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.

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.

When we talk about monsters, who are we talking about?


 Who are you, and how close are you to becoming a monster?  Are you a rational, quiet individual that wouldn’t harm a fly?  If you are, and most think they are, why are you so fascinated with the talk of monsters?

If you’re one of those that shout “Just kill the guy!” at a movie screen when some fella comes along and “fronts” your main character, how close are you to handling such matters in that manner?  “Don’t take that stuff!” we shout. “Kill him!” While we must take into account that this is just a movie in our scenario, and you’re just an audience member when you do this, we must also consider how many of us go to those movies that “do” what we would love to do in the confrontations of our life?  How close are we to those with a penchant for violence, and why do we enjoy these movies so much?

joker-the-joker-28092805-1920-1080How many of us would get a perverse thrill from having murder in our personal arsenal?  Or, if that’s too irrational for you, how many of us would love to have the fear of our potential for violence on the minds of those that confront us?  It’s seen as “respect” in many of the top, action movies of the day to have another back down before saying a word, because that side character knows your favorite character’s penchant for violence.  How many of us have laughed at the idea that this side character backs down, because he knows not to mess with the crazy, main character?  How many of us would love to have that definition of respect incorporated into our daily interactions?  We may never act in a violent manner, but we would love to have that persona.  How many of us get a perverse, vicarious thrill from watching our favorite characters resolve their problems in violent ways that we can’t in our civil society, and how close are we really to enacting that persona?

The-WolfmanWhat is a monster, and what’s the difference between them and those that would never purposely harm another individual?  The reason we developed fictional monsters in the first place, writes author John Douglas in his book Mindhunter, was to give us some distance from this question.  We’re human, they’re human, and what’s the difference between us and, say, a good looking, well-educated, and seemingly benign person like a Ted Bundy?  They’re monsters, said those 19th century people that understood the complexities and vagaries of the human mind far less than we do.  They may seem unassuming now, but if a full moon rises, they change into a monster of inexplicable horror.  They’re not like us after all.  PHEW!

These people had some idea that some, seemingly benign people can have mental health problems on a scale that they may end up hurting someone, but the idea that it could be as a result of a natural chemical depletion was foreign to them, so they needed to think that there was some form of distance.  They didn’t understand the resultant effects injuries can have on the brain; effects of enzymes levels, like dopamine and serotonin; effects of heredity and rearing; and they probably didn’t want to know such things.  They didn’t want to think that they were that close to those they labeled heinous monsters, so they turned to the world of fiction to give them comfort from these thoughts.

When we talk about monsters, in this modern era, we all know who we’re talking about.  We’ve all heard, read, and watched the stories of mass shootings, and we’ve all watched with open mouthed awe, from a comfortable distance, but at a certain point in the media saturation of these stories, some of us begin to wonder where we truly lie in the aftermath of these horrible tragedies?  Who are we, and how close are we to becoming that which we fear most?

We’ve all read the books in the True Crime section of our local book stores and libraries that will start with the “It could be you” narrative, that details how a normal, Midwestern, and religious small town white boy became an assailant.  His story is not that much different than ours, the theme of this narrative suggests, and this just opens our mouths wider and causes us to flip the pages faster.  How close are we to this truly horrific creature we’re reading about?  What was that different about their upbringing, their daily lives, and the thoughts that led to these horrible acts?

At some point in their maturation, these assailants chose a path that separated them from us, but this point of separation didn’t usually occur in one, solitary event.  There isn’t, usually, a substantial fork in the road that we can point to that says, “That’s where he and I differ.”  Most true crime authors don’t let us off the hook that easy, for that would be a simplistic reading of their complex, yet simple character, and they’ve written a whole book on the subject, so you’re simply going have to get to a half a bun on your chair while reading this book what could be more about you than you know.

If the author does provide some sort of separation it’s usually, and purposefully, murky.  The gist of the story that “this could be more about you than you know” is the reason most of us bought the book in the first place.  Some may have made the purchase based solely on the sadistic, or voyeuristic, interests in reading about torture, mayhem, destructive viciousness, and psychopaths, but most of us want to know about the separation.  Most of us want to know why we haven’t gone on killing sprees, or at least what makes those who do so different.  It could be that there actually is no separation, or it could be that providing unquestionable and substantial proof of the separation will lose the reader.  Whatever the case is, we continue to buy these books in pursuit of a truth or an explanation regarding why some fantasize about violence in the dark recesses of their mind, and why some act on them.

virginia-tech-shooter-cho-300x182Disgusted by the insanity defense, a friend of mine said: “I think we can go ahead and say one thing that is not debatable, and that is that anyone that would take the life of another is, at least, a little insane. To resort to taking another man’s life as a form of problem solving that requires, at least, a temporary degree of insanity that I’ll never know.”  Does one have to be insane to take another person’s life, especially if the matter at hand is somewhat innocuous, or is the determination of that person’s insanity a way of distancing one’s self from having to deal with the fact that they may be a lot more like us than we want to explore?

This mystery of what separates the rational from the irrational and the irrationally violent is not modern, and in some cases it dates back to early man.  Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1821; Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897; and references to Werewolves were written in ancient Greece.  Trying to understand why man acts in the manner he does has fascinated other men for as long as we’ve been on the Earth.  It has fascinated some, titillated others, and repulsed many so much that they don’t even want to talk about it.  Those that are repulsed by such discussions believe that we are humanizing these monsters by giving them such play in the media and medical journals, and that we are giving them exactly what they want by broadcasting everything about their otherwise, anonymous lives.

We’re all fascinated with violence to some extent, some just may choose to distance themselves from that fascination that they don’t want to explore it in anyway, but is the person that is interested in exploring the differences closer or further away from the separation than those that aren’t?

Why are some prone to purchase a Rottweiler, or a Pitbull, and others a Poodle?  I know, I know your Pitbull is not violent, and you’ve raised him well in a happy home, and he wouldn’t harm a fly.  He’s just Ralphie.  He may be Ralphie now, but he wasn’t always Ralphie.  He was once a … Pitbull!!!, and if you’ve read or heard any stories about them, then you know that Pitbulls have a propensity for violence.  I know, I know, you’ve heard stories about the propensity that the Chihuahua has for violence, we all have, but how many “Chihuahua bites man” cases have come before Supreme Courts?  How many Supreme Court justices have found the Chihuahua to be “inherently dangerous” as they did the Pitbull in a case before the Maryland Supreme Court?{1}  The Chihuahua may have a propensity for violence that matches, and in some cases exceeds, that of the Pitbull, but does anyone care based on the capabilities of the Chihuahua?  The point is that potential owners are attracted to the potential and the capabilities of the Pitbull, and in this writer’s humble opinion, they love explaining that away too.  If it truly is not the case that you are in some way attracted to their potential, why didn’t you just pick a Poodle, or a Puggle?  They’re boring.  But why are they boring?  Why are there so few documentaries done on the anteater compared to number done on the shark or the alligator?  Why is Shark Week an annual event on The Discovery Channel?  Why do some people love the books of Stephen King, the movies of Quentin Tarantino, and violent rap music, while others read Dickenson, watch Wes Anderson movies, and listen to Brahms?  Some are simply more fascinated with the propensity to violence?  How close are they, and does owning a Pitbull give their owners greater distance from this potential, or does it tweak their fascination with it?

This article is not intended to be a tedious, Phil Donahue-style exercise in moral relativism, but an examination for why we are fascinated with violence and the tenuous line that exists between those that act on their fantasies and those that are fascinated by that tenuous line.  If you have a quick and easy answer for where you stand on that line, how did you arrive at that answer?  And why are you able to pull it out in such a quick-draw fashion?  Does it provide you comfort to have this answer at the ready, especially when it didn’t require much examination in the first place, or is it just easier for you to live the unexamined life?  Do you know yourself better or less than those of us constantly in search of answers?  Are you confident of your answers, or are you so insecure that you can’t stand the questions, and you seek a fictional depiction of a heinous creature to give you a comfortable distance?  Who are you, and how close are you to becoming that which you fear most?

{1}http://www.policymic.com/articles/8104/dog-owners-beware-maryland-warns-that-pit-bulls-are-a-danger-as-government-targets-your-pets

Rilalities


Dad and sonTo buy or to buy not.  When I was younger my Dad did not buy me everything I wanted, and I hated him for it (hated being the preteen version of hate).  A part of me still believes that of part of him enjoyed saying no to me.  A part of me also thinks that a part of my psychosis was developed by the constant “No’s!” I received from him.  Another part of me wonders what kind of man I would be today if he gave me everything I wanted.  Would I be a spoiled brat?  Would I have some sort of obnoxiousness about me that expected to be able to buy everything I wanted —to have everything I deserved— regardless if I had to go into debt to get it?  Would I be one of these ‘I deserve it’ adult babies that permeate our culture?  Another part of me knows that I would’ve had to eventually work myself through whatever psychosis my Dad chose to inflict on me, and I would probably be in the exact same place I’m in now.

Under-Estimate Children!  It may be better for our society if we start striving to under-estimate children.  Our culture is going through a silly phase where we’ve taken the old adage “We can learn a lot from our children” to an irrational stratosphere where .  I have to believe, for the purpose of my own sanity, that people don’t truly think children are smarter than adults, but that it’s something neat to say.  Therefore, when they say, “Kids say the most amazing things, kids are so innocent, and kids see things without the heavily tinted sunglasses we do,” I take it with a grain of salt.  I have had friends further these cliches and leave me with the idea that some part of them believes it (as a result, this humble observer, believes can only arrive after all the other parts have lost so many wars over the years that they’ve simply given up).  Kids are sponges and balls of clay.  They have very few original thoughts, and the few original thoughts they are usually gibberish.  They know nothing, except what they’re taught, and when they’re caught, and every kid I know now is just as malformed and uninformed as every kid I knew when I was a kid.

Freaks are people too ya’ know.  There was a daily parade of freaks that worked with me on an overnight shift.  When I watched this parade exit the building one day, it dawned on me that each of these freaks had a story that was aching to be told.  Most of them did not want those stories told though.  Most of them didn’t think they had stories, or the kind of stories I tell.  Most of them suffered from the Pinocchio syndrome, a desire to be normal boys and girls.  The further away from normal these people, of varying ages were, the more convinced they were of their normalcy.  Most people like you won’t hear their stories, however, because there’s a fear that you’re too normal, and you will judge them harshly from that vantage point.  They only tell their stories to one of their own.  Call it a gift, a curse, or a truth that I am as yet unaware of, but I convinced them that I am one of them.

Psychology fills the gap.  How do politicians and writers manipulate their audience?  They know their psychology.  I cannot imagine a writer, or a politician, succeeding in their craft without first knowing a lot about psychology.  Maybe a politician can, due to the fact that they’re usually figureheads among an enormous staff that has a finger on who you are and what makes you tick, and they feed that information into the politician’s Tele-Prompter.  A big town writer, writing small-time blogs, can’t get away with that though.  They have to have an insatiable hunger for what makes humans tock, and tick, and a progression to psychology is a natural one, for in most cases the science of writing, and the science of psychology are much the same science.       

idealisticIrrational Idealism.  I was once of an irrationally idealistic mind.  “I agree that America is the best country in the world, but who’s to say that we can’t all make it better?” was one of my favorite replies.  Those currently of an idealistic mind approach me in a manner I used to approach traditional thinkers, with the mindset that this is the first, idealistic thought I’ve ever encountered.  Most idealistic thinkers believe that their individualistic twist on an issue is one that has never been considered before.  Most idealistic thinkers cannot conceive of the idea that they’re wrong, for they’ve conceived of the idea on their own, based upon their relative influences.  Most idealistic thinkers believe that the only reason traditional thinkers stubbornly cling to traditional thinking is that they have never truly considered the idealistic thinkers open-minded ideals before.  Most idealistic thinkers cannot fathom the idea that you’ve “been there, done that”, and that you don’t believe their ideas and ideals are effective based on your experiences in life.

Money Falling on Happy BusinessmanMoney can Buy some Happiness.  A 2010 study suggests that $75,000 a year is enough to make a person happy?  Why?  To be truly happy, the study suggests, a person needs only enough money to be able to afford certain products, a certain amount of freedom, and the ability to avoid worrying about bills.  A person that makes $100,000 a year doesn’t necessarily have greater emotional well-being, and they have no extra day-to-day happiness, than a person that makes $80,000 when all of the individual variables are taken out to achieve a general rule.  $75,000 appears to be the leveling off point, or what the researchers call a financiohappiness ceiling, at which an individual can afford all of the luxuries of life without worrying about bills.  Or, as Henry David Thoreau once said, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”{1}  Does this mean that a man should cease striving to be better, with more money in his pocket as a product of that increased stature, no, but the study suggests that his happiness will probably not increase in relation to his pocket book.  While that is a provocative idea, some would suggest that contrary to everything Hollywood has ever told you, it is the striving to be better that makes one happy, and money is simply a happy byproduct that defines better.  If your driving force in life is attaining more money, and buying certain products, you’ll probably not be happier with more.

The Pursuit of Happiness.  Hollywood movies teach us to never settle, and that we deserve better.  Sports teach us to never be satisfied, and that we deserve more.  The pursuit of happiness may break down to focusing on what we currently earn versus what we think we deserve.  When asked if he felt he deserved a National Championship after all those years of near-misses, Nebraska Conhuskers coach, Dr. Tom Osborne, said: “There’s no such thing as deserve in college football.  If a coach wins a National Championship, he has earned it in that particular year.”  When one earns a dollar, there is often little question of his worth.  You may believe that you deserve more, but as the old saying goes, “You are only worth what someone is willing to pay.”  With that in mind, we have a concretized grasp on that which we’re worth in life, but some part of us believes that we deserve more.  Earned is something one works for and is rewarded upon receipt, and deserve is some existential definition of something we feel we should have based on the fact that we’re still alive.  Controlling for variables in institutions of higher learning, and most union work, it is found that most institutions don’t pay one more for being alive another year.  Most raises, given to those in the real world, are meritorious (i.e. earned).

When we see those neighbors that don’t work as hard as we do, and we realize that they’re happier than us, we think we deserve to be happier too.  We don’t know what it is that will make us happier, but we’re in a perpetual pursuit of it.  We’re usually unsatisfied with the result, because the relative definition of deserve is relative to that which we seek, which we don’t know and never will.  If a spouse questions this psychosis, we let them know that we aren’t the type to settle.  We also tell them that we deserve better, and we move onto those greener pastures.  In this selfish pursuit of a definition of happiness that we deserve, a definition usually steeped in stupid, self-serving decisions, we incidentally affect the ancillary victims (our kids) of our lives, so that they are perpetually unhappy in pursuit of this definition of happiness that we’ve passed onto them.

Monogamy is Constraining.  I used to claim that I would not conform to the constraints of monogamy, until I began defining myself within “my monogamy”.  My monogamy is not your monogamy, and no one else can define it for me. Once I began defining my monogamy, I realized a degree of fulfillment that the single life could never achieve. Once I realized the inner core to my monogamy, I also realized something that couldn’t be defined by anyone else.  That cliché that when you fall in love, you think you’re the only person that has ever been in love, is so true, because you get to define it month by month, day by day.

Why does this girl love me?  I have no idea, but the inquiry challenges me.  I, like most people my age, think of myself as a little, unruly child unworthy of love that will eventually be discovered once she unzips the zipper in the back of my neck to realize the monster that I really am.  The truth is that she has defined me in certain ways, and I have evolved myself to meet a new standard.  She has deprived me of that sense of emptiness I used to feel every day, that angst that drove me to write beautiful, provocative prose, but in its place is this sense of completion that only I can define.

I used to abhor holidays too, and though I didn’t go so far as to not participate in them, I saw all of them as false and conformist.  I wanted something out of holidays and relationships that no one could give me … until I started giving to them.  As they say, “It is far more rewarding to give than to receive.”  Therein lies the key, once you start giving to a relationship, you start down the road to completion.  Once you sacrifice that portion of yourself that used to define you as a strong, single, and rebellious person, you start to realize who you really are, and what you can be.  The single life seems so rewarding in the rock star, Hollywood light, until that light begins to expose the underbelly of your empty existence.

I would never claim that my solutions are for everyone, but I can say that you’ll never know yourself completely until you are involved with another person long term.  The “constraints” of monogamy actually freed me up more than anything else I’ve ever experienced.  Trying to get another person to love me, every day, changed me in ways I couldn’t understand, until I began to experience them for myself.  I realized that my definition of the constraints of monogamy were wrong once I began defining my monogamy with “the right person” to assist me through a life of consistency and normalcy.

Something Shocking.  As our culture moves to a more permissive state, I can’t help but wonder if creativity will eventually become its casualty.  Television programming is better now than it has ever been.  I realize that every person believes in their own superlatives, but it’s my contention that there are numerous mid-level programs on the air now, that are superior in all ways to the top programs of the past generation.  Is this a result of more competition, from internet programming and cable, or does it have something to do with the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has loosened the standards on TV?  Most TV watchers, of a given age, don’t think it’s even debatable that the FTC has allowed for more coarse language and more violence than they did in the 70’s.  The question is if these shows are allowed to be more provocative in these ways, does that provide for more creative writing, or cover for the fact that the writing is not of the quality that existed at one time does it make the writing appear more creative, or is creativity not as necessary as it used to be when the FTC was more constrictive?

This leads us to the question the effect of something shocking.  Is something shocking better?  I don’t think many would debate that it is.  As long as that something is not gratuitous, and it fits the frame of the story, something shocking can capture our attention better than the most creative writing in any venue, and it has us talking about the show the next day at work.  As provocateurs like George Carlin basically said, however, “Be careful what you wish for,” when it comes to tearing down all walls of constriction and small forms of censorship.  “Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll be left with nothing to rebel against.”  In other words, as the FTC allows for more and more shocking subject matter to be aired in the airwaves, something shocking may not be as shocking as it once was, and we find ourselves playing king of the mountain, until nothing seems as shocking as it once did.

xlarge_dating-profileSprucing and Fluffing.  I got lucky, I say to those that wonder how I met my wife in an online dating forum.  I would not say that my approach to her was any more skilled than anyone else’s.  I would not say that I used my creative writing talents to appeal to her in anyway.  I would just say I got lucky.

“Just about every guy claims to be as adventurous as Bear Grylls, with Brad Pitt looks, and has a workout regimen that would cause Arnold Schwarzenegger to blanch,” says a friend of mine regarding some of online dating site profiles she’s viewed.  She then goes onto provide hilarious examples of the attempts some guys have made to “spruce” up their profile.  The import of her message was we’re all onto you fellas, and we think that you’re absolutely ridiculous.  The jig is up, she basically says, so why are you continuing to make utter jackasses of yourselves?  The answer: it works.

Why do politicians run negative ads every election cycle when everyone and their brother knows that negative ads don’t work.  How many politicians say that one of the goals of their campaign is to avoid negative ads? How many polls state that “People don’t care for negative ads,” yet just about every political campaign runs them.  How does the notion that “negative ads don’t work” persist?  Perhaps it’s because losing politicians run negative ads too.  Perhaps it’s because most election analysts don’t focus on the fact that our current leaders ran negative ads in their elections too, and perhaps that has something to do with the fact that we don’t like to be reminded about what that says about us.  Some may say that this is a simplistic explanation of modern politics in America today, and it may be, but I would counterpoint with the question: “Which part of you are negative ads trained to appeal to?  The complex??”

How many of us would tell a pollster that we want more infighting, more partisanship?  What kind of person would say, “I love negative ads!  I think that the polarization clarifies matters for me.” No, we prefer that that pollster consider us a wonderful person by saying, “I wish that we could end all this partisan bickering, and get back to creating jobs for the American people.”

How many of us have scrolled through Yelp postings to find what that one negative comment had to say?  How many of us have read through positive reviews of products on Amazon.com with the mindset that they all positive reviews seem to run together after a while, until we find that one negative one that seems to stand out?  We all know that one negative comment is far more effective than one hundred positive ones, but when that pollster comes up to us and asks us what we think of one particular negative ad, and we respond that we need to get them out of politics.

The point is that we want politicians to appeal to our better half, but other than the politician’s research team knowing that this is not a fundamental truth of human nature, they also know that positive ads can only take them so far, that they all begin to run together after a while, and negative ads about an opponent do provide an excellent distraction away from the politician’s limitations.  Negative ads also feed into notion in the zeitgeist that going negative is being real and being more honest with the voters.

So, online dating girl, you go on believing that you know more about these unemployed, overweight guys that live in their mother’s basement posting positive ads about themselves that make them sound like Bear Grylls, and look like Brad Pitt, and they’ll go on posting these ads, because they work, and you will continue to fall for them.  And the fact that you keep falling for them, and falling prey to the subject matter in negative ads, says more about you than it does them. The jig is not up, and as David McCraney said, “You’re not as smart as you think you are.”