Price Check: Can of Soup


“Whaddya mean $1.37?!” a wiry haired, bespectacled customer asked a sixteen-year-old, unindicted co-conspirator in the price-fixing conspiracy that the old man has dreamed up for a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, “It was $1.22, just last week.”  I know you’re angry sir, I think noting the veins protruding on the man’s nose, and the ruddy complexion, that seem indigenous to those that that have a favorite bar stool.  And I know you’re dying to tell anyone that will listen (or is forced to listen) but this poor, red headed cashier, named Eddie, has a lot less say than you think in Target’s “outrageous” price scheme.  And as much as you’d like to think your eyes are wide open on this issue, Target does not add anything to Eddie’s wage if he is able to add your fifteen cents to their profit margin.  The trouble Eddie has counting back your change should provide enough evidence that Eddie is not involved in the determinations made on shipping and handling costs; the amount of state and federal taxes imposed on this product; or the mushroom-marketing cooperative’s decision on the costs the manufacturing.  It’s also reasonable to suspect that the diatribe that you’ve obviously rehearsed in the mirror about the effect the improving economies in Latin America could have on the price of mushrooms, if their production of mushrooms proves to increase at the rate some project, will be lost on everyone involved once your transaction with Eddie is concluded.

esq-cream-of-mushroom-soup-0312-Zio6xr-lgYou may believe that this face of Target, this sixteen-year-old, named Eddie, knows full well what’s going on, but one look at his blanker-than-usual expression should tell you all that you need to know.  Unfortunately, you are an informed consumer, and you feel the need to give him your what for.

The sixteen-year-old can do nothing about it, however, and you will likely be considered what they call a moron for arguing with the sixteen-year-old in the first place.  The sixteen-year-old will, likely, not care that you have this complaint, and he will likely forget all about your informed complaint the minute you step out of line.  He’s not going to tell his boss, and his boss is not going to tell his boss, and there will be no boardroom discussion focusing on your complaint regarding the rising cost of a can of cream of mushroom soup.

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A Matter of Death and Life


Life is not random, some say, it is choreographed by a controlling force with a master plan that we may not understand at first, but will eventually come clear when we look back and see the final portrait.  For others, life is a random series of moments, equivalent to an abstract pointillism painting.  This belief suggests that we’re simply here one day, talking to our friends, gone the next.  Human life has more meaning than the life of the badger in the arena of consciousness of life, but little more than that.  The primary difference, for these people, comes from the act of looking at life, examining it with strained eyes, until we see a purpose that we believed was there all along.  No matter how one looks at it, we can all agree that these moments of life are finite, and that it is an abuse to waste them.  The latter becomes all the more clear when we’ve survived a death-defying incident.

An abstract pointillism painting

An abstract pointillism painting

Part of the allure of the story of the vampire is the dream mere mortals have of being immortal, so that these moments of life can be infinite.  These dreams only become more profound as we age, and the realization of our own mortality becomes more substantial –and the idea of eventually becoming inconsequential, even to those that love us most, haunts us– we dream of immortality.  The dream of immortality is one thing, the non-fan have argued, but the actuality of it would be quite another.

The import of the allure of the vampire story is the question that fascinates us, “What would you do if you knew knew that you were going to live forever?”  The less obvious question, asked by cynical viewers/readers of the story is, “Why would you do it?”  How exciting would the bungee jump be to the person that knew there was no chance they were going to die?  The primal fear of falling would surely affect some vampires, as they were all mortal once, but if you can’t even be superficially wounded, much less mortally, how much allure would there be in the “death plunge” of the bungee jump?

In most incarnations of the story, the vampire is not only immortal and invulnerable to superficial injury, they can even manipulate situations to a point where they wouldn’t have to experience emotional pain.  Through the power of their eyes, most vampires can convince mere mortals to do their bidding.  As a result, no girl can ever dump them; no bully can pick on them; and no moron can ever do anything to mess their life up.  In most incarnations of the vampire story, the use of this power is selective, so as to allow the mortals involved in the story to do things that give the story greater drama, but the cynics in the audience wonder why the vampires don’t just turn on their eye power and persuade the girl to love them.  (I know most vampire stories involve the vampire wanting organic love from the girl that results from the mortal deciding to love them, but the very idea that they can circumvent this process by turning on their eye power diminishes this to a tool used by the author of the story to provide drama.)  We cynics understand that thread of the story that the greatness of love lies in its achievement for the vampire, but when he is utterly devastated by the failure to do so, the vampire doesn’t have to experience that devastation.  The vampire has a plan B.  The eyes.  Just flick on that power.

Mere mortals have no idea if the girl is going to love us in real life, and we have no plan B if she doesn’t.  We are pretty sure that we’re going to survive the bungee jump, and the roller coaster, as they offer some comfort of being a controlled environment, but there is some fear –that results in some adrenaline– involved in the idea that we’re not 100% positive.  If you were 100% positive that you weren’t going to die, or even receive some painful superficial wounds, why would you do it?  Would there be any sense of accomplishment in achieving love from another, if you knew that you had such a solid plan B that you could convince the girl to love you, regardless what she decides.

Some of us have had near death experiences, from a car crash that first responders informed us should’ve resulted in the end of our moments; we’ve been informed that if our death-defying incident had occurred inches to the left, or right, we would no longer be here to talk about it; and others have had incidents that require no such explanations of how close they’ve come.  Those that have survived the latter speak of a sense of euphoria that overwhelms them and profoundly informs the rest of their life.  This sense of euphoria, they say, does not last forever, or as long as it probably should, but for the short time you’re immersed in it, your second lease on life can be euphoric.

In an attempt to explain this blast of euphoria that comes from being unsuccessfully murdered, author of the collection of essays We Never Learn, Tim Kreider, uses the plot of Ray Bradbury’s The Lost City of Mars to illustrate: “A man finds a miraculous machine that enables him to experience his own violent death over and over again, as many times as he likes –in locomotive collisions, race car crashes, and exploding rocket ships– until he emerges flayed of all his Christian guilt and unconscious longing for death, forgiven and free, finally alive.”

In the essay, Reprieve, Kreider explains that after it was deemed that he would survive the attempt on his life, he considered everything that followed as “Gravy.”  A term he derives from a man, author Raymond Carver, that was also granted a second lease on life.

Quoting from the proverbial “food tastes better” template of survivors, Kreider states that he did things he wouldn’t have done in his pre-murder attempt life, and what was once deemed troubling, dramatic, and consequential in the first life, became trivial in the scope of having survived.  Kreider claims he even developed a loud, racauos laugh, in his reprieve, that caused “People to look over to make sure I was not about to open up on them with a weapon.”  He claims that laughter could be heard when he complained to a friend, “You don’t understand me.”

The friend responded: “No, sir, I understand you very well –it is you who do not understand yourself.”

Whereas most survivors perceive divine intervention in their narrow escape, Kreider states that even in the midst of his euphoria, that “Not for one passing moment did it occur to me to imagine that God Must Have Spared My Life For Some Purpose.  I was not blessed or chosen, but lucky.”

I wish I could recommend the experience of not being killed to everyone.  It’s a truism,” he basically states, that motivates most thrill-seeking adventurers to attempt what are basically “suicide attempts with safety nets”.  “The trick,” he writes, “Is to get the full effect you have to be genuinely uncertain that you’re going to survive.  The best approximation would be to hire an incompetent, Clouseauque (Inspector Clouseau, played by Peter Sellers, in the movie The Pink Panther) hit man to assassinate you.   

“It’s one of the maddening perversities of human psychology that we only notice we’re alive when we’re reminded we’re going to die, the same way some of us appreciate our girlfriends only after they’ve become exes.”  Kreider writes of his terminally ill father, writing that while in his last days: “(The man) cared less about things that didn’t matter and more about the things that did.  It was during his illness that he gave me the talk that all my artist friends have envied, in which he told me that he and my mother believed in my talent and I shouldn’t worry about getting “some dumb job.””

But, Kreider writes: “You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter. Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busywork of living.”

The latter quote reminds one of a guest on The Tonight Show in which this guest talked about a love that spanned decades.  She claimed that her husband provided her a white rose every day, and that the two of them never fought.  In the aftermath of that interview, host Johnny Carson turned to his sidekick Ed McMahon and said something along the lines of: “It’s a beautiful story, and I wish I had the same (Carson was married four times), but I can’t help but thinking how boring it would be to never fight for that many years.  I’m not calling her a liar.  I believe her.  I just think it would be boring.”

In great loves, and great lives, life can experience great highs and great lows, but the great highs cannot be fully appreciated without the contrast of great lows.

I don’t know why we take our worst moods so much more seriously than our best,” Kreider writes, “Crediting depression with more clarity than euphoria. We dismiss peak moments and passionate love affairs as an ephemeral chemical buzz, just endorphins or hormones, but accept those 3 A.M. bouts of despair as unsentimental insights into the truth about our lives.  It’s easy now to dismiss that year (following the survival of the unsuccessful murder) as nothing more than the same sort of shaky, hysterical high you’d feel after getting clipped by a taxi.  But you could also try to think of it as a glimpse of reality, being jolted out of a lifelong stupor.  It’s like the revelation I had the first time I ever flew in an airplane as a kid: when you break through the cloud cover you realize that above the passing squalls and doldrums there is a realm of eternal sunlight, so keen and brilliant you have to squint against it, a vision to hold on to when you descend once again beneath the clouds, under the oppressive, petty jurisdiction of the local weather.”

We all love to quote Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”  It’s important to prepare for things to go wrong, of course, but is it a truism that everything will go wrong, or is it a “maddening perversity of human psychology” that we only notice things when they do?  If the petty jurisdiction of local weather provides us with clear and 60, how long will we remember that versus -2 and 10 inches of snow?  And how beautiful is clear and 60 when all we’ve known, all week, is -2 and 10 inches?  How beautiful, conversely, would clear and 60 be if we could use the eye power of the vampire to have clear and 60, 365?  The dream would be one thing, the reality quite another.

The Weird and the Strange


Some people are weird, some people are strange, and some people are just different. What’s the difference? One of the best ways to define a relative term like weird is to define what it is not. It is not, for the purpose of this discussion, strange. The term strange, by our arbitrary definition, concerns those affected by a more natural malady. Through no fault of their own, they have had a variance inflicted upon them that they cannot escape, and nothing they do will repair it. We don’t define this separation to be nice, though we do deem it mean-spirited to mock, insult, or denigrate those people that arrived at their differences in a natural manner. We don’t create this separation so that our readers may consider us more understanding, wonderful, or compassionate, but we do deem those that would go out of their way to poke fun at the strange to be lacking in basic compassion. We also don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that we might be more normal, or more intelligent, than the subjects we will discuss. We design this arbitrary separation to provide a clarification on any confusion that might exists between those that had no choice in the matter, and those that choose to be weird through the odd decisions they make in life.

Being weird is a choice. 

Some say that Psychology is a comprehensive study of the choices we make. In that vein, it is our assumption that most weird people choose to be weird, follow weird paths, or believe in weird things, and we give ourselves license to mock those decisions. It is our belief, however, that no one chooses to be strange.

We will not afford weird people the same lubricated gloves that we will the strange. Weird people have made their choices, and those choices subject them to a degree of illustrative ridicule that a nicer, more wonderful writer –say, from the squishy and indecisive school of thought– would qualify to soften their conclusions. Some of us are as weird as those we mock, some of us are different, some of us are normal, and some of us are weird, and strange.

My dad did everything he could to guide me to a more normal path. He corrected my weird ideas with sensible, normal lines of thought. “That isn’t the way,” was something he said so many times, and in so many ways, that most view my refusal to accept his norms as rebellion. There were so many fights, arguments, and debates in our household that no observer could escape it without thinking that it was, at least, a combustible atmosphere. Before we explore the ways in which the old man was strange, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad for the effort he put into trying to make me normal. I’ve met the exaggerated forms of weird, and those that ascribe to the unusual thoughts, that I play around with, as their truth. Most of those people lead chaotic lives, and some of them are a little scary.

My dad was, at the very least, abnormal. Some would say kooky, and others might say he was an odd duck. In the frame we’re creating here though, he was strange. Either he was born with certain deficiencies, or they were a result of self-inflicted wounds. Whatever the case was, he was different from those around him. He wanted people to perceive him as a normal man. It was an effort for him. He didn’t want his children to have to endure the outsider status he had to endure for much of his life. I rebelled to that, because I couldn’t see his efforts for what they were.

I still like to dance in the flames of the weird, but once the lights come up I’m as normal now, and as boring, as everyone else. As hard as my dad tried to force normalcy on me, however, he couldn’t control the impulses I had to watch, read, and listened to artistic creations that glorified life outside the norm. Weird things were out there, and I knew it. I pursued these ideas with near wanton lust.

When I left my dad’s normal home and ventured out into a world outside the realm of his influence, I became attracted to weird, oddball philosophy. I found the information they presented me so intoxicating that I had trouble keeping it in the bottle.

I have had normal people peppered throughout my life, and I prefer their company in the long-term, but I found myself eager to invite challenging, weird ideas into my life for a brief stay. Their brief stay would present me with different and weird ideas of thinking, weird platitudes, and oddball mentalities that shook the contents in my bottle a little bit more. I needed to know what made them tock (as opposed to the ticks I knew in my normal world). I became obsessed with the abnormal to find out what made them different, or if they were, and I had to deal with the friends telling me that I should be dismissing these people on the basis that they were weird. I couldn’t, I said, not until I had digested all that they had to offer.

A Piece of Advice to the Young Ones

If there are any young minds reading this, engaged in a similar, passionate pursuit of all that falls under the abnormal umbrella, I want to stress one thing before we go any further. Pursue the life of a freak, become that rebel that makes every square in the room uncomfortable, violate every spoken and unspoken rule of our culture, and become that person everyone in the room regards as an oddball. Before doing that, however, you may want to consider learning everything about the conventional rules that you plan to spend the rest of your life violating. Learning the rules gives one a proper foundation, from which to violate. I know the rules are boring, and everyone knows them, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my tenure as a rebel, and from my discussion with other rebels, a rebel needs to know the rules better than the square. The violation of rules comes with its own set of rules, for those that hope to violate in a constructive and substantive manner. Failure to learn the rules, and the proper violation of them, will allow those that set the rules to dismiss the rebel as one that doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and a rebel without a cause.

A Rebel Without a Cause makes for great fodder in a movie where the moviemakers manipulate the extraneous conditions, and players to enhance the qualities of the main character, but in real life there are situations and forces that rebel with conviction cannot control. There are people that will hit you with scenarios for which you’ll be unprepared, and a failure to study the rules from every angle possible, will lead everyone to forget the rebel’s argument soon after they make it.

James Dean was A Rebel Without a Cause, though, and James Dean was cooler than cool. For ninety minutes, he was, and with all of extraneous conditions and side characters portraying the perfect contradictory behavior that would define the James Dean character’s rebellion, James Dean was cool. Cooler than cool. In real life, however, a rebel cannot manipulate his extraneous conditions and players to enhance their character. In that environment, the extraneous players consider a rebel without a cause, a rebel without substance. They may regard him as uninteresting, after the initial flash of intrigue with his rebelliousness subsides. My advice would be to listen to those squares that are so normal they make you throw up in your mouth a little, for they may teach you more about what you’re rebelling against than those that feed into your confirmation bias.

My aunt was a bore. She told me things about life that bored the ‘fill in the blank ‘out of me with her preachy presentations on “Good and honest living.” She didn’t know where it was at, as far as I was concerned. I wanted to step into that “Do what you feel” rock and roll persona that left carnage in its wake. I debated her point for point. I knew my rock and roll lifestyle well. My aunt was not much of a debater. She knew her “Good and honest living” principles, but she could not debate me point for point. She had poor presentation skills, by comparison, and she was overweight and unattractive. Those in the entertainment fields had excellent presentation skills. They were attractive and thin, and they all had excellent jaw lines. They confirmed all of the beliefs I had about life. Life should be easy, judgment free, and fun. It shouldn’t involve the moral trappings of what is right and what is wrong, and as long as no one gets hurt, a person should be able to do what you feel like doing. Viewing all of this in retrospect, however, I now realize that the boring, pedantic, obese, and unattractive people taught me ten times as much about life as any of the entertainers. The entertainers were just better at packaging their presentations.

The crux of my rebellion was that I wanted to be a weird guy that made the mainstream uncomfortable. Those that did something different turned me on, and all the grownups that surrounded me were the same. My dad vied for the same, and he wanted the same for me, but no matter how hard he tried to make me normal, I wanted to explore the abbie normal side of humanity.

“You actually want to be weird?” a friend asked me. “People don’t want to be weird. They either are, or they aren’t.” 

Weirdness should be natural and organic, was the import of her message. It should be a birthright. The weird intend this to be a condemnation for those of us that aren’t weird in a natural, and fundamental, sense. It was an ‘how dare you try to be one of us, if you’re not’ reaction to those that hold the organic nature of being weird as a birthright. She regarded this as equivalent to a person that wears bifocals to look sexier when they don’t have to wear them, an act that ticks off those that are required to wear glasses.

Therefore, I’m not weird in a natural and organic sense. My dad raised me in a manner that forced me to accept the norms, and I’m going to take a moment out of this piece to say something I didn’t say to him when he was alive: “God bless you Dad for forcing a foundation of normalcy down my throat.”

This person that condemned me for being audacious in my attempts to play around in what she claimed her birthright, was weird in a natural and fundamental sense, but she was also sad in a natural and fundamental sense, and miserable, and angry about the manner in which life had trampled upon her. Anyone that knew her, or even held a simple conversation with her, would walk away knowing that chaos had dominated much of her life, and as a result she was well-known for being so desperate as to seek refuge in the controlled substances she found to ease that pain.

I realized through this friend, and all of the other weird characters that have graced my life, that there was weird and there was weird. There was the weird that is fun, a little obnoxious, and entertaining in a manner that tingles the area of the brain that enjoys stepping outside the norm, and there is the borderline strange, weird that is a little scary when one takes a moment to spelunk through their dark caves and caverns of their mind.

***

As evidenced by my weird friend professing a sense of superiority over those not weird, in a more organic manner, some of us will attempt to gain whatever edge we can find against those around us. Was she weirder than I was? “Who cares?” you and I might say in unison. She did. It may never have occurred to her –prior to our conversation on this topic– that the idea of being weird was a cudgel she could use to attain some form of superiority, but for that particular conversation, it was for her, and she didn’t appear to feel the slight bit unusual for doing so. It appeared, in fact, to be vital to her that I acknowledge that she had me on this topic. She was weird, and I was trying to be weird. Who tries to be weird? Phony people. That’s who. Check, check, check. She wins.

The interesting aspect of this conversation, as it pertains to the subject of superiority and inferiority, is how long did she search for that point of superiority? How many topics did we cover in our numerous conversations before she was able to find one aspect of her personality in which she had some superiority? If either of these questions wreaks of ego on my part, let’s flip it around and ask what drove this impulse to use organic weirdness as a form of superiority? I had many conversations with this woman, and I never saw this competitive side of her before. She thought she had me on this one strange, or weird, topic.

Know Thyself


“I do not know myself yet, so it seems a ridiculous waste of my time to be investigating other, irrelevant matters.”  —Socrates stated on the subject of studying Mythology and other trivial matters.

“Know thyself?” we say in response to this Socrates quote. “I know myself. I know myself better than anyone I’ve ever met. Why would I waste my time trying to understand myself better? Other people that makes no sense to me. I have no problem with me. Trying to know thyself better, to the level the Ancient Greeks and Socrates speak of, seems to me nothing more than a selfish conceit for pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.”

Philosophers say that the key to living the good life lies in reflection and examination. If an individual does not have a full grasp on their strengths and weaknesses, the changes they make will be pointless, or they might not be able to sustain them for long. Knowing is half the battle, to quote the cliché.

One of the measures that we might use to gain a better understanding of who we are is to understand how weird, strange, and different we are, in conjunction with the resultant feelings superiority and inferiority that derive from it, and it can provide us some relief from the confusion we feel about the world around us. If we were to use the Cartesian coordinate system, we studied in our high school Algebra class, we might be able to locate where we are compared to point of origin, or the point of total normalcy on one axis, versus our superiority and inferiority on the other, to form a (0,0) for example, on the (X,Y) axis. This may be an inexact science, but comparative analysis might be the most common method we use to know ourselves better.

We’ve all met those strange individuals that tend to be more organic by nature, and we know we’re not that. Through comparative analysis, we could say that those people exist five increments to the right of the point of normalcy on (‘X’) axis of the Cartesian coordinate system, yet we know that we’re not all that normal either. We know that no one that knows us would place us on the point or origin in this particular Cartesian coordinate system, in other words, because they’ve had experiences with people that are more normal than we are. The first question we could ask them is who are normal people? The second question we could ask regards the numerous ideas we have about being normal, weird, and strange. We consider those relative concepts nearly impossible to quantify. I’m sure that they would cede some points on that argument. If we are going to make an attempt to know a little bit more about ourselves, however, we might want to compare ourselves to those around us in a simple system that compares us to those that exude a confidence in their being that allows them to be more comfortable in their own skin than other people. Some describe such people as radiating self-possession.

If the majority of people we run into are more normal than we are, by our arbitrary definition of the two terms, we might define ourselves as a two on the weird to normal (‘X’) axis. If that were the case, where would we be on superiority versus inferiority (‘Y’) axis? We can guess that our point on the (‘X’) axis would have a corresponding effect, and that we would be a two on (‘Y’) axis if the relationship between being more normal leads to greater self-esteem, and thus a feeling of more superiority. Through comparative analysis we could say, with some confidence, that we are a (2,2) coordinate compared to the rest of the normal, well-adjusted world.

The next question, for those plotting points in their ledger, is what aspect of your personality should we focus on? The answer is there is no solution, if you operate from the unstated assumption that your “2=2” comparative findings will reveal a true solution.

The true solution to all that plagues you do not lie in comparative analysis. Therefore, everyone can put their ledgers down. It is pointless. The true solution lies just outside plotting points, and inside a person’s individual Cartesian coordinate system. The true solution lies just beyond the analysis the reader has performed while reading this. It is inside some of the questions a person asks while plotting, and in some of the answers that they find. Ask more questions, in other words, and a person will arrive at more answers. The point plotter may never find the perfect question that leads to a truth of it all, but they’ll find some answers, to some dilemmas that plague them, until they have more answers than most.

Philosophers, bothered by the pesky complaints of philosophy fans wanting them to be more direct in their philosophies, believed that the Ancient Greeks granted them a gift in the form of a maxim. Among the many things, the Ancient Greeks offered the world was a simple inscription found at the forecourt of the Ancient Greek’s Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and reported to the world by a writer named Pausanias.

It was what modern day philosophers might call the ancient philosophers’ “Holy Stuff!” moment, and what a previous generation would call a “Eureka!” moment, and to all philosophers since, the foundation for all philosophical thought. For modern readers, the discovery may appear vague, and it was, but it was vague in a comprehensive manner from which to build the science of philosophy. It was a discovery that provided the student of philosophy a Rosetta stone for the human mind and human involvement, and the Ancient Greeks achieved it with two simple words:

“Know Thyself.”            

Perhaps a modern translation, or update, of the Ancient Greek maxim know thyself may be necessary. Perhaps, ‘keep track of yourself’ might be a better interpretation for those modern readers blessed, or cursed, with so many modern distractions, that keeping track of who they really are has become much more difficult.

Although it could be said that man has found the investigation of other, more “irrelevant matters” far more entertaining for as long as man has been on earth, few would argue that we have more distractions, from this central argument, than we have right now. It’s now easier than it’s ever been to lose track of who we are, who we really are.

The Holy Grail for those that produce images on movie screens, TV screens, and mobile devices is to produce characters that an audience can identify with so thoroughly that the viewers begin relate to them. Idyllic images litter this path to the Holy Grail. These images are ones that a consumer associates with so often that they begin to incorporate their idealism into their personality. On a conscious level, we know that these images are fictional in nature, but they may exhibit characteristics so admirable that we may begin to mimic them when among our peers. A moment of truth eventually arrives when a person finds that they’re having difficulty drawing a line of distinction between the subconscious incorporation of all of these fictional characteristics and the realization that they are not us. The idea that we are not them follows, and what follows all of this is we don’t know how to handle a moment of personal crisis when it arrives.

When our moment of personal crisis arrives, we may project a screen image version of us into reality, and that version we have of ourselves might know how to handle this crisis better than we ever will. This image may not be us, in the truest sense, but a future “us”, a different “us”, or an idyllic image of “us” that handled this matter so much better, but we can’t remember how, now that we’re being called upon to handle a crisis.

We may have been a swashbuckling hero –in one episode in our lives– that encountered a similar problem and dealt with it in a heroic fashion. We may have encountered a verbal assault on our character –in another episode– and we may have been a cynical, sardonic wit that countered a damaging insult with that perfect comeback that laid our verbal assaulter out, but we can’t remember how we did it, because it wasn’t us doing it, it wasn’t really us. On some level, we may even know that we were fooling ourselves, but we’ve incorporated so many images of so many characters, handling so many situations with such adept fluidity, that we’ve incorporated those idyllic, screen images into our image of ourselves.

Another idyllic image occurs over time, in our interactions with peers. These images may be nothing more than a false dot matrix of carefully constructed tiny, mental adjustments made over time to deal with situational crises that have threatened to lessen our self-esteem, until we became the refined, sculpted specimen that is now capable of handling any situation that arises. These adjustments may be false interpretations of how we handled that confrontation, but we preferred our rewrite to the reality of what happened. We then began erecting that rewrite so often, or with such thoroughness, that we convinced ourselves that we handled the matter a lot better than we actually did in order to create that ideal image that we needed for better mental health.

We have all had moments in life where we felt the need to correct a peer on the specific manner in which an event our lives happened, because we overheard them tell a third party a version of that story that was incorrect. When they don’t believe us, we invite others into the argument to provide overwhelming corroborating evidence for this peer. Those of us that have done this have been shocked when our peer refused to believe the true account. At that point, we walk away from them, because we recognize that they’re delusional. Some part of us knows that our peer knows the truth, but they chose to view things different. We think less of these people from a distance, a distance that suggests that we’ve achieved a plane of honesty that they could never achieve. The only other alternative, we think, is that our peer had a need to colorize their role, in some way, for greater self-esteem. After thoroughly condemning this person, we experience a similar scenario. The difference in this scenario is the reversal of roles involved. It’s happened to the best of us. Those of us that strive for honesty in our everyday walks of life.

On the fourth layer of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we find esteem. Maslow states that this need for greater self-esteem, this need to be respected, valued, and accepted by others is vital to one’s sense of fulfillment. If esteem is this vital to our psychological makeup, what happens when the fact that we realize that we’re not as capable of achieving as their peers? What happens when this becomes impossible to deny? If we are able to convince ourselves that these incidents are the exception to the rule, we might be able to find excuses for why another succeeds where we fail, but when it’s repeated over and over, with peer after peer, we start to get frustrated, confused, and we might even find ourselves growing depressed. To avoid falling down this spiral, we develop defense mechanisms.

If these defense mechanisms involve nothing more than harmless delusions and illusions, say mental health experts, it can be quite healthy. The alternative, they say, occurs when the reality of a situation overwhelms us. This could result in depression, or other forms of regressed mental health. If that’s true, where is the dividing line between using healthy delusions and being delusional?

If an individual achieves what they hope to achieve from delusional thinking, and an incorporation of idyllic images begins to foster their desired perception in an effort to thwart depression, and they get away with it, what’s to stop them from using those mental tools so often that they’re rewarded with even greater esteem among their peers, and greater self-esteem? Why would they choose to moderate future delusions? What’s to stop this delusional thinker from continuing down these delusional paths, until the subject begins to lose track of who they are … who they really are?

Most of the research dedicated to brain focuses on the organ’s miraculous power to remember, but recent science is finding that the power to forget is just as fundamental to happiness and greater mental health. This thesis suggests that the brain may distill horrific memories and bad choices out, for greater mental health, in a manner similar to the ways in which the liver distills impurities out for greater physical health.

We could say that if it’s true that our lying peers might have remembered their embarrassing incidents differently in a biological attempt aimed at achieving greater mental health. Were they lying? Yes. Was there goal to deceive everyone around that they were a lot better than they actually are? Perhaps, but it is just as likely that at some point in the timeline they sought to deceive themselves into the idyllic image that they needed to create for greater mental health. To take this theory to its natural conclusion, one could also say that those that need intense counseling may have opted for the bright and shiny delusional paths. They may decide to go down these paths so often, while blocking out embarrassing details and forgetting self-esteem crushing decisions along the way, that professional assistance is their only recourse. We could say that by replacing these embarrassing details and self-esteem crushing decisions with idyllic images and positive reinforcements– that these people has spent too much time in their bright and shiny forest of positive illusions and delusions. We could say that these idyllic images, are such that they now need a professional to take them by the hand and guide them to a truth that they’ve hidden so far back in the forest of the mind that they can no longer find it without assistance.

It is for these reasons that greater brains than ours have suggested that the path to greater knowledge, a better life, happiness, and more self-esteem exists somewhere on the path of knowing thyself better. They also suggest that most of the time we spend investigating other, irrelevant matters is a waste of time, or superfluous minutiae for people with too much time on their hands.

Post 400


Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

This is the 400th post written on Rilaly.com since May 2009.  That’s almost 100 posts a year, and if you knew of this blog’s inauspicious beginning, you’d know that’s quite an accomplishment.  To celebrate this milestone, I will do my first jig in the comfort of my home, or the first jig I do in relation to Rilaly.com anyway.  I will make mean faces when I do it, and I may even slap my ass a couple times.  This is not to be misconstrued as sexual in any manner.  This is purely celebratory.  You’re welcome to join me, even if we’re not dancing simultaneously.Political columnist George Will says that he does not reflect on his career.  I do. He states that he is always looking forward. I’ve met a number of people that have accomplished far more than I have, and when I’ve congratulated them on their list, they usually shrug it off and qualify it in some manner.  While I wish I had their list, there does seem to be a part of them that hasn’t enjoyed the process.  Although my list may be comparatively meager, especially when stacked up against Will’s, I enjoy reflecting before I move forward.

“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.” (U.B. Phillips)

My favorite posts are those I’ve written that are not related to current events.  I’ve written political posts, news-related, music, and sports related posts.  I’ve really tried to limit the latter two categories, as I don’t want this to be a place solely for music and sports.  If I started down that road, that might be all I write about.  So, on the rare occasions when I’ve written about them, I’ve tried to do so in a creative manner.

When I get a number of ideas that all lock into place, under the general heading of psychology, but more specifically listed under a “strange things that we do” category, I approach the keyboard with adrenaline.  I think normal people can understand a lot about themselves by studying the strange. and sometimes aberrant, creatures that surround us. Psychology, as a whole, intrigues me, but the “look at this Escher painting and tell me what you see, and that will tell you a lot about perception” line of psychology is just boring to me.  The “why do you stop at a stop sign, why does a dog salivate when it hears a bell, and why do we call a table a table” broader questions of psychology and conditioning bore me.  I’d much rather study why some people are sexually attracted to balloons in the The Balloonophilia Conflict.  How, or why, did a division occur in the balloonophilia universe, between poppers and non-poppers, and is there anything in this particular story that says anything about us?  These are a few of my favorite things.

Why do some people try to box us in to who they think we should be based on who they are, and their limits, perhaps it has something to do with the Thief’s Mentality.  How are we attracted to one another, perhaps it has more to do with our natural, biological scents than those colognes and perfumes we buy: Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of UrineWhat happens when we’re afraid, and what happens when we’re not respectfully afraid enough in a given situation?  Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias.  These stories do not necessarily have tie-ins, as a sports, music, or political post would have, and the fact that I’ve received compliments on them tells me that they’re just well written.  The following is a top ten list of those most popular, according to readers, of these 400 posts.  Some of them have tie-ins, but they contain a loose connection that could be said to be more psychological rather than a straight news story.  I love top ten lists, and I’ve been dying to write my own, so here it is.  Enjoy!

  1. Indigo Children
  2. Let Your Freak Flag Fly
  3. Thief’s Mentality
  4. The Balloonophilia Conflict
  5. Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine
  6. Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
  7. I Hate Guitar Solos
  8. The Psychology of Being a Super Fan in Sports
  9. Kinesthetic Learning in Sports
  10. Charles Bukowski hates Mickey Mouse

I must admit I was a little surprised that the Indigo Children post did so well.  I guess it had more of a tie-in than I thought, but I’ve found that you can never predict these things.  The others were not a surprise to me, as I knew when I wrote them that they were quality posts.

The following is a top fifteen list, listed in chronological by the number of hits they’ve received, of the posts that I believe have been largely, and in my opinion criminally, ignored.  I was going to write another top ten list, but that would’ve meant excluding two of my favorite posts Mechanical Animals and Would you eat something someone cared about?  I honestly think that the top five listed here are some of the best posts I’ve ever written, and I would include Nobody Cares About You and Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?  It’s really tough for me to say that one of my babies is better than another, but this is a condensed list of my favorites.

  1. He Used to Have a Mohawk
  2. Chances are you’re a lot like me and my life with alcohol
  3. Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds
  4. You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!
  5. Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence
  6. Building the Better, Happier Person
  7. The Mythology of You
  8. Nobody Cares About You
  9. Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?
  10. The Wicked Flames of the Weird
  11. Food Glorious Food
  12. Mechanical Animals
  13. Do the Apophenia
  14. Details, Details, Details
  15. Would you eat something someone cared about?

An Argument About Arguing


“You just love to argue!” a friend of mine said to me.

To me!?

To that point in my life, I had been that person that avoided arguments. I often walked away from them. When that wouldn’t work, I was prone to level the “You just love to argue!” charge against them.

Bear+Attack+Girl+Video+PhotoI don’t think even this friend of mine would accuse me of being a hyena, in the world of arguers, but I was once a limping antelope caught up in a pack of hyenas. It got so bad, at times, that I would examine, and reexamine everything I planned on saying. I feared everything I said would provoke an argument. I just wanted to have one peaceful day at work. When that wouldn’t work, I just stopped talking. I didn’t understand how everything I said could be so wrong, so controversial, debatable, and subject to argument. At one point, I gave up trying to figure it all out.

It was obvious to this pack of hyenas that I didn’t know how to argue, because I wasn’t used to everyone challenging every idea I had, but the fact that they were so confrontational about damning my ideas told me more about arguing than any debate class could.

Being the recipient of such a charge, after those dark years, taught me something. I liked it. It was shocking, but it was also pleasing.

When this accusation began popping up more often, and I began to reflect on the nature of the charge, it dawned on me that there are those that love to argue and the vulnerable subjects of society that they pick on. Some of these vulnerable subjects were less intelligent, but most of them didn’t spend every waking moment of their life arguing, so they weren’t as equipped as those that did. The question I had, now that I was being accused of being the former was, am I guilty of preying upon the vulnerable?

The difference between a healthy debate and an out and out argument is seismic. Even if some of these healthy debates are characterized in this manner, by the hyena that won’t leave you alone, you’ll find yourself leveling the “You just love to argue!” charge to end all future debates, healthy debates, and out and out arguments, and you will grow frustrated when it doesn’t work.

The question the vulnerable subject will have is why do they keep coming back to me with new information, new points to ponder, and a never-ending cycle that appears to be redundant to all observers? Why me? Why don’t they bother Suzy Q over there? She appears to enjoy arguing as much as they do? Yet, they keep coming back to me.

After receiving the charge that I’ve made against many, for so many years, I found the answer. I found the answer to why they sought me out, in my search for why I sought some of them out: I like to win.

Those that hate arguing, hate losing. They fear entering into an argument with a worthy opponent over subject ‘A’, and the revelations that will occur when they find out that the worthy opponent prove to know more about that subject than they do. The worthy opponent has proven, in the past, to be a worthy opponent. Most arguers do not enjoy arguing with a worthy opponent. The best way to avoid such embarrassing and stressful revelations, they think, is to just avoid arguing altogether.

Those that love to argue, on the other hand, appear to think that they learn things about all the players around them, and they may feel they learn things about themselves by arguing. It might all be a complex pursuit of intellect and psychology, for them, but it might also be something very simple: it may be all about winning and losing.

Most arguments seem so simple that they’re not worth having, but some people love to win arguments so much that they seek out the one person in the room that feeds their bear better than anyone else. Is this you? Do you have a person, that no matter how many times you say you don’t want to argue about it, won’t leave you alone about an about an annoying amount of everything? It may be that you’re better at feeding their bear than anyone else. Either you walk away, or you let it be known that you just don’t like arguing. Whatever the case is, they must find your reactions nourishing to their ego, or they wouldn’t keep coming back.

“Why do you insist on arguing about everything?!” is something you might say, in the face of their constant badgering. Or, “Does everything an argument to you?” You may even decide that you just don’t enjoy being around them, that they make you uncomfortable, and that you don’t enjoy their company. You may know that they enjoy watching you scream and squirm on a certain level, but you’ve provided yourself some comfort in stating that there must be something wrong with them if they enjoy doing that. If you’re one of these people, and you’re getting lost in the forest of their argumentative minds, you may want to start looking for the signs that say: “Don’t feed the bears!”

“I know I shouldn’t walk away,” you may say. “But it can just get so exhausting arguing with them.” The problem with this line of thought, as anyone that knows anything about bears will tell you, is that when you feed a bear they keep coming back. It’s the nature of the beast to keep coming back to the spot where their ego was nourished with the least amount of effort involved. They will no longer go out into the wild, where they belong, to keep their instincts shiny and honed, and they will become fat, and lazy, subsisting on your ineffectual, but nourishing responses.

There are some bear feeders, and we all know one, that believe that an argumentative bully can be put down with one clever turn of a phrase, or a well-timed, well-placed shot on the chin. If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider the idea that you’re watching way too much TV. In the fantasy world of television, where the screenwriter of that show has their character deliver that one shot, clever turn of a phrase they wished they said to their bully, that puts their bully in his place. In the fantasy world of television, the bully comes to respect the victim for their moxie, and the two of them may skip off together, hand in hand, in an eventual pursuit of the conflict that led this complex bully to be so insecure that he felt compelled to pick on his victim. If you’re one of these people, you may want to consider either turning the TV off, or switching the channel. The Lifetime Network is doing you more harm than good at this point.

In the world of reality, your single shot results in little more than putting the smell of gun powder in the air. The reason that you fired that shot was not to hurt them, but to try and scare them off a little. As anyone that knows anything about bears can tell you, the smell of gun powder triggers an instinctual mechanism in the bear that will cause them to keep coming at you until you are forced to recognize that it’s going to take a strategic concentration of blows to be delivered over time to put them down. It’s going to take a thorough understanding of the bear, and an ability to defeat them, with repetition and patience, until that moment of truth arrives when they bring up an argument and they try to avoid looking over at you while doing it. Either that, or they will avoid broaching that topic that they know is in your wheelhouse.

_47451911_4compYou will know that you’ve stuck a dagger in their purported “lifelong love of the arguing” when they give visual cues that they’re relieved that for the first time in a long time, you have said nothing to contradict them. These moments, when you become the bear, don’t come around often, and you should feel free to rub it out on the nearest tree as a reward for your constant, and confident, and strategic defeats, of every argument they left by the trash can for your nourishment.

Some unfortunate, and lifelong, victims believe that I am 100% incorrect in my assessment that constant, confident, and calm refutation has any merit, and they opt for a more high-pressured, high-volume attack that they believe will whip the head of the argumentative bully around to a realization that all victim’s desire: the ‘You don’t wanna go messing around with me no more’ realization. This attack often involves a lot of swear words, a red-face, and some ultimate ultimatum. This tactic has never proven effective, in my experience, and I have witnessed it attempted many times, from all sides of the paradigm.

There have been times when I’ve been on the casual observer side, and I’ve heard these argumentative bullies whisper: “Watch this!” before launching on you people. I’ve heard them state with pride that they can get a rise out of you, when you’re not around. They love this, is what I’m saying. They take great pride, almost to the point of arousal, in the fact that they are one of the few people that can cause you to get hysterical.

“Why do you give them that?” I’ve wondered aloud on more than a few occasions. In a few of these occasions, I have been a disinterested, neutral party. I don’t care about the well-being of the vulnerable subject, and I didn’t find the bully’s persecution particularly funny. I just wanted to know if the vulnerable subject understood the dynamic of the situation. The reactions I’ve received are just as red-faced, and laced with profanity, and high volume. It has led me to believe that some people are victims as a matter of happenstance, and some are a species unto yourselves.

Some arguments are germane and vital to a person’s existence, and the best argument I’ve heard for never walking away from them is that you have to teach people how to treat you. Those that love to argue will put a person through the ringer, just to see what they’re made of. These types disgust those that don’t enjoy being tested. They want to live in a world where everyone treats everyone else in the manner they want to be treated. They want to live in a land of peace of harmony. Too bad, say those that love to argue. This is the real world, and we’re going to force you through this tiny, revelatory hole just to see what you come out looking like on the other side. These arguments are often of a more personal nature, and they cannot be avoided. You have to teach others how to treat you.

If a person enjoys arguing, and they seek out arguments of all stripes, they will eventually encounter a person that argues about everything and nothing, and they will do so in the same argument. My advice to those that have any regard for their mental health, is to simply pack up your belongings and walk away. These types of arguments are indigenous to an annoying species of bear called the plane switchers. The modus operandi of the plane switcher is to start an argument. If they find that they have tripped upon a subject their counterpart is well-versed in, until an argument that began with a discussion on the homeopathic uses of emu urine somehow switches to the origins of the Wiccan religion. How did these people do that, might be the first question we ask, as we begin to see all the “Don’t feed the bears” signs around us in the dark and sparse forests of the plane switchers. Further inspection of the argument reveals the fact that the question regarding their ability to deflect doesn’t matter near as why they do it, and I can answer that question with one word: victory.

My advice, again, is to simply walk away. If, however, it is impossible to walk away, as the person may sit in an adjoining cubicle in an office place, or they may be a loved one. In some cases, I have found that the task of switching the topic back to the germane topic takes a steady, subtle hand, and on other occasions I have found that it calls for brute force. If we are able to manage switching the playing field back to the subject at hand, we might find our way out of one argument, on one day, in the everlasting arguments with these exhausting people, and all exhausting arguers, until we run across the person that mistakes us for being a person that loves to argue.

I remember that day, oh so long ago, when that first person accused me of being an argumentative person. I almost laughed in her face. When she did that, they had no idea how many times I said what I said just to get the other guy to shut up for five minutes. They had no idea how many times, I packed up my stuff and walked away from an argument I found tedious, and they had no idea how many times I lost arguments. They also had no idea how many times they presented me an argument, and all I was doing was countering that argument. They had no idea that they just wanted me to lie down, and roll over, and accept their argument in the manner they presented it. If they knew the painful and emotional road I traveled on to get to the point where I received their wonderful compliment, they would have never said it. They just knew the finished product that stood before them arguing against their argument. They didn’t know how many years I spent in the loser’s bin, unable to compete, not knowing the right thing to say, and trying every possible method I could think up just to shut just one of them up. They just knew the finished product. They didn’t know about all the Dr. Frankenstein’s that gave the beast life.

Very few arguers know the argumentative beast living inside them. They don’t know the maturation process that their beast went through, or the weaponry their beast purchased with intangible experience, but they do know that they like to argue with you over any other individual in the room, because they love to see someone else do the squirmy, screamy dance that they used to do when arguers chose them over everyone else in the room. They may not know any of the complex, intellectual, and psychological algorithms of their beast, but they do know that they like to win, and that you –the person that doesn’t like to argue– will always give them that.

The Freedom of the Self-Checkout Aisle


When the first self-checkout aisle was rolled out, circa 2001, I thought that Big Business had finally invested in technology for someone like me. I thought I was being rescued from the inane conversations that seemingly lonely checkers feel compelled to engage customers in in the full-service aisles. I thought price checks might finally become a thing of the past, in my life, with the advent of self-checkout. I thought I was being rescued from ever having to endure the spectacle of a customer waiting to pull out their checkbook until all the items have been scanned and the total has been given. There are no checks allowed in self-checkout after all. I thought self-checkout was a dream, for do-it-yourselfers around the nation, a dream come true. I thought we would all be granted more time to do other important things in our lives.

Self service checkout-1349917As with any dream, that eventually becomes a reality, I feared self-checkout would be a temporary experiment that everyone would have to do their part in if we ever hoped for it to survive. I knew this experiment was conducted for business, and as with any experiments in business there would have to be a learning curve in the beginning. Eventually, I thought, lines in the sand would have to be drawn if the gods that manned the security cameras were going allow us this privilege long-term.

At some point, I thought, we consumers would have to engage in a melding of the minds that defined those that were prepared for the requirements of self-checkout and those that weren’t. I never thought we would reach an age, in the self-checkout era, where a Darwinian divide would have to be laid out. I just thought that those that were perpetually unprepared would eventually weed themselves out.

You can call me a fool if you want on this note, but I thought that this dream-like opportunity would eventually weave its way through our society in just such a manner that the unprepared would begin to decide that self-checkout just wasn’t for them, that it made them too nervous, or that they couldn’t handle the rigors of all that scanning and swiping. I thought some would eventually decide, through trial and error, that they were just more comfortable with full-service, and that they would never attempt to cross aisles after repeated, embarrassing failings. I thought a certain point of harmony could eventually be achieved where the prepared would say to the unprepared, “I have no problem with you brother. I don’t think any less of you, full-service consumers, as long as you learn your aisle, and they stay there.”  Unfortunately, as we’ve all discovered over time, the self-checkout aisle didn’t cut dividing lines, it only exacerbated the notion that most people live with delusions and illusions of who they are.

I probably wasn’t as prepared as I believe I was back in 2001, when I first began scanning my own items, feeding machines my money, and bagging my owned groceries. I probably made some mistakes that would greatly embarrass me if anyone had tape on it. I wanted to be one of the prepared, though, I wanted to perform self-checkouts for the rest of my life, and I thought I would only be allowed this privilege through merit. I never thought I could do it once or twice and be given a special designation. I knew I would have to prove that I was a prepared one every time out.

And if you’ve ever had a hard-nosed teacher in grade school, that granted you a special privilege, you learned this principle too. You learned that if you didn’t constantly prove yourself worthy of that privilege she granted you, on a constant basis, that hard-nosed teacher took that privilege away from you. If you had that hard-nosed teacher, you learned that excuses played no part in her world of privileges. Act right, and you get them, screw up, and they’re taken away from you. That’s what I though this whole world of self-checkout would eventually become.

I thought that the prepared world would eventually acknowledge that there are some products that don’t have Universal Product Codes (UPC) symbols. I didn’t think this message would have to be sent out twelve years in, especially when we’ve all been in full-service aisles where checkers have to look up UPC numbers on those pieces of fruit, or candy, that don’t have UPC stickers on them. We’ve all seen this, and in the universally prepared world, we prepared for that eventuality before we reached the self-checkout aisle.

Others don’t seem to care about the special privilege self-checkout offers us. They don’t think about the freedom performing our own checkouts offer us, or the time it frees up for us. It’s just another aisle to them. They do little-to-nothing to uphold the standard required to sustain this freedom. They just buy a couple of watermelons and stare at them with confusion, with a loaded UPC gun in their hands. At that point in their transaction, I want to run in and block them from all security cameras. I don’t want the gods manning the security cameras to see this. I don’t want them to know that there are still people, twelve years after its nationwide rollout, that haven’t prepared for the self-checkout aisle.

They twist the watermelons over and over, they turn to their tech-savvy teens, and then they ask the self-checkout checker for help. They have no fear that this could be documented, and that the self-checkout could go the way of extinct animals that weren’t properly equipped to sustain themselves. “You’re ruining this for everyone!” I want to scream. The checker, in charge of the self-checkout aisle slides over, and she punches in the code that these watermelon buyers should’ve noted, on the watermelon bin, the moment they realized there was no UPC sticker on them.

These particular customers aren’t satisfied with the checker’s services. They’re even more confused when she finishes punching in the code.  “I thought they were two for one?” they say.

“They’re only two for one, if you …” the checker went on to detail the specifics of the deal, and the customers only grew more confused. The two parties argued a little. I didn’t know the specifics of the deal, and I didn’t care what they were, but I wasn’t purchasing watermelons. If I were, I would’ve known every detail of deal, because I am always prepared. I belonged in this aisle.

The customers then ask this checker to take one of the watermelons off. We’re stretching into the five minute category, at this point, much too long for a self-checkout transaction. ‘They’re watching,’ I want to tell these customers, ‘And they’re taking note of all of your confusion.  Do you have any idea what you’re doing? Do you even care that you don’t belong in this glorious aisle? You need more help lady, you need full-service, and if you ever paid attention to your characteristics, you’d know this.’

Other self-checkout aisles, others that I abandoned based on the fact that they were loaded with fat, doughy customers, are proceeding through their checkouts with speedy glee. I entered this aisle based on the fact that this family was Asian, and you can call me racist, or racial, but I thought they would have enough intelligence to figure this whole thing out. In my experiences with the Asian people, I have found them to be either intelligent enough, or so embarrassed at their lack of knowledge in one particular area that they sheepishly accepted whatever they were told to avoid causing a scene, or an unnecessary delay to those waiting for them. I have found them to be extreme conscientious, in other words, to a point that usually matched mine. These Asians did not match my expectations, and they didn’t appear to care one way or another that they were causing me a delay.

In lieu of this unprepared family’s actions, I lined up all of my UPC symbols, so I could scan in a flurry. I also took out all the cards that would be necessary to complete the transaction. Now you could say that I was slightly unprepared prior to the example set before me, but I knew where all the UPC symbols were before I lined them up, and I knew exactly where all of my cards were. By performing these few actions, I was not only prepared, I was extra-prepared. I would be cutting a thirty-second transaction down to twenty with my extra-preparedness. I considered this a service to those behind me. I considered this doing my part to sustain the legacy of freedom created by the self-checkout gods. I wanted to show all of those around me, and the gods manning the security cameras, that this whole idea of absolute freedom being afforded to the consumer was not only warranted but necessary in a society of impatient people.

‘We’re almost through,’ I thought when the Asians finally began swiping their credit card. I thought about how much of my life I had already lost watching them struggle through the self-checkout process. I also thought about how, if these people had allowed me to cut, based on the comparatively few items I was purchasing, I would already be home, immersed in a conversation with my wife. I was soothed by the fact that they were swiping their card, though, and that this would be all ending soon, until they began having trouble with the swiping process.

As a non-confrontational individual, I decided to communicate my fatigue for their inability to swipe, through body language. I slumped back and began texting, and I sighed. It wasn’t a huge, look at me sigh, but it was audible. When that didn’t work, I began stretching my head up over the aisles to look at other self-checkout aisles, and how much fun they were all having over there. I never intended to go to another aisle, it was too late at that point, but I thought if nothing else comes of this, at least I can inform these unprepared people that they should never go through the self-checkout aisle again. They were just too unprepared for the self-checkout requirements, and if they only learn one thing from this whole experience, perhaps future generations of consumers can be spared from ever having to go through this kind of trauma again.

After the fourth swipe, the Asians cast an obligatory look at the back of their card. After the fifth swipe, they cast the obligatory look to the staff member in charge of helping out self-checkout customers. This staff member slid over again and achieved an approved status on her first swipe, and the customer granted the checker the obligatory excuse for why she couldn’t do it herself. I thought of Larry David.

Larry David is not a good swiper, and he acknowledges this, and Larry David is a relatively intelligent being, and even he can’t explain why he’s not good at swiping:

If you told me twenty years ago that I wouldn’t be a good swiper,” Larry David said, “I never would’ve believed you.”

‘Being a bad swiper is not a sign of a lack of intelligence,’ I repeat in my head over and over, until I begin to believe it. ‘You’ve had some problems swiping in the past, and you’re a reasonably intelligent being. You know this, the gods have to know this, and they have to be making some allowances for these Asians in their notes.’

I am through my self-checkout transaction in under thirty seconds. The people behind me love this, the gods behind the security cameras see this, and I almost sprint with my shopping cart to get right behind the Asians as we exit the supermarket, to show them that a self-checkout transaction can be performed this fluidly by someone that is prepared. I want them to know that in the future, if they’re as unprepared as they were today, they should probably just go through the full-service aisles to engage in witty banter with a checker. I want them to recognize which aisle of humanity they belong on, so they won’t ever venture into our glorious, self-checkout line again. I want to tell them that it’s fine that they’re not prepared, and that I think nothing less of them, as long as they acknowledge the facts about who they are, and they don’t venture into our world ever again. This freedom should not be afforded to all, I will tell them, and we will both laugh when they say, “Those aisles just make me nervous.” That laughter will be fueled by both parties acknowledging that we’re just different people, neither of us superior to the other, just different, and if we could just learn to stay in our separate aisles, the world would be a much better place to live in.