Category Archives: Confidence

I Dare You to Give Me an Ultimatum

My first girlfriend threatened to break up with me if I didn’t go to church with her. I almost felt sick. I was in the 17-year-old equivalent of love with her. I thought my brain would explode if I didn’t see her every day, I was addicted to our naïve and frankly pathetic hanky-panky, and I always had a date without thinking about it too hard. Enduring two hours a week of hellfire and ladies’ fellowship bake sales didn’t seem like that big a price.

And yet the ultimatum tore at me. It wasn’t that I disliked church so much. I just disliked my girlfriend using love like a club to chase me into the pews. I didn’t know what to do. So I didn’t do anything, and in the end my sweet little flower of femininity broke up with me in a spectacular brush-off, in the school auditorium with all our friends watching. That was my reward for being unable to deal with an ultimatum.

I wandered through the next several years in befuddled incompetence where ultimatums were concerned. I mismanaged girlfriend ultimatums, which landed me in places like the Flower Show and theaters playing Annie Hall. I botched some friend ultimatums that led to all the fixtures torn off my bathroom walls and a singularly unwise loan to purchase a tenor saxophone. I made disasters out of ultimatums at work and at school. I don’t even want to talk about ultimatums that take place in bars.

This misery continued for six years. Then my nephew turned five years old and began educating me in the ways of ultimatums. He learned to master them because he was always in the middle of one. Most of us try to avoid the things, but he courted them. If he wanted a thing to be true, then some triviality like the opinion of the rest of the human race could not deter him. And he handled ultimatums with a tactical brilliance that would have sent Hannibal fleeing back to Carthage to live out his days as a turnip farmer.

As an example, say my nephew wants to play with his grandmother’s antique cigarette box shaped like an elephant, and he picks it up. His mother, knowing that within two minutes he will annihilate the thing like Hiroshima, takes it away from him and tells him no. He considers her opinion on the subject to be without merit, so he picks it up again. She once more takes it away from him and then issues her ultimatum: “Leave the elephant alone, or you’ll be punished.”

I recall seeing my nephew assess such situations as carefully as Tiger Woods on the 17th green. In those days we had no such thing as “time out.” We did have “sitting in the corner,” which was the same thing except for the beating you got on the way from the cigarette box to the corner. So he knew the stakes. He could avoid punishment and forever be denied playing with, and possibly destroying, that cool elephant cigarette box. I would probably have done something stupid like waiting until mom was in the kitchen before playing with the cigarette box. Then when I smashed it into splinters I’d receive punishment that was worse by an order of magnitude. My five-year-old nephew was fortunately smarter than me.

Let us return to my example. My nephew now stands there gazing at the cigarette box, while his mom hovers above him, a thundercloud of menace. He knows that the ultimatum game is a war, not a battle. If he gives in now, he turns himself into a slave, owned by the threat of being sent to the corner. He’ll never get to play with that elephant cigarette box. And his mom may try the same ultimatum trick to keep him away from the grandfather clock, the tacky ceramic lamp in the hall, and the M&Ms in the top of the pantry that he can reach by using a kitchen chair and a broom handle. That’s nothing but the crassest sort of defeatism.

By once more laying his sticky fingers on that elephant he gets a trip to the corner, augmented by some frustrated whacks from his mom. But he’s also declaring that punishment will not deter him, and that he will poke any ultimatum in the eye. Maybe he can’t play with the elephant cigarette box today, but at least he can accept punishment on his terms. And he may be punished tomorrow. But this is war, and tomorrow is another battle over that stupid elephant. He’ll probably lose that one too, but after a dozen or a hundred ultimatums his exhausted mom will lose the will to fight. She may only send him to the corner for a minute with a half-hearted swat. A few dozen more ultimatums later his mom will be completely broken and not care about the damned cigarette box as long as he doesn’t burn the house down.

That’s what my five-year-old nephew taught me. When they give you an ultimatum, poke the bastards in the eye, take the punishment on your terms, and outlast the sons of bitches. You do anything else at the risk of becoming their chattel. And at the risk of skulking out of the school auditorium with a stupid look on your face.

"Ho Chi Minh has nothing on me."

Photo from Bluebird of Bitterness, which is damn funny.

The Perfect Storm in Jamaica

In the first three days of our romantic Jamaican holiday, my poor decision making skills nearly killed my wife and me. I blundered into buying a deep tissue massage, and we would certainly have died if I’d had enough money for the two hour session, or if our masseuses had been a bit more muscular.

Yet we survived. In celebration, we summoned the will to drag our body parts to the beach the next morning, which was the first really sunny day of our trip. Back home I’d purchased some great spray-on sun block, so we needn’t smear our entire body surfaces with goop as if we were birthday cakes. The stuff came out of the spray can shockingly cold, but we coated each other with diligence, except for our faces of course. We slathered regular, semi-gelatinous sun block on our faces.

We took it easy on the beach. We relaxed for half an hour, swam in the ocean for half an hour, relaxed another fifteen minutes, and went inside to take stock. We saw the beginnings of a nice tan. On our faces. Everywhere else our skin had achieved the color of the surface of Mars. When we returned to our room, the temperature inside went up ten degrees.

It became clear that if we wanted to get home alive I must not make any more decisions of any kind.

The next day was Valentine’s Day, which called for romantic hi-jinks, since this was a romantic vacation. My wife was empowered to select romantic hi-jinks for us. She chose zip lining. As far as I knew, zip lining was how guys with guns dropped out of black helicopters to shoot other guys who didn’t happen to be looking up. My wife informed me that was a narrow view of the term. You can also dangle from a wire stretched between two trees and let gravity hurl you across the gap, with no opportunities to shoot anyone on the other side. That too is called zip lining. Since this was Valentine’s Day, and this sounded so damned romantic, and I wasn’t allowed to make any decisions anyway, I said, “Sure.”

Our romantic zip lining rendezvous would happen in a lovely canopy jungle, which sounded pretty good. But we were at the beach, where canopy jungles were conspicuously missing. The jungle we needed lay rather closer to the middle of Jamaica. We spent two hours on a cute bus driven by a charming fellow named Chris, and I learned three things on the ride. First, it does not pay to be timid when driving in Jamaica. Second, I would refuse to be a pedestrian in Jamaica. I’d sit in a room and starve before I stepped onto the street. Third, I’ve spent about six hours on Jamaican roads, and I have had the honor of passing through the only stop light on the island, twice, and never slowing down either time.

At Zip Lining Base Camp the guides organized us, distributed equipment, and gave a detailed lecture on technique and safety procedures. We all signed a waiver, which none of us really read. I did catch some phrases like, “able to walk for 30 minutes,” “not responsible for spine injuries,” “coronary event,” and, “nausea and vomiting.” Well, I figured the lawyers probably just made them put that stuff in there. As I walked by a table one of the guides asked whether I wanted to take such a nice camera with me. I said sure, I wanted to take pictures. He warned me it would be wet, but I said I’d be okay. He persisted, saying it might rain, but I just waved and kept going.

Three guides led us ten hapless dopes to the first zip line, and a few things became apparent right away. The guides were funny, funny guys. The guide who’d warned me about my camera had a better camera than mine hanging from his neck. Since I’d brought my massive Canon along anyway, the guides named me “Paparazzi.” And when we hit the first zip line the guides just hooked us up and told us to grab on and go. It was like that lecture on technique and safety had been some sort of dream.

The zip lining itself was a hoot, especially the longer, faster lines. The guides kept us from dying, and more importantly entertained us while they did it. But I’ll tell you a secret about zip lines. The end you start on has to be higher than the end you finish on. That means to get to the next line you have to walk uphill. Actually you have to walk up rough rock steps. Steep ones. And lots of them. After a while, some of us had our heads down, gasping like an ox in Death Valley. The disclaimers about coronary events and vomiting flashed through my mind.

Despite that, we zipped down seven lines in all and had a great time. I took some pictures that didn’t suck. As our bus hurtled back toward our resort, dodging larger vehicles and intimidating anything smaller than itself, I reflected that my wife had made a good decision.

Back at the resort and drunk on successful decision making, my wife chose an oriental restaurant for our big Valentine’s Day dinner. While the food was delicious, they served us an entire trough of sushi. My wife’s bowl contained enough noodles so that placed end to end they would reach the height of the Statue of Liberty. We’d been zip lining all day. We were hungry. We ate a lot.

In our room after dinner we lay on the bed and looked at each other. Valentine’s Day would seem like the right time for some romantic hanky panky, especially on vacation. Yet we lay on our backs like chubby otters, unable to do anything but roll a bit from side to side. My wife said, “It’s like a perfect storm. The deep tissue massage, then the sunburn, then zip-lining, and now we’re stuffed full of noodles. I don’t know if we can touch each other without screaming.”

We’re so in love. We’d better be.

My Quarter-Century of Dumb

Last week a smart woman told me to do something stupid. I said no, and she argued that even if the stupid thing didn’t help me, it wouldn’t hurt me either. I gave her reasons why I thought this thing she suggested was dumb. She huffed and said she’d been doing her job for 23 years, and she’d seen this thing work over and over. She didn’t come right out and scream at me to shut up and give in, but that may have been a matter of good breeding.

When she pulled out her 23 years experience, like Colt revolver at a gunfight, that’s when she lost me. I’d been teetering towards doing her dumb thing, but her vast experience meant nothing to me. Think about it. If I suggested that you start steering your car with your feet, would you fling off your sneakers and jump in the driver’s seat just because I’d seen it work for 23 years? If you would, please meet me at your bank with the keys to your house and a pair of fur-lined handcuffs.

Bobby Heinlein wrote, “There’s no virtue in being old, it just takes a long time.” Of course, he was an older fellow when he wrote it, but the sentiment still applies. The young may be wise and the old foolish, just as easily as the other way around. If I’ve done something for a generation, my head’s now so full of the things I know that there’s no room for the things I don’t know.

Today I found myself heaping gentle contempt on that well-meaning woman with 23 years of experience. Then I asked myself what my wife might say to me. My wife is always on my side in the ways that count. This means she is frequently not on my side when I’m behaving foolishly. Then she explains the other side, which is good for me in the end. In this case I’ll paraphrase her imaginary advice to me as, “You behave exactly the same way, dumbass.”

And of course, she is correct. She’s correct even when she’s only present in an imaginary sense, and I must say that’s a nice trick. But now that the mirror has been shoved in my face, I have to look at myself fairly hard. And that leads me to wonder about the ways in which a generation ago I was wise and today am foolish.

Buy cheap beer. My younger, wiser self ignored irrelevancies such as brand and flavor when buying beer. He only concerned himself with cost. If he could get a case of Milwaukee’s Best for $4.00, he bought a half dozen of them. Today I may pay $10.00 for a six-pack of fine, imported beer, but my young self knew that after the first three or four cans all beer tastes the same.

Don’t try to predict the future. I worry about the future these days. I think about investing for retirement, about the job market, and about home prices in my neighborhood. I even budget. If my younger self could see me, he’d snicker at the old guy wasting his time. He’d know that I can’t control any of these things, and that they’ll happen whether I worry about them or not. When they happen, that’s the time to deal with them. The young me understood this in the way that only those who drive a 15 year old Malibu that may throw a rod any day can understand it.

Don’t worry too much about having a job. My young self loved having a job, since having money let him buy cheap beer and pay rent and go out with his friends. But he didn’t fret about losing a job or finding another one. In fact, he was a lot more likely to keep his job when he didn’t act paranoid about losing it, and the job was less annoying too. My young self would be appalled to see me obsess over having a job, and young me would probably write older me off as a heart attack waiting to happen.

Buy stuff used. I admit that now I like to buy new things. There’s something about being the first person whose butt has embedded itself into that couch. But my young self knew that was nothing but conceit. Why buy a bed when you can buy your roommate’s brother’s futon for ten bucks? It’s just as good and is cheaper by two orders of magnitude. Young me would tell older me that used stuff is almost always better than new stuff, if I can just get past my big, fat ego.

Hang out with people you know, not people you look at. My young self spent a lot of time with his friends. They went to crappy bars, and to movies, and to play Frisbee golf, and to Shakespeare in the Park, and to dance clubs where the girls had fun torturing them. I can’t think of a single time that a friend called to say, “Hey, let’s go to that happy hour where the toquitos made us puke last time,” and young me replied, “Sorry, I’m watching TV tonight. Baywatch is on.” Young me knew that even puking with my friends makes a better memory than David Hasselhoff with no shirt on.

Don’t read editorials or reviews. Today I feel oppressed by the sense that there’s so much to know. Is Congress going insane, is Europe going down the toilet, will The Hobbit be any good, which news network is the biggest gang of lying bastards? It’s just too much. My young self simply assumed right out of the gate that every person older than him was lying to him about everything. If everyone says that interest rates will keep going up, just assume that rates will go down and move on. Go see whatever movies you want, even if all the reviewers say that “Caddyshack” sucks. My young self understood that there’s not too much to know. There’s just too much to worry about.

Tell people what you think. My young self rarely hid his thoughts. If he thought you were an overripe cluster of dangling camel scat, you probably knew it almost right away. People didn’t wonder what my young self thought. He sometimes earned trouble for himself, and a few people didn’t like him much, but he didn’t walk around trying to remember what not to say to dangling camel scat guy. When he said what he thought and people liked it, he knew he’d found a good place to be. He filtered the undesirable people and places out of his world by being a nasty jerk. It was a win-win.

Looking back now I see that young me was often wise, while older me has become foolish. Maybe this will help me empathize with my fellow foolish old guys, but I’m not sure I can recapture any of that youthful wisdom. I guess I can try. Come by this weekend—we’ll sit on my futon, do dumb stuff, and drink cheap beer.

The wisdom of youth. I'm the one praying for death.

The Innermost Secrets of Fear With a Side of Cheese Fries

I now know that fear of public speaking and fear of clowns are the same thing. Or they are when you look under the surface. My friend Karl helped me understand this. Karl and I sometimes go to Chili’s to hang out with our friend, Jeff. We talk about things like Napoleon’s battles and the properties of foam rubber while we drink beer and eat cheese fries. Last night I mentioned to them that I’m afraid the Christmas gift I bought for my wife sucks. Since she flat out told me she wants a squatty wooden chair for Christmas, giving her a lousy squatty wooden chair would be bad, and I fear that. I believe my fear is justified.

Cheese Fries - The Philosopher's Friend. Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill

Karl swallowed a mouthful of fries and said, “You sure are afraid of wolves.”

I stared at Karl as if he’d said he had x-ray vision and his nipples were made of diamonds.

He went on, “Every fear can be boiled down to the fear of being eaten by wolves. For example, you’re really afraid that your wife will hate the chair, and that it will poison your marriage, and that she’ll boot you out of the house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“No I’m not!”

“No? Are you really this scared just because you think she’ll look at the chair and frown, or because she’ll yell at you? Nope. You’re scared of the wolves.”

“Hey, wolves don’t eat people too much. That’s a myth,” Jeff said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Karl said. “It’s a myth that most beautiful women go for fat, bald guys who play video games, but that doesn’t stop fat, bald guys from thinking it. I’ll prove this. Ask me about another fear.”

“I’m afraid of giving speeches,” Jeff said.

“Easy. You’re really afraid that when the audience hears how bad you are, they’ll hate you so much they’ll chase you out of the building, and you’ll be fired or maybe branded, and that you’ll go broke and lose your house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“Oh come on,” I said. “That’s dumb. That stuff won’t happen.”

“Of course it won’t happen. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid of it, deep down. Ask me another one.”

I thought for a moment and grinned. “Fear of falling.”

Karl grinned back. “You’re really afraid that when you hit the ground you’ll break your legs, and that you’ll drag yourself around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

Jeff snorted and lifted his beer mug to his lips.

“Honestly,” Karl said. “You’re not as afraid of instant death as you are of a thoroughly agonizing maiming, followed by a desperate struggle and painful death. In the jaws of wolves.”

Karl stared back at us in triumph as he unconsciously played with a cheese fry, making it dance across the plate in front of him.

I squinted at Karl, hoping I looked like Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars, but expecting that I probably looked like a lemur in Death Valley. “Fear of clowns.”

“Clowns riding wolves. The clowns mock you, and the wolves eat you.”

“Fear of spiders.”

“Wolf spiders.”

I raised my eyebrows at Karl.

Jeff jumped in, “No, I get what you’re saying. You look at a spider and your brain screams that some terrible thing is going to eat you. You know that little spider can’t eat you, so deep inside you’re afraid you’ll end up being eaten by wolves. In the snow.”

Karl smiled and held out his mug to toast with Jeff.

I refused to surrender. “Fear of success.”

“You’re really afraid that when you succeed you’ll change, and people won’t like you anymore, and then they’ll abandon you, and you’ll lose everything, and you’ll be alone wandering around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

This was stupid. I looked up at the ceiling and pursed my lips. Karl and Jeff began chatting about how electric socks are made. Then I set my mug down as if it were an iron glove flung at Karl’s feet. I snatched a fry and said, “Okay, if you can answer this one I’ll give. Fear of sinning and going to Hell.”

Karl leaned back in the booth. “I’ll concede that you’re not afraid of wandering in the snow. But you’re not afraid of Hell itself, either. You’re afraid of what will happen there.” Karl finished off his beer, which mainly consisted of his saliva by now. “If there are wolves in Hell, they won’t just eat you. They’ll eat you twice a day for all eternity. Now, you met my uncle Luther, right? The one that knocked over that liquor store after kicking the Salvation Army Santa in the stomach and stealing the donations? Well he died six months ago. So I guarantee that there’s at least one vicious, rabid wolf in Hell to welcome you.”

And thus Karl made his point. It’s all about the wolves.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill.

The Rebirth of the Nice Guy

Books have changed my life. “Trout Fishing in America” taught me that there are people weirder than me. “Breakfast of Champions” taught me that if I do something really stupid, nobody will care that I intended to do something really smart. “The Silmarillion” made me so mad that I forced myself to read the son of a bitch three times so I could at least keep all the elves straight in my head. And now I find my life again changed by a book.

Last weekend my wife and I attended a huge street festival. On Saturday, 50,000 people shoved their way through eight square blocks of downtown Galveston, shopping for cheap silver earrings and lining up to buy shrimp on a stick as if they were lining up to be healed by the Shroud of Turin. But on Sunday the winter rain fell. We joined seven other people wandering the streets, watching vendors pack their trailers and go home to their TVs and beer. We didn’t walk those streets because we’re stupid. We did it because we’ve been conditioned to walk around festivals in the rain, as if there were a bell at the end of the street and Pavlov was our master.

At noon we dodged into a restaurant, but it turned out to be a store disguised as a restaurant, trapping unwary, hungry people in aisles of glass beads and cheap purses. We perused. In the back corner, between some tasteful scarves and some cocktail napkins with pithy sayings, sat a book, and the title snatched my attention. It was called “Assholology.” I don’t think anyone could resist picking it up to browse. I wanted to know what the assholes among us look like, how they live, and how to avoid them.

I read a few paragraphs and snickered. I looked at some chapter titles and became thoughtful. I scanned a bunch of pages and swallowed real hard. My wife was poking through some signs with pithy sayings. I said, “Sweetie, I do 75% of the stuff in this book. I must be an asshole!”

She raised an eyebrow at me. It made me feel like I’d just told her I was a vertebrate, something that would be instantly known by anyone who saw me walking around.

I looked at the book again. The authors were Steven B. Green, Dennis LaValle, and Chris Illuminati. I realized that I don’t want to be an asshole. I don’t want everybody to hate me, and I thanked these men for stopping me in time.

I internalized the book’s main premise. Assholes get what they want, and they get away with it. That made sense. Everybody hates someone who gets what he wants and gets away with it. You’re not supposed to get what you want, or else you should get caught and punished. I absorbed the mantra, “Don’t get what you want. Don’t get what you want. Don’t get what you want.” I whispered goodbye to that dream of a flat screen TV. But hell, I’d have to find someplace to hang the thing anyway, and I can spend the money on lottery tickets and caramel frappucinos instead.

I rushed on to specific asshole behaviors like, Always tip and tip well, Become the bartender’s best friend, and Treat your boss like he’s not your boss. Okay, from now on I’ll only tip exactly 15%, and only if I get good service. I’ll help that waitress understand how it feels to not get what you want. If I don’t get good service, that’s okay. At least I’m not being an asshole. And I’ll work to be a non-entity to the bartender so I can wait an extra 10 minutes for my whiskey sour. And I’ve got a lot of work to do in order to begin treating my boss like a divine potentate whose presence I’m not fit to contaminate with my tawdry self. These were going to be tough, but I could do it.

Finally, I faced the three essential qualities of an asshole. These things I must expunge from my being so I won’t be reviled by my fellow man. A thick skin. This makes sense. If I’m not an asshole anymore, no one will have a reason to hate me. I won’t need a thick skin. I can accept being devastated when someone tells me I sing like a mule with strep throat, or that my taste sucks because I like the movie “Frankenhooker.” That one’s easy.

The ability to say no to anyone. Perfect! I hate saying no to people anyway. Now when my co-worker wants me to work Christmas Day for her, or when my visiting niece wants to go to an un-chaperoned party at a lake house next door to a meth lab, I can just say yes. My life is about to get a lot less stressful.

Confidence coming out of, well, your ass. From now on I must endeavor to be too insecure to make a statement like that, even if I were talking about somebody else. I’ll have to rephrase it as: Confidence coming from a place we shouldn’t really be talking about, and you shouldn’t be having so much confidence anyway since it might make you look like a bad person, and people might not like you. If I say that, no one will hate me for being an asshole.

World, I am done with being an asshole. Prepare yourself to like me a whole lot more. I owe a profound debt to the brothers Green, LaValle, and Illuminati. They’re like the Three Wise Men riding Harleys instead of camels, and bringing bribes instead of frankincense. Their book stands as a magnificent signpost telling us how not to live. And it doesn’t have any damned elves.

Written by my new reverse-life coaches - available at Amazon, and at Barnes and Noble

I Never Let The Facts Stand In The Way Of Thinking

The only Beach Boy who could surf was Dennis Wilson—and he drowned in 1983. This is the kind of valuable, compelling fact that I used to keep in my brain. How foolish I was, possibly because I’d stuffed my brain with a bunch of facts. But the world has transformed itself into a place that provides alternatives, and I needn’t clutter my thinking apparatus with facts anymore. I now let the internet and six terabytes of data storage in my study remember things for me.

You may doubt that I can function after transferring my organically-housed data to off-site storage. I get by fine, thank you. I have fewer headaches, I don’t tell people they’re wrong anymore, and I never waste time on bar bets or whether $2 is a good tip on a $25 check. By the way, my iPad says that is not a good tip, but I have to pay 99 cents at the App Store to get the full version that will calculate the right tip. In the meantime I just left a $20 bill and stole three forks.

To give you an example of my newly superior functioning, I’ll describe how I don’t need to carry any facts in my head in order to get a good deal on a car. I first go to Google and type in “car,” which produces 4,490,000,000 results. This is far better than my unassisted brain could do in 0.23 seconds. I do realize that I need to narrow the search a bit, and I type “how to buy a car.” That gives me 77,800,000 results in 0.25 seconds. Now I’m making progress. But I can do better. I try “how to buy a used car” (4,460,000), “how to buy a good used car” (391,000), and “how to buy a used car without getting screwed” (24,000). Although I’m excited by this success, I still find the prospect of scanning 24,000 sites a little harrowing, so I trust Google and pick the top one on the list.

I won’t tell you the name of this website in case I ever decide to sell cars. I don’t want you to have these secret inside facts to use against me. I will say that the site hosted 18 advertisements, not including two pop-up ads for discount insurance and payday loans. I scanned through the flashing and wiggling ads and found the pertinent facts on buying a car. The first item was, “Decide what kind of car you want.” That made me pause, because I wasn’t sure how to make that decision. I didn’t have any facts about what I needed in a car. Gas mileage? Trunk space? A great stereo, or maybe seat warmers for a toasty bottom in January? I tried “what kind of car do I need?” in Google, but I just got a bunch of questions asking me what I need in a car, and I’d already established that I didn’t know. Finally I just took the choice at the top of the list, which must always be the best, and selected a convertible. I experienced a moment of hesitation, feeling that I might need more detail than just “convertible,” so I narrowed it down to a blue convertible, seeing as I really like blue a lot.

Now the absence of facts in my brain became a powerful tool for good. The internet provided every fact I might need, such as vehicle history reports, list prices, feature packages, and the evils of extended warranties. This left my mighty, unencumbered frontal lobes free to concentrate on the negotiations and the sale. When the salesman whispered that he could give me the secret sport-rally ultra-burn package without his manager knowing, my brain recognized that it must be a valuable deal since I’d never heard of it. I snatched the offer in order to prevent it from going to that greedy couple from Abilene he told me about, who were coming back for it in the afternoon. The best part of all is that the car is colored “Porpoise Snout Blue.”

I’m lucky to live in today’s world, where my brain’s capabilities can be fully unleashed on society, and you’re lucky too. I’ll meet you for lunch at Starbucks, and we can have a disjointed sharing of vaguely connected sentences while we each search the internet to find out what we’re talking about. I may be late. I’m driving my new convertible, and I have to launch a browser on my phone so I can look up what that triangular red and white street sign means.

Porpoise Snout Blue brings out the color in my eyes. (photo courtesy of A Pink Princess)

Purchase “Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit” at Amazon.com

“Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit” is my collection of humorous and sarcastic essays, and as of today it’s available at Amazon.com! You can purchase the e-book in Kindle format for $3.99, and it contains over 80 essays pulled together from the Infinite Monkeys Publishing site, The Whims of Fairness, and totally new material. Plenty of great photo illustrations with snide captions are included as well. This book can be purchased at this Amazon.com link.

For those of the Nook persuasion, “Bring Us The Head Of The Velveteen Rabbit” will be available electronically at Barnes and Noble within a few days!

 

I Folded Like Cardboard Soaked in Gin

I have failed my greatest tests of character. I admit that doesn’t look good on a t–shirt. I suppose I could try to equivocate, or even slip out of this admission entirely. I might say that a test of character is “an instance in which one is faced with a situation that challenges the social norms of one’s culture.” That half-assed sociology student’s definition would enable me to meet any challenge with buckets of character to spare. But hell, I can barely understand what it says. My people didn’t define a test of character that way. For them it was, “you want to do a thing you know ain’t right.”

Like everyone, I’ve demonstrated my tarnished character many times in my life, maybe two or three times a day since I turned three years old. Mostly the small things defeat me. Watching Popeye smack the fool out of Bluto while I should have been cleaning my room. Drinking beer at school when someone was around to take my picture as evidence. Blowing off Biology because English was more fun. By the way, if they don’t want that to happen then they shouldn’t make you collect bugs for Biology while they let you make movies for English. These were small tests, but I’ve failed many thousands of them, and they add up. They add up to exactly not a damn thing, in my opinion. They’re just the price of having bigger frontal lobes than the other primates. That’s right, I jumped off the house to impress a girl because my lobes are big.

But bigger challenges have often annihilated me. And I don’t remember anyone walking behind me dangling a carrot in front of my face. I embraced character corrosion all on my own. For example, my heart told me that dropping out of college was the wrong move. My brain, gut, gall bladder, and pancreas did too. I didn’t listen or even care. Later on, I knew with mathematical certainty that when I walked into the totally nude bar with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red in my right hand and a bottle of Gatorade in my left, it would result in me starting a fight and waking up the next morning in a pool of vomit and blood. Did it anyway. I haven’t always done the most awful thing possible. I have good days. But I have faced decisions about cruel behavior, illicit substances, illegal activities, procrastination, prevarication, and degradation of the temple that is my body. I made the wrong choice pretty often. And I admit that these decisions do mean something to me when I take my character out to examine it at night.

But my most devastating character tests have involved women. I’ve chosen well at times, emphatically so in the case of my current wife. But generally, getting involved with a woman has turned my character into a pillar of salt. I’ve fallen for women who reviled me, women who ignored me, and women who thought they liked me okay until our first date. I always knew I was making the wrong choice, but I didn’t possess the character to say no. I chased women whose boyfriends rightly threatened to kill me, and I caught women only to break their hearts. I was stupid enough to fall for my best friend’s wife, and reckless enough to marry the human least suitable on the entire planet to be my spouse. Note that I included both genders in that statement to give you an idea of the real scope of my blunder. These were my greatest tests, and unfortunately I’m a sucker for women, a sucker for love, and a sucker for bad choices about both.

Thank God for my current wife. Without her I’d probably fall into every bottomless crevasse of character subversion that I walk past.

They say that suffering builds character. Well, I don’t remember a single time that shrieking agony, even the emotional kind, built my character. Not a bit, not even at the atomic level. It just pissed me off. Occasionally it made me sad, but mostly I wanted to pry off someone’s testicles, yank out their eyes, and nail the testicles into the empty sockets. I guess that’s just me. If suffering builds character, why do so many people lead wretched lives, yet you wouldn’t trust them to scrub bird shit off a statue of Yogi Bear?

I’m going to assume that at some points in my life I did build a little character. I can resist accepting a gritty crust of bread as payment to dry gulch an orphan for her lunch money and her Hello Kitty backpack. I do have a modest capacity for doing the right thing. How did I build this smidge of character? It seems like on the few occasions that my character stretched, it filled me with frustration. Regret and even nausea often followed. These disturbing symptoms appeared when I decided to do a right thing and then stick with that decision throughout the complete denial of the thing I’d rather be doing. I would think, “Ah this is what it’s like to do the right thing. I am building character, and it will make it easier to feel even more frustrated and shitty the next time I do the right thing. Goody—I’ll go ahead and start getting extra frustrated now to be sure I don’t miss it next time around.”

I guess building character’s like building a muscle. If I work to make the right decisions now, I get better at making them next time, no matter how big a frustrated dope I feel like. I can now hear the generations of my people more clearly, saying to me, “Show some character, boy. To hell with that suffering shit. Just do what you ought to, get a big dose of frustration and nausea, and learn to like it.”