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.

 

The Organically Weird, Strange, and Just Plain Special Music I Enjoy


This is not a complete list of my favorite albums of all time. To make that list, I would have to include popular, mainstream albums. Saying that I enjoy popular, mainstream albums might get me kicked out of some clubs, but I do like some of them. I just find it less interesting, and redundant, to write about them. This is a piece about some relatively obscure albums that I love so much that those who care about me ask me not to play in front of friends they hope to impress. I write the term relatively obscure because some on the list are certified platinum, and some might consider it odd to list any platinum selling album obscure. Others might see some of the albums listed here and say they are not obscure by any stretch of the imagination. My excuse for listing them is that age has led some of these albums to the dustbin of history, and experience has informed me that a wide variety of people have never heard of albums that I consider the greatest of all time. 

I’ve read seasoned musicians I respect list their favorite albums, and most of those albums are truly obscure. I’ve tried to listen to some of those albums, but I’m nothing more than a fan of music. I don’t appreciate music on the granular level that most seasoned musicians do. That having been said, I am a music aficionado, whose music appreciation is not that of a player or a critic, but greater than the casual fan who only appreciates the surface level of music that spent time on the Billboard’s top 100 or repeated on classic rock radio ad nausea. By the end of this, the reader might consider the albums selected purposely obscure. If I am purposely obscure, or I seek some level of contrived weirdness in my music, I have been doing so for thirty years, and I can now tell the difference between those artists who attempt to achieve something different in a less organic manner and those who just plain weird, strange, and special. Many have used those adjectives to describe me, at various times in my life, and if I do hit any of those marks (others consider me so normal I’m boring), all I can tell you is I’ve learned to embrace them in my life, and in the music I enjoy.

8) Captain Beefheart—Trout Mask Replica—This is the strangest album on this list, and one magazine rated it the second strangest albums ever made. We don’t know what went on in the mind of Van Vliet, when he created this Joycean mess, that some call “anti-music in the most interesting and insane way.” The most listenable track, and that’s compared to the others on this album, might be Ella Guru. Cartoonist and writer Matt Groening tells of listening to Trout Mask Replica at the age of fifteen: “I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever heard. I said to myself, they’re not even trying! It was just a sloppy cacophony. About the third time, I realized they were doing it on purpose; they meant it to sound exactly this way. About the sixth or seventh time, it clicked in, and I thought it was the greatest album I’d ever heard”.

If Trout Mask Replica is one of the strangest albums ever created, Pena might be the strangest, most inaccessible song ever made. It’s so discordant, we might want to consider if it’s actually music. If you convince a friend to listen to this album, prepare for some backlash, as they might consider it a mean practical joke. If you listen to this song, do not do so at high volume, for you will run across the room to shut it off. It might be one of the least melodic songs ever made from the least melodic album ever made. Friends don’t understand why I love this album, and to tell you the truth I can’t explain it, but it’s not weird for the sake of being weird. It has its own inexplicable mathematical appeal that very, very few will appreciate.  

If you brave all of these disclaimers and decide to listen to this album, and you find yourself getting “fast and bulbous” after repeated spins, you might want to reconsider recommending it to friends. Some people might hate this music with such feverish intensity that they hold it against you personally for recommending it to them.

7) PJ Harvey—To Bring you My Love—This is PJ’s strongest album to date. The two albums she made prior to this one were incredible, but To Bring you My Love made those two albums look like building blocks to this one. Her albums following To Bring you My Love run the gamut from relatively boring to fantastic, but To Bring you My Love was without question her peak. One album of note following TBYML is White Chalk. It’s the most powerful quiet album you might hear. The standout tracks on To Bring you My Love are: Meet Ze Monster, Down by the Water.

6) Mr. Bungle – Disco Volante— If Trout Mask Replica is the second weirdest album ever made, music critics and writers should consider Disco Volante third on this list. This is an album of songs, as opposed to an effort with a cohesive theme. Each song is so different that they probably don’t belong on the same album. The only song that is less than brilliant is Everyone I Went to High School is Dead. I am not a track skipper, but I skip this song every time. The most brilliant song on this album occurs at the 4:42 mark on Carry Stress in the Jaw. Some listings, list it as [The Secret Song]. My advice, if you choose to accept it, is listen to this album from start to finish. Then separate individual tracks out in playlists, or what have you, to appreciate each song in its own right, until you obsess over them and you know every beat so well that you might be able to play them yourself (I say as an individual who hasn’t picked up an instrument in decades, and even then I couldn’t play them). There’s something strange about this album that appears to only appeal to strange people who are confident in their ability to maintain normalcy.

[Writer’s Note:] For anyone who wants to investigate how odd, weird, or just plain special their friends are, Disco Volante proved an interesting barometer for me once. When I loaned the album to my more normal friends, they said, “It’s different, definitely different, but it doesn’t appeal to me on any level.”

One relatively odd person, who precariously hanged onto whatever vestiges of normalcy remain available to him, actually got mad at me for “forcing” him to listen to Disco Volante. He even went so far as to tell our mutual friends to avoid listening to anything I recommend in the future. Prior to lending the album to my friend, I knew he was a little off, but when he returned the disk to me something changed. He was mad at me.

“I didn’t create this album,” I said. His intensity shocked me.

“Yeah but …” He didn’t know how to ‘yeah but’ my reply. I could see how much it pained him that he couldn’t ‘yeah but’ me down to some sort of acknowledgement that this was in any way my fault. His mouth hung open, his finger was pointed, but he couldn’t come up with a proper ‘yeah but’, so he just walked away. 

My initial suspicion was that his attempt to turn people against me had nothing to do with Disco Volante. I forgot I even loaned him the disk when he started whispering things to our friends, until they told me that was saying, “He’s just so strange, and he listens to such strange music.” I thought he had a personal vendetta against me, but other people told me he said, “that album, I can’t remember the name was just so weird”. He even went so far to as to publicly state that he didn’t like me anymore, “because he’s just so strange.” I couldn’t understand his personal jihad against me, until I flirted with the notion that Disco Volante must’ve triggered something in him that he disliked so much that it made him angry at me. It seemed implausible, and it still does, but were no other reasons I could think of to justify his reaction.

Disco Volante might not be their first indicator that we’re strange, but for some reason it sets off a trigger warning for those who fear being around weird people. The reason we reflect on this is that we can’t believe that a complex human being can dislike us so much because we loaned them an album made by other people. We think it has to go much deeper than that. Maybe they didn’t like us to begin with, and this album just set them off. Perhaps it proved to be a cherry atop the pie for them, a last straw, or any one of those clichés. We search for the precursor, and it troubles us so much we ask them about it. “I’m not mad at you,” he said, and he said this in the most condescending manner possible, but he couldn’t come up with any answers for what he did either.

For some reason, this album unearths something in odd, strange or just plain special people that they don’t care to explore. For some reason, the song The Bends has a peculiar effect on them and their desire to constantly prove to the world that they’re not abnormal. I might be reading too much into their reaction, but it appears as though this album, and this song in particular, taps into a vulnerability that they’ve tried to defeat their whole lives. They tell everyone they know how much they hate that album, and we joke with them that their emotional reaction to it must suggest that it’s great art. “No!” he said all but slamming his fists on the table. “It’s the worst album I’ve ever heard.”  

“I gotta hear this album,” a third party said.

“No, no you don’t,” he responded. “Trust me. The hour I spent listening to that music is an hour of my life that I’ll never get back.” That attempt to add levity to the situation was almost as revealing as his weeklong rant against “my music”, as it revealed that he feared any revelations we might find in his rants.

Is the music on this album so strange that it flipped the trigger on one of my friends, or was he so close to a thin fault line he knew intimately that separated him from complete lunacy? Did he fear that anything slightly outside the norm might push him so close to that fault line that he chose to do battle with all of the internal and external forces he had at his disposal with the hope that it might define his character as it does for all men who seek battle? Or, was he so close to the fault line that he feared we all knew how close he was, and his vehement denouncements of Disco Volante were his way of announcing to the world that, contrary to popular belief (the internal, externalized popular belief), he was nowhere near that fault line and of a completely sound mind. 

[Writer’s Note II:] When I went in search of this album, as a completist who needed to own everything attached to the names Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Trey Spruance, I walked into a Music Land at a mall one day (yes, I’m that old), and I asked him if they had an album called Disco Volante. The employee smiled, “Very funny,” he said. “Who put you up to this?” We stared at each other for an uncomfortable moment after I said no. “Seriously, who sent you in here? Was it Sandy?” After a brief back and forth that consisted of me convincing him that no one sent me in his store, he said, “No, this place would never carry an album like that.”

“Okay thanks,” I said. As I turned to leave, I said, “Why would you think it’s a joke to ask for an album?”

“That’s my favorite album of all time,” he said, “and a couple months ago I joked with my girlfriend that no one would ever come into a Music Land in Bum[fudge], Nebraska to ask for it. So, when you asked for Disco Volante, I thought she sent you.”  

5) David Bowie–Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars—Perhaps no musical artist in the history of music made weird, mainstream better than David Bowie. He was an organically different man who made weird music. If he were alive today, he would confess that he wasn’t as original as critics often said he was. His music was an amalgamation of the weird.

Ziggy Stardust might be the most popular and least obscure album on this list, but it’s so old that I wonder how many people have never heard of it. A few mainstream artists in that era tinkered with the weird, but very few of them explored it as thoroughly as Bowie did while achieving some level of fame for doing it. I could’ve picked any of a number of Bowie albums to include on this list (Hunky Dory, Alladin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Low, Lodger, Scary Monsters, and even Blackstar), but Ziggy seems to be the most accessible starting point for Bowie novices.  

The best songs are the first four songs on the album, and the last six. The only song to skip on the album is It Ain’t Easy. I have to think Bowie had other songs to put on this album that he dismissed in favor of It Ain’t Easy. [Special Mention:] The best non-Ziggy Bowie songs that every Bowie fan needs to hear again and again, Alternate Candidate (This is a tough song to find, but I found it on YouTube) and Lady Grinning Soul.

4) Mother Love Bone—Apple—The story of Mother Love Bone is a sad “could’ve been, should’ve been” tale that could’ve and should’ve rewritten the narrative of the whole Seattle, movement in the early 90’s. Andrew Wood, the lead singer, died of a heroin overdose at 24, a month before the record company released this album. If this album received the promotion record companies normally put into an album in which they outbid five other record companies, coupled with radio airplay, touring, and all that, this album would’ve been the first multi-platinum disc coming out of Seattle in the 90’s. This album, this group, probably would’ve been bigger than the later incarnation Pearl Jam. (A number of the members of Mother Love Bone gathered together and found a new lead singer after Wood died to form Pearl Jam.) I think Apple would’ve been so big that it would’ve divided Seattle into two camps, those who loved the silly, rock star side versus the serious, sad, and angst-ridden Nirvana side. It would’ve been Mother Love Bone versus Nirvana, and Nirvana probably would’ve hated Mother Love Bone the way they came to hate Pearl Jam. (They may have hated them more, due to the contrasting styles of the two, as Pearl Jam wasn’t such an exaggeration of differences.)

The tracks on this album might all have a certain familiarity to them, as glam rock, arena rock fans will recognize some Queen, with a dash of Zeppelin, a little Elton John mixed in, and a big morsel of Aerosmith mixed in the stew, but Mother Love Bone combined these influences with a heavy dose of individual interpretation mixed in. I’ve read commenters on Allmusic.com say that the Apple has not aged well. If that’s the case, these people say so from a different perspective. I do not have such perspective on this album, for I am an adoring fan boy who cannot view Stargazer, Captain Hi-Top, Gentle Groove, Crown of Thorns, or Lady Godiva Blues from an objective perspective. When people talk about how they still love the music from their late teens/early twenties, this album is one of the primary ones that form that inner core of my favorite music.  

[Writer’s Note:] Some suggest that the Seattle music from the early to mid-90’s killed rock and roll. If we look at the timeline of rock and roll, we could easily make that leap with them, but I would suggest that the Seattle music, that some call grunge, might have been the last gasp from a dying beast. Seattle music was retro. It was Black Sabbath, KISS, T. Rex, and various other artists from the 70’s. It was a return to the music before the glam, heavy metal 80’s redefined everything. If we could go back through the timeline and remove grunge, rock and roll would’ve died earlier after the damage the music of the 80’s did to it. Grunge was chemotherapy that kept a stage 4 cancer victim alive for a little longer beyond its life expectancy.  

3) Pavement—Wowee Zowee— This album might form the basis of my album oriented preferences, for I find it difficult to pick just one track to note. This album should be listened to top to bottom. Rattled by the Rush might be one of the few songs on the album that follow a traditionally accepted song structure, but I find it hard to hold one song out for individual praise. This album is a collage album, a collection of songs that didn’t quite fit on their previous albums. Some call them pastiche albums. Whatever the case is, I loved this album so much that I honestly don’t care that some might consider it inferior to their two prior albums, and I loved (and I mean LOVED) their two previous albums. This album achieved so something different that it achieved the hallowed status all artists strive for with their fans of being “my music”. The previous two albums might have been better on the scale critics use to rate such albums, but I love Wowee Zowee more for the intangible qualities that leads us all to prefer some albums more than others. I won’t write that every track is perfect on this album, but that’s it’s appeal. This is a raw, flawed album in serious need of more production, but seeking perfection with more production would also ruin whatever raw intensity the fellas in Pavement captured here.

2) King’s X—Gretchen Goes to Nebraska—Some grunge artists say this was the first grunge album. Some suggest that Alice in Chains took the sonic formula of this album and applied it to their album Dirt. Listen to the two albums back to back, and you’ll hear a surprising number of similarities. One of the members of Alice in Chains joked about it with a member of King’s X, saying, “We need you to come out with another album. We need a new sound.” (The author loves Alice in Chains, and the album Dirt, and he does not intend to diminish the band or their best album.)    

The Burning Down and The Difference are the only two songs on GGN that I skip. Other than those two songs, I’ve gone through phases with just about every other track on this album. The uninitiated should start with the hit, Over My Head, move onto Summerland, Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something, and then work their way through the rest of the album song by song. By the time the intrigued listener is done, I don’t know how anyone could say these guys didn’t write beautiful, transcendent, and timeless music.

Normally, I couldn’t care less if an artist makes it or not. Mainstream music is just that, and as this list indicates, I am not a huge fan of mainstream music. The idea that very few regard King’s X as one of the top bands of its era, however, seems like an historic injustice to me that it needs to be rectified.

Other artists, and some critics, adored King’s X. A compendium of quotes from them suggest that on talent alone, coupled with the producer Sam Taylor, and the combined and consistent efforts found in the first five albums that King’s X created should’ve led them to the hallowed Beatles status. Upon discovering King’s X, reports state that Sam Taylor said he thought he found the next Beatles. King’s X were a combination of progressive metal, funk and soul, combined with vocals that remind one of gospel, blues, and the various groups in the British Invasion.  

It confounded critics, and other artists, why this band never broke through to the mainstream. In my experience, King’s X had two strikes against them, their looks and the “God thing”. Anytime I introduced my friends to Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, it blew them away. “Who are these guys?” they would ask. When they investigated them on their own, and they saw them on MTV, they soured on them to the point that they didn’t buy their album. The lead singer (Doug Pinnick) had a funky look. He had a high mohawk, and he was black, and there was something different about him. (He was/is gay.) Coupled with that, King’s X lyrics were uplifting and spiritual, and some critics labeled them “God music”. Sam Taylor and King’s X had gorgeous musical arrangements, Beatle-like harmonies, top-notch production, and the record company supported them, but Doug Pinnick looked funky, and their lyrics suggested they had a “God thing”.  

King’s X might have been one of the few bands that were hurt by the video age of MTV, for when people saw them they thought they were weird, and not in a good way. To further this thesis, Alice in Chains took the King’s X formula, and they fit the mold better than King’s X did. As much as we hate to admit it, Alice in Chains had a look considered more acceptable for rock stars. They combined those looks with rock star lyrics about drug use, death, and various other dark, negative elements to counter King’s X uplifting, spiritual lyrics. Alice in Chains was also cool in all the tangible and intangible definitions of the term, and King’s X were the antithesis of cool. What’s interesting, on this note, is that most of those who bought AiC’s albums, considered themselves the opposite of superficial. They considered themselves deep, thoughtful people who wouldn’t buy an album based on the band’s look. They loved the music on Dirt, but they didn’t buy music equal to, if not superior, to that on Dirt, and it all boiled down to looks and a packaged commodity they considered more consumable, and the idea that the latter was “God music”.     

1) Mr. Bungle—California—This album, particularly the songs None of Them Knew They were Robots, Retrovertigo, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, Goodbye Sober Day, and Ars Morendi, are timeless classics. As opposed to most of the albums I’ve listened to on this list that I’ve played so often that I have to remember how much they affected my life when I first heard them, California sounds as fresh and vibrant to me as the first day I listened to it. Pink Cigarette and Sweet Charity were, of course, my first loves on the album, but to my mind there’s something wrong with people who fail to recognize the greatness of those five songs.      

Gorillas and Lions and Wolves, Oh My


Yesterday, I watched a gorilla at the zoo have what appeared to be a brain-tingling moment when he removed some dung from the anus of another gorilla. I might be assigning human emotions to the gorilla when I write this, but soon after eating the concoction, the gorilla closed his eyes. There is a variety of reasons why a gorilla might close his eyes, and most of them are most of the reasons we close our eyes, but I thought he was taking a moment out of his day to savor whatever that other gorilla ate and whatever flavor that other gorilla’s digestive system added to it. The elongated, almost spiritual closing of the eyes might have been a coincidence, but I thought the gorilla enjoyed the concoction so much that he wanted to savor it for a moment before going back to the dispenser. There was a full tray of food awaiting the gorilla, in the southeast corner of his enclosure, but he preferred going to the dispenser before him. Watching that gorilla go back for more, I realized that individual tastes are so relative to the flavors we create that it’s pointless to try to fashion our work in such a way that it pleases everyone. We can only create whatever our nervous system produces and we flavor it with the dispensaries we have at our disposal in the hope that someone somewhere might enjoy it for what it is.  

Yesterday, I realized the roles those two gorillas played in this display defined for me what proved to be one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. I enjoy the music of Ben Folds, and I’ve been a fan for a long time, but there is something missing in his music. He has some fantastic singles, but I’ve never been so attracted to his oeuvre that I would list him as one of “my guys”. If I informed Folds how frustrated I am that he comes so close to reaching me, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. Not only would he not care, he shouldn’t care. If I met him and told him that most of his music misses the mark for me, he should say, “That’s on you. I can only do what I do. I can’t worry about pleasing you, offending you, or infinitely pleasing you. If it pleases enough people that I can make a living at this game, that’s great, but I’m not going to change what I do to please you or Betty Beatle from Idaho.”  

William Shatner is not one of “my guys” either, but he’s always around. He’s the green bean casserole of the entertainment world. I doubt anyone who has yet to try green bean casserole would look at it and think, “Yum!” but it’s at so many family get togethers and potluck dinners that we eventually “what the hell” it, until we discover it’s not so bad. As long as we don’t overdo it, repetition can even lead to a level of fondness for it, until we look forward to the next get together or potluck dinner that has a tray of it.

No one should confuse the term “my guys” with a description of talent. I’ll drop the typical line people drop to explain the discrepancy. “I respect the heck out of what Folds and Shatner do, but it just doesn’t reach me on a personal level.” I know people who love John Lennon so much that they suggest Paul McCartney was not talented. I understand that we all take sides in any rivalry, but to suggest that a talent on par with Paul McCartney has no talent is ludicrous. The Silly Love Songs vs. Important Songs debate rages on in some quarters, as Lennon fans suggest Lennon was not only more important he was more creative. These people relate more with Lennon, and because of that Lennon was “their guy”, but to prove that point, some try to so by belittling McCartney’s Silly Love Songs talent.

I missed Folds and Shatner’s collaboration for years, because they weren’t “my guys”. When I eventually heard the album Has Been, however, I was blown away. It reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: cranberry granola and banana flavored yogurt. On its own, this yogurt flavor is too sweet for me, and while this flavor of granola is tasty, I probably wouldn’t eat it as a standalone. When I put the two together, however, I enjoy it so much that I’ve considered submitting it to the overlords as my reward for living a decent, moral life. When I pass on, I want to meet my long-deceased relatives of course, and I wouldn’t mind it if someone played me a Brahams Sonata on the harp, but if your’re wondering how best to reward me for a life well lived, might I suggest that the floors and walls of my reward taste like the banana-flavored yogurt and cranberry granola concoction I created.

When we eat concoctions like these, we spoon too much of one flavor most of the times. Some of the times, we spoon too much yogurt, and some of the times, we spoon too much granola, but there are occasions, at least once a container, when we hit a Goldilocks spoonful. The album Has Been is the Goldilocks concoction of talent for me, and when I listen to it, I close my eyes to savor the moment. I’ve listened to that album so often that I’ve tried listening to the other concoctions they’ve made together, but they rarely hit the mark in the same manner. On their own, Shatner and Folds create interesting, quality material that doesn’t quite hit that brilliant, Holy Crud! mark, but together they created what I consider their Goldilocks moment. I would think that such moments are so fleeting in any artist’s career that when they hit one, they would immediately run back into the studio to dispense another collaboration, but perhaps they don’t think they can create another Goldilocks moment. I know they did singles together before and after Has Been, but that album was so good that I would think it would drive them right back into the studio to do another collaboration. We know that Folds affinity for Shatner brought them together, but we don’t know why they don’t make another album together. They might also think that fate and whatnot permit but one Goldilocks moment a life.

Carnivores in Cartoons

Yesterday, I thought carnivores were the mean, bad guys of the wild. Today I realized that cartoons conditioned us to believe that when a lion, shark, alligator, or any animal at the top of the food chain eats one at the bottom, they do so with some evil intent. We find a definition of this in Aesop’s fable in which a mouse removes a thorn from a lion’s paw. The lion, in turn, agrees not to eat the mouse. The mouse does something nice for the lion, and the lion, in turn, agrees to do something nice for the mouse. The inference is that lions eat mice because they are mean, or they do not like mice. If the lion betrays this agreement and eats the mouse that must mean the lion is mean.

In another fable, on the theme, a frog agrees to assist a scorpion across a pond. Before doing so, the frog says, “Wait a second, you’re going to sting me.” 

“If I stung you, we would both drown,” the scorpion responds. 

The frog reluctantly agrees to help the scorpion across the pond, and the scorpion stings the frog. As they’re both drowning, the frog says, “I thought you said you weren’t going to sting me.”

“What do you want me to say, I’m a scorpion. This is what I do.” 

Some allege that the moral of the story, for young people, is that there are vicious people in the world who, no matter how nice you think they are, will stab you in the back. While I think that is a valuable lesson to learn, the more valuable lesson is that which exists in nature. No matter how nice and cute that wild animal appears, and no matter how many cartoons we watch that display that animal as cuddly, they will probably scratch and bite us if given the opportunity. They might not understand why a seven-inch gash in our skin prompted our decision to stop playing with us. If they could talk, they might say, “C’mon, I was just playing.” The point is, in most cases, they did not intend to hurt us, and they’re not being mean. They’re relatively brainless creatures, compared to us, that operate almost entirely on instincts. Biting and scratching is just what they do. 

Think about all the cartoons we watched and books we read in our youth. They depict carnivores with jagged teeth and menacing growls. As we often do, we confuse scary with being mean or bad. Lions, wolves, and bears aren’t mean, or bad, they’re just hungry, and like all other animals, they eat when they’re hungry. Regardless what it does to their reputation as a beautiful animal, wolves enjoy eating fluffy bunny wabbits. If they’re able to catch them, they will do awful things to one of the cutest creatures of the wild, but that does not mean they’re jealous, mean, or evil in the manner we define such terms. By teaching young humans lessons, using animals as main characters, some of us anthropomorphize these characters to such a degree that we assign them human characteristics. Lions, tigers, and bears aren’t nice, they aren’t mean, and they don’t make decisions on what to eat based on how other animals interact with them. They eat meat and other animals have meat on them.   

Yesterday I learned that even if the animals at the top of the food chain are not the meanies we thought they were when we were kids, we should still consider doing everything we can to avoid one in the wild. After watching videos that focus on animals biting humans, nature lovers qualify the instinctual actions of these wild animals by saying, “We are not on their diet.” The nature lovers then provide a number of theories regarding how these incidents often involve nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. These theories are true, of course, as most animals in the wild, and in the ocean, have never seen a human, and self-preservation is more important to them than eating in most cases. Animals often take a pass on anything unfamiliar if they think they could get hurt in the process. Sometimes, however, they’re so hungry that they’re willing to eat anything that moves, especially if it moves slower than other prey.

Most animals don’t know what a human is, and that’s why they fear us, but we are also a point of curiosity for them. Thus, when they see us walking around in their domain, or floating on the surface, they’re curious, and that curiosity is almost exclusive to considering whether they should consider adding us to their diet. Yet, seeing, hearing, and smelling us might not be enough to satisfy their curiosity, and they obviously cannot communicate with us, so their last resort is to taste us to try to figure out what we are to determine if they might want to start adding us to their diet.

The nature lovers further their argument by opening up the belly of a bull shark. “When we open up the belly of a bull shark, we find everything from license plates to cans of paint to packs of cigarettes. The bull shark, unlike other sharks, is not very discerning. They’ll eat anything they see floating on the surface of the water, even if it happens to be a human on a surfboard.” Translation: They do not intend to devour us. They’re just curious. They just want to taste us to see what we are. I see the nature lovers working here. I know they’re trying to relieve our fears about sharks, and in turn preserve the shark population, and I know wild animals are not bad or mean in the context the former cartoon watchers define such terms, but it does not comfort me to know that all they want to do is taste me. If I happen upon one of these carnivorous beasts, and it’s clear that all they want to do is taste me, I’m still going to do whatever I can to get away. If I fail to escape, I’m probably going to shoot it, because I have to imagine that even though they’re just tasting me, it’s still going to hurt like the dickens.