer feared the punch to the face, the fight that followed, or whatever the final confrontation entailed. What it took for me was to approach this matter in a relatively fearless perspective, and I only reached that point after years of abuse.

The point of this article is that for nerdy dads who fear that their nerdy sons are headed down the same road, it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible that all of these modern anti-bullying programs have made great strides in ending what I had to endure throughout my youth, but I don’t know how statisticians would go about quantifying their success. I’m also not so confident in them that I’m going to trust that my son won’t have to find some place beyond desperation to end his torment. I also know that with the modern dictum against masculinity, I’m not supposed to encourage my son to do anything more masculine that might help him in the jungle-like climate on the playground. My guess is that even the most modern boy on the most modern playground still exhibit some of the most primal elements on the playground, when the teacher isn’t looking, and he’s going to zero in on the boy who’s afraid to fight. I know most early aged kids don’t fight each other, and most of them don’t punch each other either, and most of them probably don’t even think in such terms. My personal experience in the jungle-like atmosphere on the playground taught me that this changes much quicker than most people know.

We can try to be there for our kids, but we know there is a frustrating extent to that. We also know that we can alert the authority figures in our kid’s school, and we can write emails to school district leaders if their more immediate authority figures don’t respond to our satisfaction. We can become that satellite parent ensures the safety and well-being of our kid, but there is a frustrating extent to that too. There’s a frustrating extent to any tactics that we, as parents, can employ. The best tactic available to us is to teach them how to defend themselves in the “best defense is a good offense” mindset. The tactic might teach them what it means to take a punch to the face in some relatively safe, controlled environment. If the unorthodox philosophy of the boxer in the intro of this article holds any weight, one of the elements that impede development is the fear of getting punched, will our kids be any different if they receive those shocking blows young? If we enroll them in boxing schools or one of the various martial arts schools that house heavily cushioned gloves to soften the impact of the blow so that our young kids can experience getting hit in the face without experiencing too much pain or damage, is it possible that we might be able to erase some of the stages we went through to defeat our bullies? It probably won’t have the same impact as a bare-knuckled punch, but if we want our children to lead better lives, it could liberate them from the fear that we experienced in our youth, and it might turn out to be the best money we’ve ever spent.  

I Hated Myself, and I Wanted to Dye


If you thought you “unliked” me before, wait till you get a load of this? I thought after dying my hair as a freshman in college. It worked for me before, I thought, in grade school. I sent a shot heard ’round my world, in grade school, with one of the weirdest, wildest hairdos anyone had ever seen. They probably thought I forgot to comb my hair the first day, until I walked into school with that hairdo so often that they could no longer characterize it as an accident. By some measures, it was a total failure in that those who didn’t ostracize me prior to the hairdo did after I walked into school with it for six straight days. If they hated that hairdo that much what will these people think of this, I thought of my dye job? If this experiment was a total failure, in grade school, and I hoped to do it again in college. 

My first experiment with shock and failure began when I spotted an older kid on the playground with what I considered a weird and wild hairdo, and I consider it an experiment now, for lack of a better way to describe it. I did not consider it an experiment back then. I thought this was the new me, and I silently forced everyone around me to accept and acknowledge this new me. I loved all of the shock and awe I saw, and I secretly and subconsciously loved the failure. I know that sounds odd, but even in my immature, unformed brain, I found failure more interesting. So, when I look back on it now, I label it my first experiment with self-imposed failure.

When I first spotted that other kid with a shocking hairdo, I thought he was sending a message to us. I didn’t know what that message was, but as I tried to understand it and help him define it, I realized it wasn’t all that important to me what his message was. I thought I might be able to send my own message to those who recently declared me “unliked”, and I considered his hairdo the perfect vehicle. Thus, when I later realized that this kid wasn’t sending a message to anyone, and that he just had a bad case of hathair the day I spotted him, it didn’t take me off course. 

How does he get away with that? was the first thought I had staring at the kid. Doesn’t he realize how difficult it is to escape the impressions others have of us once we do something like that? In my underdeveloped brain, I thought this kid was at the forefront of a movement, an “I don’t care what you think” movement, that I wanted to take part in. I thought the message he was sending us was meticulous and carefully orchestrated. I thought it was so outlandish to have such a hairdo that I considered it a little dangerous, and I knew I had to get me some of that. 

My other reaction to his hairdo was one of anger. You can’t just wear your hair anyway you want. We have conventions and rules, and you’re shattering them. Look at this guy. He’s flaunting and taunting our accepted way of life. I don’t know if I modified my thinking on the playground, on the ride home from school that day, or at home, but somewhere between that day and the next, I decided I wanted people to react to me the way I reacted to him. I wanted my peers to dislike me for my hair the way I disliked him for his. In some deep, dark recesses of my immature subconscious I thought if I gave them a reason to dislike me, it might clear up some of the confusion I had for why they did. I wanted to say they don’t like me, because they don’t understand me. The truth for me, at the time, was that they knew everything about me, and they understood me. They spent five years with me, so their decision to “unlike” me was an informed one, and it stung so bad that I wanted to do something to suggest that I had some control of it.

I romanticized that kid’s shocking hairdo so much that I showed up for school the next day with my own, individual version of it. The difference between my version and his was that he had what I now know to be a typical hathair crimp that pushed the bottom reaches of the hair out a tad. I enhanced that crimp by pushing my hair all the way up and out, until it was pointing out at 90-degree angles. My classmates didn’t understand it, and they weren’t shy about telling me that I needed to fix it. My teacher went so far as to pull me out of class for a private session loaded with pertinent and professional questions about my well-being. 

If some characterize this hairdo as going punk rock, I didn’t even know what punk rock was at the time, and I showed it. Going full-fledged, Sid Vicious punk rock requires one to have all their hair standing up and at attention. Sid Vicious punk rockers wouldn’t have understood my decision to maintain sensible hair down the middle. It was my individual, uninformed version of a mullet, except my business was in the middle, and my party was on the sides. 

So, my statement wouldn’t have fared well in punk rock circles either, and if I knew that I probably would’ve found that delicious in some odd way that I still find a little unsettling and thrilling. I don’t know what it said about my psychological well-being at the time, but I enjoyed the fact that those who didn’t dislike me before were now uncomfortable being around me or associating their reputations with mine. I also knew they now had a justifiable reason for unliking me.

I’ve never been a punk rock fan, but I understand its ethos, and its greater appeal. To be punk rock is to never try to understand your appeal or lack thereof, and any attempt its purveyors make to understand it is something punk rockers regard as selling out. My personal definition of the punk rock ethos involved shouting out confusion in some primal form of therapy that asks everyone else to question their values and social mores in reaction to you, and it also staves off personal introspection and interpersonal answers that can prove painful.  

I also know the origins of the ‘what do you want me to do?’, punk rock confusion. The ‘What do I have to do to get you to like me again?’ war is unwinnable, because if we were to ask them, both parties know their answers would be self-incriminating. So, they wouldn’t want to give us an answer if they had one. How many otherwise insecure pre-teens would answer, “I don’t like you anymore, because I think you’re an …” They don’t answer because most of them are relatively nice people who don’t want to do or say anything awful to people that might come back to characterize them as awful. It’s a no-win situation for them. The idea that they just don’t like us anymore is an unspoken pact that they hope we learn to abide by without further questions. They just don’t like us anymore, one day, because no one else does.

The “unlike” Facebook corollary to my grade school years is apt, if one considers having a Facebook page that everyone follows for years, and then, all of a sudden, for no stated reason, everyone starts to unlike. What do we do in the face of such rejection? An insecure, preteen, assumes their peers have justifiable reasons, or a group rationale, for why, but they don’t want to open that can of worms by asking them. An insecure preteen just assumes this is their new world.

Anyone who has ever been ostracized understands the confusion that starts with people who know us, sitting “together” at different lunch tables. We can’t sit next to them one day, because there are “saved” seats open to everyone but us. When it happens a third and a fourth time, we begin to realize it’s not a coincidence. Our classmates are, for no stated reason, making open declarations that we are “the unliked”. As painful as these declarations are, we can’t say they’re uninformed, because they know everything about us. As much as we say we don’t care what others think of us, the effect of others ostracizing us has some effects on us. We can’t go back in a time machine to ask them what happened. If we ask them why now, they’d say, “That happened so long ago.” We were so confused back then, and we couldn’t understand any of it. We understand some of it now, but it doesn’t diminish the effect.

How many awful things do the they have to say to our best friends, before the foundation of our friendship starts to crack? We thought they were so cool, and that they were the leaders of the thought movement in our world. We thought our friendship was so strong that it should’ve fortified their resolve, but even the greatest arches, built by the most talented civil engineers and architects, have a threshold. We thought everyone wanted to like him, and that he didn’t have to do anything to have others like him, but even the coolest of cool thought leaders eventually have to cut weight if they want others to continue to like them.

In the space of all that confusion, we go punk rock. I don’t know what going punk rock means to anyone else, but I sought out the weirdest and wildest hairdo, and I later dyed my hair, because I couldn’t understand why everyone “unliked” me when I needed them most. As I’m sure the perceptive reader understands, there were many other things going on with this pre-teen to teenage version of me that dwarfed my need for friendship, but I chose to focus on what I thought I might be able to somewhat, sort of control. There were bona fide reasons why they chose to “unlike” me, and it had little to do my personality. If they even flirted with the notion of helping me in anyway, they didn’t know how to go about doing it, so they did what any overwhelmed kid does in such a situation. They tried to avoid the situation by staying away, and as an equally confused teen I didn’t do anything to ease their confusion. I tried to push them further away by physically saying, I don’t need you, and I don’t want to be around you either, and I don’t like you, and I’m going to manifest this shout out with the weirdest, wildest hairdo you’ve ever seen, so we can all fill in these blanks together. 

The Young and Stupid Clause


“Everything I did before the age of 25 should be wiped off my personal record.” I say this now, not to void a criminal record, because I didn’t have one, but to suggest that we all agree to expunge from our impressions everything we hear about a person before they turned 26. I’m talking about enhancing the social contracts that we all have with one another. I’m talking about us developing a social contract equivalent to the state’s procedure of expunging our criminal record as a minor, depending on the charges. If we commit an egregious transgression that goes on our permanent record, socially and criminally, but I say we forgive and forget the minor transgressions a person tells us from their life before they turned 26. I propose that we develop a personal, social, and cultural young and stupid clause that states, “Anything and everything we do before the age of 26 is officially off the record. We will not think any less of you, based on what you did before that age, because you were young and stupid at the time.”

We can laugh at one another. We can picture their mini-mes making character-defining decisions, and we can “I just can’t picture you doing that!” one another with some judgment. When the laughter dies, however, I propose that we forget it all under the “but you were young and stupid” umbrella, because we were all young and stupid once, and most of us became old and wise as a result.

We naturally excuse any actions that occur before 18, because that’s when most of us were truly young and truly stupid, but neurologists say, “brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s.” Based on that news, I say we personally extend that agreed upon consideration we have for one another to all actions that occur before age 26.

I still cringe when I think about how incredibly stupid I was. I’m no award winning intellect now, but I’ve come a long, long way since my 26th birthday. I managed to disprove the state’s idea that a 16-year-old is responsible enough to be behind the wheel, and every weekend thereafter, I proved that a 21-year-old is not old enough, or mature enough to handle alcohol. Thanks to the statements neurologists make on this subject, I cringe a lot less now, and I feel less shame for the things I did before 26, under the umbrella that my brain was far less developed and mature than I thought it was.

Age is a relative concept, as females generally mature quicker than males, and some males mature quicker than others do. When I look back now, I tend to think I’m looking back at another person, and in many ways I am. I am almost completely different than I was then. If 180 degrees is completely different, I might be 170 degrees different.  

When the Mental Health Daily (MHD) website cites the statement from a group of neurologists, it lists a number inhibitors that might further delay to brain development until “possibly the 30s” including alcohol abuse, chronic stress, poor diet, relationship troubles, social isolation, and sleep problems. The 25-30 me might raise my hand to all of the above, as I don’t think I explored the advantages of maturity until I approached my 29th birthday. One other inhibitor they don’t add, but I do, is parental stress. Some of us had parents who mercilessly pounded maturity, responsibility, and overall development into our heads, and we naturally spent our teens and twenties spent rebelling against those edicts.

I still don’t know what I was rebelling against when my dad wasn’t around, but my beacon revolved around the line, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whaddya got?” from the movie The Wild One and the George Costanza line, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.”

“The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at 25,” the MHD website adds, and the writer of the article includes, “Adults over the age of 25 tend to feel less sensitive to the influence of peer pressure and have a much easier time handling it.”

I try to convince myself that I wasn’t as susceptible to peer pressure as I was. “There’s no way I did that,” I tell myself, when I know I did. I know I was young and stupid.

Those of us who were lucky enough to survive our stupidity eventually achieve a form of stair-stepping acceptance of how stupid we were that mirrors the stages of grief. These stages are relative, of course, as we all go through these stages in different ways and different times. There’s the “There’s no way I did that,” denial. The “Shut up, there’s no way I did that,” anger directed at people who remind us of how stupid we were, followed by a “Well, if I did that, you did this,” level of denial, and it all culminates in some depressing acceptance, “I know what I did, but I was young and stupid.”

We try to convince ourselves that we were never so stupid that we did things for the sole purpose of impressing our peers. Our thoughts go to a form of confirmation bias that permits us to view such incidents in favorable terms that highlight when we did face peer pressure down during seminal moments in our life, and we conveniently forget those moments when pleasing our peers motivated us to do some pretty stupid things. We also infuse our current, more adult ideas on peer pressure with those of our youth.  

Psychologists say that we conveniently forget horrific, tragic moments for the purpose of attaining quality mental health. Anyone who has relived the horrific details of a tragic moment in their lives, thanks to a powerful drug such as a quality dose of morphine in the hospital, knows how and why the mind selectively remembers for proper mental health. Does the mind selectively selectively “misremember” stupid decisions we made in our youth, so that we can live with the belief that we’ve always made rational decisions? Does this power to forget help us progress toward a final outcome by improving the ego, the self-esteem, and what have you? If that’s the case, why do we remember it one night, staring up at the ceiling at three A.M., during a mean case of insomnia. Is it as simple as we can handle it now, or does it have something to do with this idea that we’ve reached a point, in our progress, where we need to grapple with the stupidity of our youth before we continue to progress. We know we might be reaching here, and over complicating matters, but we don’t understand why we remember how stupid and vulnerable to suggestion we were, at three A.M., after conveniently forgetting about our failures for decades. 

Perhaps it has something to with another clause we should invoke whenever we hear otherwise responsible adults tell tales of utter irresponsibility and outright stupidity from their youth, the “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” clause. Perhaps we need a reminder every once in a while that we should be grateful we weren’t maimed in some mental or physical ways as a result of our stupidity. Perhaps we should be grateful that we’re here to tell these tales with a relatively sound mind and body. If we’re religious, we might want to take a moment to thank God. Regardless who we thank, we should think about the circumstances we survived, and think about how easily they could’ve gone the other way. When we hear about young kids doing stupid things that cost them their lives, we shouldn’t dismiss them solely on the basis that they were stupid. Dismissing someone as stupid allows the purveyor of such a proclamation a pass on everything they did in their youth, without accounting for all the incredibly stupid things they did, and they just happened to survive. We should consider ourselves lucky that we didn’t suffer a similar fate, and we should tell the otherwise responsible adults as much after they’re tale is complete.  

***

I know this is going to be an unpopular statement, but a part of what kept me from ruining my faculties with an exclamation point were the state and local laws. I was not scared of police in the truest sense, but I feared what they might do to me if I did something to deserve it. If a judge asked me if I had a problem with alcohol, I would’ve said no, and I would’ve believed it. If the judge asked me if my family had a history with alcohol. I would’ve said no. Both would’ve been lies, but I would’ve said them out of fear. Why would I lie, under oath, to a judge? Look at me, do you think I’d do well in jail, and I’ve probably added forty pounds in the last twenty-five years.

“Hey, you’ve put on some weight,” a former co-worker once said, after about a decade of separation.

“In the pantheon of greetings,” I joked, “that might’ve been one of the worst I ever heard.”

“No seriously, you look like a man now,” he said. “You used to be so skinny. You looked like a little boy.”

Can you imagine a 21-year-old, 40-lb skinnier me walking past a yard of hooting and hollering inmates? I know, child molesters receive a penalty worse than death in jail, but can you imagine if a grown, legal-aged man with child-like, waifish features walked into cellblock among convicts wrestling to control their daily urges to violate purity? The fear of what could happen if I violated those state and local laws, combined with the fictional depictions of life in prison, kept me in close proximity to the straight and narrow.

I was still so out of control and stupid with non-jailable offenses that I can’t believe I’m writing to you now with something in close proximity to a sound mind. We’ve all witnessed those who whose weight is so out of control that the flap that covers their zipper has been pushed back to expose their zipper. That was me, except my struggle didn’t involve weight. It was testosterone. I had testosterone all but pushing out my pores, and I never sought a proper channel for it. How many young men, 20-25 years-old, have the good sense to channel their energy and testosterone properly?

Now, our voting public, and our state and federal representatives are dissolving and diminishing laws that might otherwise control 20-25 year-old males, who struggle to control their testosterone-fueled dreams of ruining whatever remains of their relatively immature brains. I know I ask you to forgive and forget whatever I did before age 25, but when we’re deciding on ballot measures, it might be better to remember that respect and fear of the law might be one of the primary reasons why we’re here to discuss these matters. Depending on what we did in our youth, the fear of an ultimate authority figure declaring us unfit to walk around with the law-abiding citizens might recede depending on how we vote. 

Ultimately, I was the good kid and the good young man in my group who didn’t want to harm anyone but himself. Even in my small cadre of friends, I was the exception. Punching other people who deserved it, and teaching them whatever lesson they could dream up was part of the party for my friends.   

This leads to a duality some of us have on law enforcement. We don’t want our law enforcement officials wasting their precious time chasing minor offenses minor offenses around, but we don’t want young people damaging themselves any more than we damaged our minds and bodies. Those of us of a certain age no longer think the law constitutes a nefarious plot to criminalize certain behaviors to prevent young people from having a good time, but we no how far we went to have a good time, somewhere just a smidge below what we knew the law allowed. We consider most state and local laws equivalent to a governor on an accelerator to prevent young people from crashing into the walls they erect for themselves. The argument some make is that some laws make no sense anymore, but I would argue that they’re making such a declaration as a fully developed, mature adult, who is no longer as interested in skimming just under the tentative line of lawbreaking. Some argue that one law is just as bad as the other, and in some cases they’re worse, so let’s do away with a number of them, or redefine them. That argument is equivalent to suggesting that we should start our grills with white gas, because it has a flashpoint of 25 degrees, and to really get the flame going, we should add some diesel fuel, because it has a flashpoint of 126 degrees.

Some advocates of such laws worry about the children, but that’s an argument for another day. I worry about the 21-25 year-old youngsters who pursue the idea of doing whatever they want, now that they’re old enough.

This article isn’t about one law, because there are now so many of them with which I now have some concerns. This isn’t about a series of laws devoted to one topic, for it were the advocates of the behavior might pop out of the woodwork to to focus on the topic. They would probably declare me a hypocrite for indulging in the very topic for which I now oppose. I’ll say it for them, I am now a full-fledged hypocrite, and I feel fine. I still feel the pull of my anti-law youth all the time, but I know that certain laws help us define borders. If the themes of the parties I attended in my youth continue to this day, there is a lot of talk of laws. There is a lot of talk about the vague language of such laws, and how they can be exploited. We talked a lot about local, state, and federal laws, so we could know how far to push it. We wanted to live just under that line. We also knew that there was a range of violation that most law enforcement officials weren’t going to waste their time processing. Increase the range, and we increase the level of violation.  

***

As a product of permissive parenting, I could do pretty much whatever I wanted from about 15 on, but when my friends reached the age where they could do whatever they wanted, I went into overdrive.

“Are you going to the bar tonight?”

“Does the pope attend religious services?”

Our definition of being a man involved going out to the bar with the buddies and getting hammered. We didn’t invent this rite of passage. When we were young, we learned of the correlation between being drunk and being manly, don’t spread the word. We were expected to test tolerance levels every week, and we didn’t concern ourselves about failing too much, because we knew there would be a make-up test next weekend, and every weekend thereafter. Our part-time job, if we chose to accept it, and everyone we knew did, was to increase our tolerance level to the point that we might one day be like Sam Nigro in the corner over there.

“Sam can drink a gallon of beer and show no effects,” we whispered to one another, as if he was the warrior Achilles. “I saw him do it over at Pete’s house about a month ago. He drinks MD 20/20 like it’s Kool-Aid.” Sam was our Jabba the Hut. He would just sit on his proverbial pedestal with an aura of invincibility that no one could define, but no one dared challenge. He was also invulnerable to our drunken powers of suggestion, because no matter how many juicy frog drinks he downed, he never had so much as a buzz.    

No one got so hammered that a fight broke out at one of my parties. There was no sex that weekend, and no DUIs. We were all very disappointed. The next time I tried to plan a party I received polite non-committals. There was just something about the atmosphere of my apartment, the climate, or something that just didn’t invite a level of insanity to which we grew accustomed.    

The older, more responsible citizens of various states see no problem with updating and modernizing archaic laws, because they’ve grown out of various stages. They can live their lives responsibly no matter how many temptations they update, modernize, and legalize, but as a byproduct of that they help pass laws that now allow the 21-25 year-old maniacs with testosterone dripping out of their pores, all the freedom they seek. They do make an exception for driving an automobile while intoxicated. Those are the only laws that are much stricter than they were when I was young. So, we’re now allowing our 21-25 male demo to indulge beyond their wildest dreams, and when I say dreams I’m talking literally staying up at night imagining at the ceiling that one day (like Jiminy Cricket sang) all of our dreams can come true. We’re talking about a 22 year-olds indulging beyond capacity and having the good sense not to drive home.

Now that I’m boring, old, and unflinchingly hypocritical, I hope that you’ll join me in helping me ease the decades long cringe I’ve had regarding all of the incredibly stupid things I did to tarnish my good name. Having said that, I don’t think we should help the 20-25 demographic do dumber things by diminishing and dissolving more laws that might destroy them. We tell our old people to update and modernize their thinking, and they do, but the final argument I make on this topic is to ask these modern, old people if they’re making their country, state and locale better by updating laws and choosing modern representatives? Other, older people, who have sowed their wild oats, fear being called old fogies and hypocrites, but I ask them what they would do if these new laws were passed when they were young, destructive, and self-destructive? It’s tough to remember the mindset, but if any sort of anatomical, or financial, destruction did enter my mind at the time, it wasn’t even a tertiary concern. I always thought I knew what I was doing, but now that I’m old and un-apologetically hypocritical, I now know I didn’t. I’ve now gone full circle in acknowledging that I was young and stupid.

It Wouldn’t be Easy Being Lime Green, but I Would’ve Enjoyed the Ride


I wish I had the guts to paint my apartment lime green back when I was single and living in apartments. I know that sounds odd, but some of us wish we had the guts to commit suicide. “I really wish I could commit suicide, but we Stanleys have never had the guts to follow through.” I never really wanted to live in a lime green world, but I wanted to do something to cause a reaction. I loved reactions back then. The paint didn’t have to be lime green, but it had to be a color so shocking that my peers would talk about it when they returned to the office on Monday.   

“What happened?” they might ask, looking around my apartment with wide eyes.

“What do you mean, I chose this color. I told the apartment complex’s office that I would be painting, but,” and here I might speak in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, as if this was our little secret now. “I didn’t tell them what color.”

What would my guests think of me? Would I have trouble in the dating world? Would decades-old friends begin questioning what they thought they knew about me? Would I still be single, if my future wife saw my lime green world?

“I’m sorry,” she would say as I knelt before her. “You seem like a nice guy, and all that, but I just can’t get past the whole lime green apartment thang. And before you say it, I know you can just change the color, but it worries me that you chose that color in the first place.”

Would decades-old friends begin questioning what they thought they knew about me? “We’ve been friends for a long time now, but this…” they would say, looking around. “I wasn’t expecting this.”

“So, the friendship is over?”

“No, I’m not saying that, but if you’re going to party here, and you want me to invite my friends, you’re going to have to repaint.”

My apartment could’ve been my own little, personal psychological testing lab, a petri dish that I could use to compile a delicious list of reactions now that I could report to you now.

“There goes Stanley, seems like a nice guy and all, but I hear he has a lime green apartment.”

Some psychologists state that lime green might be a mood booster, as it recalls nature and budding love, and it might not have narrowed my world as much as I think.

They also suggest that lime green helps us relax, and it’s useful for people with depression. Most of their conclusions are guesses, of course, as color affects us in wildly divergent ways, and if there is any effect it is largely subconscious. My best guess is that if color has any effect, it’s negligible. Perhaps the only effect would occur within the four-walled world of the office where people talk. A single man with lime green walls would become the topic of the many conversations otherwise bored people have trying to establish their bona fides through comparative analysis. “I know he seems nice, but did you know that he painted all of his walls lime green? I’m thinking he probably spends too much time alone, thinking strange thoughts. Kind of creepy, right?” That’s probably the reason none of us have the guts to paint our walls in such colors.

“Hey, you’re Stanley Roper right?” someone might say, stopping me in the hall. “Is it true you have a lime green apartment?”

“Yeah, the complex told me they were going to paint,” I’d lie, “but I had no idea they were going to go with lime green.”

“Why don’t you move?”

“I still have eight months on my lease.”

Over time, the peer pressure would probably grow so intense that my resolve would wilt. I’m impulsive, but I’m not immune to wanting people to like me. I’m sure some dagger, like “he probably spends too much time alone, and thinks too much” would lead me to believe that following my irrational but impassioned impulses were a mistake.  

I do love, and I mean love spotting a bright orange truck roll down the highway. That feller’s got a pair on him, I think. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. I so wish I could be that guy. I think about how liberating it would be to drive down a primary thoroughfare in a bright orange truck with black highlights. Six months to a year in, however, I know how that glory rubs off. I did it in grade school. I wore a shocking pair of bright, baby blue tennis shoes, and I loved the instant reactions it caused. I was a fella who shocked his world in a pair of bright blue tennis shoes, but I went from being a guy with those shoes on to the guy who wore a shockingly bright blue pair of tennis shoes, and I didn’t enjoy that characterization over the long haul. I tried other things. I tried a shocking, new hairdo. I received all the reactions I wanted and then some. I found that there were days when I wanted to shock my world and others when I didn’t, but once you start shocking the world it doesn’t matter what you want tomorrow. You don’t have the light switch control you think you do. Their impressions become the impression they have of you. 

***

Most of the websites that discuss the psychological elements of color devote most of their space to the positive, pleasing reactions to them. Their reads on the effects of color remind me of descriptions of personality types under the zodiac: mostly positive with a few nuggets of negative information thrown in to make it interesting without offending anyone. Awful people are out there too, and I think we would all give astrologists and psychologists a lot more credence if they allowed for that. “All astrological signs are uniquely wonderful in their own unique ways, except for the Taurus. We’re not going to say all Taurus are awful, as we’re sure a few of them do some nice things for people, some of the times, but an overwhelming majority of them enjoy watching other people watching people get hurt, and they are prone to lie, cheat and steal if they think that will give them an advantage in life. Most Taurus are pieces of dung.” If a reputable and respected astrological publication put out such a reading, its audience would probably bombard them with letters calling for a retraction. “My aunt Mary Louise is a Taurus, and she is the nicest, sweetest human being on the planet. How dare you suggest that she’s a piece of dung.”

“First of all, sir,” I would reply, “that’s our reading, and our reading is gospel. Your aunt is probably a piece of dung, and either you’re not willing to admit it, or you don’t know it yet. She’s probably old and done with life now, but when she dies, you’ll probably hear all the piece of dung things she did in her prime. You should also know that there’s no evidence behind anything we write. We just make dung up as we go along, and your suggestion that we change our reading suggests that you know that. We’re just writing dung for dung consumers who believe in this dung. It has no bearing on personalities. If you believe us when we write that you, as an Aries, are a trailblazer with boundless energy then you’re dumber than you look. Furthermore, if our Taurus reading actually offended you, sir, you’re probably not ready for primetime. Thank you for your letter.”

If we’re going to analyze a group of people in anyway, I would suspect that we would arrive at some negatives. Thus, if we are going to create a relatively specious way of analyzing human nature through astrology, their favorite color, or their favorite football team, we should have to create some negatives just to counter-balance all of the positives. Doing so might lend greater credibility to the reading, and establish some level of science to it. It might seem an impossible chore, but I think we would all appreciate the effort.

Some websites do provide some negative attributes, but they’re usually in the bullet points beneath the primary paragraph, and they usually attribute negatives to extremes. There’s nothing wrong with the color orange, for example, but be careful to avoid intense colors of orange, as they can lead to aggression.

“What is going on? Every time I invite someone into my home, they try strangle me. Last week, the meter reader started pointing his meter-reading gun at me, making gun sounds, like a little kid. I thought he was joking, but he had this menacing expression on his face while he did it. I forced him into my mauve kitchen, and got him a glass of water. He finally calmed and said, “I don’t know what came over me.””  

“Wow, I thought the color orange reflected emotion and warmth.”

“Well, I didn’t go with a soft, friendly, and comfortable tone. I went with an intense color.”

“What’s wrong with you? Didn’t you know that intense colors of orange can lead to acts of aggression?”

If I had the guts to paint my apartment an intense orange or a lime green, thus creating my own little petri dish of an apartment, I might see how profound the affect color can be. I might not see acts of aggression, but how would such colors affect the otherwise mundane conversations I’m having with them in the foyer? Would their emotions alter in any way based on their surroundings? I’ve witnessed the effect music can have, as I switched from one extreme to another with the volume level at the exact same level. There were at least two occasions where the switch was so extreme, it was almost comical.

What would be the long-term effect of a bright, loud color? Would they dismiss me from even casual conversation if they learned about my lime green world? What would my peers say about me at work, if they found out that I decorated my home with nothing but periwinkle home furnishings? Would they eat the food I served them if it came from a maroon kitchen, and the kitchenware on which it was served was a uniform canary yellow? I would love to see, hear, and know that aftermath.

“You’re not talking to Stanley anymore, because he served you veal cutlets on a canary yellow plate?”

“You don’t understand, the silverware was canary yellow too,” they would reply. “You didn’t see his feldgrau cabinets, or his cerulean coffee table. Who paints a coffee table cerulean? You weren’t there. You don’t know unsettling it all was. You weren’t there.”

I know it sounds odd, and a weird way to waste money, but I would’ve loved to do all this and hire an independent body to interview my apartment guest before and after their brief stay in my apartment. I would love to have intricate and intimate details of how their perceptions of me changed. The final, and perhaps most interesting, interview might be the one of me.

“Did you achieve everything you wanted to by painting your apartment lime green and purchasing an intensely orange truck?”

“I did,” I would say. “Some people won’t talk to me and others can’t stop talking about me. Now that it’s all over, though, I must admit I regret it, because now I have to live in a lime green house and drive an intense orange car to work. I wanted to be that guy, but I now realize I didn’t want to become that guy, not long term, if that makes sense.”

I might be alone when I write this, but I think some of us find the weird intoxicating. We would love to enter a room wearing a clown nose just to get some sort just to get a reaction. Every other element of our entrance in that room would be normal and deadpan, except for the clown nose, and we would provide no explanation for it. What would people do? What would they say? How would that affect our relationships with them going forward? Am I so uncomfortable in a normal world that I need to do, say, or be something different to shake up their world to prove their normal world is not so stable anymore? Or, do I relish my ability to take that clown nose off and prove to the world that I am normal and thus worthy of entrance into their world? If we were sentenced to a life of weird, we would do everything we could to convince the world that we were normal. We know normal, and it bores us so much that we wish we had the guts to test the boundaries of what’s acceptable, so someone, somewhere might call us weird, until they find out how normal we are. That’s a reaction, and it’s interesting, hilarious, and all that, but we don’t want to test those boundaries, because we want to have friends, girlfriends, a wife, and a normal life. After we achieve that, we appreciate it for what it us, but we still would’ve loved just a little taste of what we could’ve achieved with some lime green walls, if we had the guts to follow through with it.