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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Greg Mortenson: What We Lie About When We Lie About Love

                    Next Cause: Equal Rights for Imaginary Friends


In the wake of allegations that the author of the wildly successful and inspirational Three Cups of Tea fabricated the story that many hoped would usher in worldwide peace and change, the world, thankfully or unfortunately (all about perspective),  has gotten right back on that old path with reinforced resolve...

Oprah, duped for the second time in four or five years, will need to wipe egg off her face once again; but don't think for one moment that someone won't pay, finding themselves with a beard of meringue soon enough.

Author Jon Krakauer, who apparently owns every mountain in the world, is telling us so: this is what happens when other people write about adventure.

And the millions who bought the book are finding solace that Three Cups author, Greg Mortenson is taking his, and that his work is now being dismissed as propaganda and mass marketing.

Question: As marketing assesses the demand and then supplies accordingly: we all know Mortenson was out to sell us something, but what did he know  we were looking to buy?


Let's forget about his questionable repelling, or how the schools are functioning, or even what his exact profit has been ( I believe that all 501c 3s need only give a certain percent- there is profit in non-profit).

Most significantly and as it happens most interestingly, Mortenson lied about his inspiration for doing his good, and the people he was doing it for.

The story goes that in 1993 Mortenson failed in an attempt to climb K2. Upon his descent, he got lost and was weakened. He was taken in by a village chief and family who nursed him back to health.

There was no interaction with villagers, and maybe no village ( well, the village was there, he just didn't spend any time being saved there).

There was no wool blanket- "their most valuable possession" cloaked over him. There was no sugar- a rare and "precious" commodity in the village- that was so generously expended on his cups of tea.

There was nothing that he needed to "repay" despite his claiming that he "could never repay them". And building the schools that served the impoverished village were not the "least he could do".

Yes, the villages are poor. Yes, the schools were inadequate. Yes, the villagers died of illnesses "easily cured in the U.S.". Why do we need a mythical night of goodwill that earns supporting anyone who believes in addressing this?

I'm willing to overlook the other fraudulent claims of run-ins with the Taliban (God, you're over there, who could resist?...I once lied that I gave up a cab in NYC to Deniro), the schools not working or having poor attendance (SEE: EVERY MAJOR U.S. CITY PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL).  His making money? Man's gotta live.

But this lie, that he based the book around; the night of tea that gave the book its name. I can't stomach it.

And there can be only one logical reason:

Mortenson lied because helping people in war-torn, impoverished, poorly educated, bullied, diseased and angry areas is a complex enterprise. The people are not always nice, as was the actual chief of Korphe who allegedly strong-armed Mortenson to choose his village for the first school.

When foreign teams are coming in to help build your schools and hospitals, yours is not a success story. There might be a lot about what's going on being the scenes that might not look too good.

Mortenson tapped into the reigning notion that the people we help must be likable; they have no differences from us ("at heart"); they  have nothing questionable about them ; and for whatever they're deprived by being poor and in need of help, they are really of the greatest spirit (SEE: The photo of GM with the villagers).

 2006 was a bad time for an American to release a book about bringing democratic education and restructuring to Afghanistan and Pakistan; a man who is so repulsed by the conditions of the society that he sets out to rebuild smacks of colonization.

And people with the best of intentions who have earnestly pursued social justice throughout our more recent history have been called imperialistic, racist, expansionist, hateful and other epithets that would really displease their parents.

Mortenson created the kind villagers because he couldn't tell the truth. And by endowing the villagers with this unquestionable, virginal goodness, he can make us all follow  The Star with him.

And he is the Messiah. He is swaddled and loved by decent peasants who are without sin- who are only trying to maintain a humble home and fend off the pressure of evil kings.

The issue I take with this is that Mortenson has pulled the biggest good-cop/bad-cop bit in history. As if the discourse about helping wasn't toxic enough, we have to get this sugary-sweet nonsense?

In the 1960's,  Labor Secretary Daniel Patrick Moynihan's "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action" came under attack from a generation of academics, and those who are supposed to care about social change, as a "racist affront" to society.

Today the work, while still controversial to some, is widely accepted as a legitimate (and, unfortunately, prescient) study of black culture. And with the backing of current-day African-Americans such as socio-economist Walter E. Williams, it is being revisited.

But as DPM remarked about the initial response, had his "head been on a spike" it couldn't have been more hostile.

Should he have invented a Harlem family who took him in on a snowy night when he was suddenly taken with the flu? The report would have been more widely accepted.

But would it have caused the focused commitment to the issues? Probably not.

That said, it would have stood a greater chance of making it to Oprah's Book Club.


As with most fraud, the literary heist reveals as much about the duped (the readers) and their prejudices as it does the perpetrator.

 In the early 2000's, a writer by the name of JT Leroy (forgive the formal introduction if you're familiar with story) was creating a wave in literary and celebrity circles with several novels reported to be semi-autobiographical accounts of a childhood of vagrancy, teen prostitution, abuse and, of course, literary travails:

"At 15, Leroy carried around a fax machine, plugging it into convenient store jacks and sending out the author's writing samples and notes. It's now the thing of coffeehouse legend."

His work was compared to Flannery O'Connor and William S. Burroughs. Celebrated writers such as Michael Chabon and Tobias Wolff endorsed Leroy.

Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, a "confidante" of the writer, both expressed interest in taking on roles created by the transgender author.  Fans and supporters included Diane Keaton, Tatum O'Neal, Liv Tyler, Shirley Manson and (big surprise here) Madonna, who sent him Kabbala readings.

They admired his talent and, more, his struggle .

 Ultimately, it was revealed that the androgynous Leroy, who claimed to be HIV positive, was in fact an otherwise healthy actress playing the young man at appearances, and the author of the books was really a struggling 30ish writer named Laura Alpert.

She had created Leroy in an effort to sell her books.

Celebrities cried deceit. This I took to be like the reality star who thinks she's marrying a millionaire and is really getting a brick mason cries "How could he do this to me?"

They did not care for Leroy (couldn't really, right?) , did not really know "his" personality, they didn't know him and while Alpert probably did a good job creating the persona, I can't believe that any of these celebrities who claimed Leroy a friend had any significant or meaningful interaction with them.

It was superficial and shallow, and Alpert, if guily of anything, is indictable for pandering to people with biased notions of struggle.

And more, for all their love of literature, these celebrities who name their guitars and children ( in no order of importance) after their favorite characters, they seemed to bail on the literary "brilliance" that really belonged to Alpert.

(For the record, the writing community continued its support of Alpert and her work.)

I don't know about you, but if it turned out that the works of Flannery O'Connor were churned out not by the lupus-afflicted Georgian but by an insurance salesman  from Sandusky, Ohio, I would still think "Everything That Rises Must Converge" was the most brilliant story I ever read.


The old Snake-Oil Salesman who traveled with his wagon full of miracle elixirs had the most success with two sorts: the stupid and the pious.

The stupid, well, you know about them.

The pious had other reasons for buying. With the snake-oil came a presentation about its creation. The salesman would fill in the blank depending on who he was pitching it to.

The self-righteous are more inclined to believe that a man was momentarily divined and created this cure-all  than that some mortal chemist theorized, dabbled and came up with a logical cure.

Mortenson wanted a cure. But his readers didn't believe a mortal could make it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Did The Geeks Win The War?

                                Ya Gotta Earn It (Or Buy It At Sears, $49.99)

The first rush was in 1987. Had any of us been analysts or risk assessors, we'd have been more prepared for what was coming. But we were jocks. And analysis was a geek vocation.

So, when Pejman Farwi decided to run for senior class president, we took it to be just a faceless opponent, like Walpole had been the day we beat them in the now famous "mud bowl." We were going to crush Pejman and move on, beer in one hand, balls in the other.

I understand it must be difficult to have passions that aren't appreciated, but in all fairness: we won states in hockey! "STATE CHAMPS!" Concise. "Best Rebuttal For an Open Reply at Regional Forensics Symposium" is pretty impressive, I guess, but try putting it on a friggin' t-shirt.

The short of it: There were a lot of unhappy geeks. 

No geek had ever made a run for class president and I must say his was a valiant effort against a popular, three-term candidate, my buddy Ryan (3-sport conference All-Star). We were shaken.

Ryan: 411 votes
Pejman: 17

Always being on the losing end in the popularity war must have sucked. But I think we were gracious winners (we'd had a lot of practice at it). Ryan offered Pejman a spot on his advisory committee.

Very gracious.

As campaign manager and chief cabinet member, I delivered the message to Pejman. He declined with a shake of his head and something I couldn't make out in Farsi.

But now, I think it might've been: You ain't seen the last of us.


Let me say, I was down with the geek movement from early on. In '84, when "Revenge of the Nerds" first came out, the entire country was with it: Jocks could be total dicks! The little guy has his day! And yes, there is more to life than sports and much of that life is made up of the contributions of geeks!

And before "Revenge," Stanley Kramer's classic "Bless the Beasts and the Children" about the sufferings of bed-wetters at summer camp made me and every other little leaguer cry when we watched it the last day of each school year.

But man, the '90s saw a different type of geek emerge: unapologetic and bold; hammering home that they were the future.

At the risk of sounding like one of those people who "loved early black cinema" and now reflexively hates everything--

I can't tell you how much I loved "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"...When Tom Robinson is on the stand in "To Kill a Mockingbird," well, I was embarrassed to be white...but Spike Lee...that's gone too far--

I longed for the geek of old.

I wasn't too comfortable with the geek that continually reminded me that mine and every other jock's days were numbered.

"Freaks and Geeks" was a great show, but one most guilty of that conceit. Sam and the boys are as intolerant of otherwise nice people not "getting" Steve Martin as the jocks are of the weak-armed outfielder. The geeks push away pretty girls who act like pretty girls, they chide non-believers of geekdom and remind each other that in the future they'll be kings.

Their nerdy A/V teacher tells them, pointing to an imaginary graph that the jocks hit their apex " high school...we hit it and after," indicating a rocketing line.

Being a geek, as a cultural entity, has become an entirely different thing than the dry-skin picking, comics reader of yore.

The super model boasts of being "such a geek." Sports Illustrated will do a piece on a college All-American who is a 4.0 physics major and is really a geek.

This is a misappropriation of the word. The model making her cameo on a sitcom does not become a geek simply because she snorts when she laughs. Because, when she does it, snorting becomes acceptable, attractive, and will soon be imitated by other model-wannabe-geeks.

The geeks could take a cool endeavor, and with their lip-gnawing passion and analysis, make it less-so. It is their passion as much as their particular interest that makes them geeks.

Comedian Tom Franck, a self-labeled geek, says that being a geek means to have an "obsessive interest in something... well, something that's not cool...I mean, you don't hear people say 'I'm such a coke and threesome geek.'"

There is some behavior that will never be "uncool," but I believe that that behavior will never become widely popular in the geek community. While innately cool, martial arts has an enormous geek following, and much of the karate boom of the '70s was due to geeks and their obsession with its super power appeal. Recreational drugs and sex, on the other hand, are inherently about not caring, dude. This lifts the geek out of geekdom. The geek loses his stripes.

The sudden mainstream popularity of the geek reflects the economic system: The broad-shouldered provider in the business suit returning home on the 5:53 Local is dead; he's traveling to conferences three days a week or working 'til 9 pm.

The days of "work hard, play hard" are no more. The estates have conjoined and geeks whose play -- computers, D&D, comics, science -- has always incorporated work are reaping the benefits.

With their passions and professions colliding, geeks dominate all professional worlds: finance, technology, medicine, entertainment and even sports (X's and O's becomes more and more a part of the game).

The wanna-be is trying to ape that exuberance to maintain viability.


But part of the success could be a manipulation...

In 1973, child development researchers at Stanford conducted an experiment testing a theory of deferred gratification.

A class of six year olds were given marshmallows. They could either eat the marshmallow immediately or wait for the teacher to return. If they waited, they would get two, four, as many as they wanted.

The conclusion was said to be that those children who waited were more likely to achieve success in school and, well, life.

First question: How many marshmallows do you need?

Maybe I want a marshmallow now and I don't want to be bogged down with it anymore; I can get more at home or wherever.

What does it say about a kid who wants to horde marshmallows that he may not ever want to eat? Where does deferred gratification become an early stage of simple greed?

Do you get a marshmallow Peep craving? Or is it when you see that pink, purple or yellow row of confectionary chicks, you gotta have it?

The experiment could also be gauging impulse control; how well the child assesses his own desires and how much he defers his own desires for others? I mean, marshmallows are bite size, made for popping, might it be a little strange to alter them into a futures commodity?

The researchers (note: with titles like Cognitive Development Fellow, there may be something of a bias  about intellect) define success mainly as "academic achievement."

Problem: They get to define and sway the perception of academic achievement. School curriculum is designed to stretch (or mold) students into what higher academic research, such as the Stanford Project,  promises to be the way to go.

To illustrate such influence:

"American Idol" was first billed as a talent showcase that could judge who "might have the stuff to make it." As the show snagged popularity, record labels agreed to give contracts to the winners and popular contestants. As a result, the American Idol judges can never be wrong, as who they pick automatically, by contract, are given success; they are no longer predictors but now creators of the "stuff."

Similarly, as any esteemed study dictates academic approach, the Stanford study guaranteed, in a way, that it couldn't be wrong by influencing the type of exercises schools employ.

Simply: School exercises (assignments) are based on what research finds important. The Stanford experiment says deferred gratification is important. School curriculum will be modified accordingly. Students who possess that quality will find school from the get-go a more welcoming, rewarding place.

How could you not be more successful?

Even "business success" can be influenced by such thinking. As most American business is theoretical --a product that may not even exist is bought on its thesis -- people who sound smart, who speak the lingua franca, who have gone the "reasoned" route, make investors more comfortable than the impulsive no matter how brilliant they may be.

Those who quickly gobble their marshmallows are more likely to attain success in fields where impulse is rewarded -- the arts and sports, for example.

All else being equal, I'd rather have a marshmallow gobbler playing defensive back on my football team; I think he would naturally grasp the idea of "when the ball's in the air, it's anybody's" than the deferential.

And trust me, you wouldn't want to have to sit through a talent show watching a bunch of performers with marshmallows still in their pockets.

                                             I know your pain, sister


The marvelous thing about geeks has always been their complete devotion to their passion above themselves. Comic book heroes, no matter the superpowers with which they're endowed, are not bigger than the larger goal (even if that goal were an evil one).

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a departure from that formula, as the protagonist's main obsession and pursuit is self-promotion.

Greg says early on in the series that he will one day be "super famous" and everyone will love him, but until then he has to make-do with a bunch of "neanderthals" around him.

What makes them "neanderthals?" Arm-pit hair? They're big? They play sports?

In "Revenge," Gilbert and Lewis enter college with the innocent belief that it will be different from high school and they will win over the jocks  and will make loads of friends.

On the contrary, Greg  seems to dislike his classmates on appearance and with no regard that they are on their own learning and social curve.

And like the coxsackie virus, narcissism is catchy.

The book's popularity stretches beyond the wimpy and has entered the masses as an accepted approach to the world and peers -- today doesn't matter, it's the future!

Not very Zen.


The class reunion is an ugly place. Aside from the looping slide show and display of baby photos,  making your former classmates feel like shit about how they look and what they do for work is a top-order of business.

And this show of snobbery has been given a wheels-of-justice justification in sentimental yarns on TV and in film. And the jocks, if not for them being presented as sad-sacks who have wasted life, are reminded of their adolescent nastiness.

"You were mean as a snake..." The nerd tells the former Beauty Queen. Yes, and you nerd, have cost people jobs with your corporate collusion; your contact list is full, but full of people who mainly served a professional purpose; And while you hated the snubs of classmates walking past you, you don't return phone calls and say "that's business."

Ponzi schemes, pharmaceutical mishaps, governmental improprieties, blockbuster movie trash business, excessive litigation, nuclear meltdowns.

All bad.

All of them have nothing to do with jocks. In fact, most have a lot to do with nerds.

Okay, I picked on you during dodge ball in gym class. You destroyed the world economy. Which is worse?

Most of the geeks I have known are really good folk. Smart. Funny. Great taste and not so interested in wide-spread popularity; if you're a struggling writer, geeks make the best friends.

Similarly, the jocks weren't as bad as screenwriters would have you believe. The challenge of Saturday's competition usually gave you pretty good perspective. The bully was usually the sycophant; the third-stringer or the guy who never played.

Perhaps, the current backlash against the jocks is being carried out by the same group of wannabes. Those who really never had the passion for comics, but now want in on the action.

We all benefit from the work of geeks. Many of my friends are geeks. And as time goes on and technology becomes more and more important in our lives, each of us becomes geekier by day.

Somebody oughta tell them, though, they might want to finally eat that marshmallow before it gets too stale.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are You A 'Keeper'? (And Should You Give A S**t?)

                         "Dear Gingerman, You Sweet, Asexual Cookie..."

Russell Banks wrote that nothing is more unhealthy than the need to be loved "for no reason." Who would argue with that?

 I might want to add, though, that being loved for no good reason is not such a great way to go either.

I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner some years ago and the father of the bride stood up and made a toast:

  "Before she met Dan, Jaclyn was dating a lot of other guys...a lot of them (he winks at us)...but after the first few dates she said to me that Dan was a 'keeper' I'd never heard that before.  But I guess Dan's what you call a 'keeper'"

Welcome, Son.

Aside it being incredibly romantic to use a term normally reserved for fish who've met the gaming board's minimum length requirement or are thrown back, it's kinda strange to allude to Jaclyn's extensive dating and (wink, wink) whatever that involved.

Or is it not? Maybe it was the most romantic thing that can be mustered in this day? Is that the way keepers are kept?

Looking at Dan and other members of the wedding party smiling at being keepers,   all I could think was that I was something of an inverted Groucho Marx who didn't " want to be in  a club that had someone like him as a member."


I am obsessed by my not being accepted to a club which I most certainly would not want to belong.


As a kid, my mother had us each make out a Christmas Wish List. We would have several large presents that we really desired and a slew of lesser ones that were filler in case the big ones weren't manageable ($).

The trick was to ask for the desired bike, Atari system, Weight Set, while not muddying the waters with the filler Encyclopedia Brown Series.

Sometimes it didn't work out and a feigned smile would tickle out a self-pitying wail : "But I wanted a bike! Not books!"

   "You asked for them!...Do you have any idea how much those books cost? " She'd say.

 No, I would think. But I certainly hope not as much as the Atari; that would be an epic fail.

The item most commonly on these keeper lists, those written in conspicuous bold capitals with red crayon is: money. Admirable character traits are the fillers.

I ran in the same circle of a woman who worked in publishing. Her underlings often remarked how Eleni, a conservative sort in her early 40's, worried and managed each detail tirelessly and it had brought her much success and power in the business. So, when she admitted to having got engaged to her husband of ten years after knowing him for only a few weeks, the group couldn't help but ask why?

Pantoming a clipboard with one palm and a pen in the other hand, she said, " I had my checklist...quality, quality, quality. Why delay?"

Would it surpise you terribly if I told you her husband was rich?

"What are those qualities?" We asked, "Oh, a man of character...and the best sense of humor."

 I am not going to call Eleni a liar if she were to tell me what a great guy he is or he makes her laugh even.

But I will insist that only money could logically evoke her uncharacteristically impulsive behavior.

First off, had the search for the finest sense-of-humor been such an important pursuit, then why didn't she first check at Giggles' Comedy Hutch on Rte. 109 in Mendon? I mean, how fortuitous to find him at a High Tea Lawn Party during race week in Newport!

And when you do meet someone so funny, do you want to go interrupt that laughing by running out and making wedding plans? Okay, someone hot, you hop into bed. Someone funny, you stay up 'til morning getting wasted and making pancakes. But let's think... who do you meet and immediately, you want to go into a lifelong union where all your spiritual and physical property and possessions are united...?

We know this about Eleni: Her career meant something to her. She had checklists for her personal life. She didn't make rash decisions, except on this occasion...unless...well, unless it wasn't rash but was true-to-form? And what could possibly make a woman so mindful of her doings suddenly ease up and jump into something?

(HINT: $$$$$$$$$. )

Are we really to believe that Eleni saved her one impetuous moment in life for the biggest one? And that it just happened to land her an extremely wealthy man?

Well, we know that nowhere in her life does sense of humor supersede what's sensible. She was going to risk muddying the waters of her well-played life for a jokester?

 If we asked, I'm sure she'd shrug her shoulders and say: "Love makes you do funny things."

And then it would be high time to  call her a liar.

Other point: How do you create a checklist for the "best" or "finest" of anything?

If he was so damn funny, then wouldn't that have been alarming? The funniest person you know is never exactly what you always wanted. It's a pleasant surprise. You don't check off checklists with surprises.

And Eleni didn't sound surprised.

If there is any justice from above, the Gods will have Eleni's husband lose the farm and join a sketch comedy troupe.


And what is the other most essential quality that makes a keeper a keeper?

His willingness to keep you!

Why? Because a healthy, able-bodied, college educated or vocationally trained man, committed to being the "perfect man" will be capable of meeting most items on the average keeper list.

And this depiction of themselves, the choosers,  cross-legged in a director's chair, marching men and dismissing them "Next!!!" until the man of "quality" arrived is a bit of distortion, ain't it?

Notwithstanding the 'hilarious' parceling of eponyms over mimosas ( e.g., The short-timer without a driver's license due to a DWI was "Mr. Schwinn"), the experience seemed filled with despair and ugliness.

For most women I know, the dating process, particularly in the '90s was an insecure, humbling time filled with jerks and users and losers.

Part of the misery, also, was this one-dimensional take on the man; that one could Mr. Potato Head  the most attractive vagaries  and create the perfect guy.

How about Alanis Morrissette's take on her 90's love life...

Her "Unsent" was a letter to her past lovers:


There was Matthew whom she"likes" a lot, realizes he's currently in a relationship, but is still open to "spending time" with him (wink, wink) if he's ever in L.A.; There's Jonathan who lied to her and thought only of himself but whose face she can't shake; Marcus who "rocked her world" (wink, wink, wink);And then, Terrance who was "emotionally available and supportive" but she kept "drawing him in and pushing him away" and would fall asleep crying on the couch next to him; And then, Lou, Sweet Lou, with whom she "learned so much."

If I or any other man with a working phallus were given our druthers which of these chaps we'd be, here's our list: first, Matthew: she doesn't give a shit if he's in a relationship and if he's stopping off in town for a layover, she wants to hook up; Then, Jonathan who she was so into that she can still overlook his pathological lying; And,or course, Marcus, who rocked her world, which we can only imagine what it would take to even stir the world of the sparkplug who penned "You Oughta Know"?

 And then, as to who we wouldn't want to be: here they come, tied for dead last,  it's getting late and dark, race organizers have pulled down the "Finish Line" banner, street cleaners are sweeping away water cups and confetti, but chugging hard in are Sweet, rolly-poly, kiss-on-the-cheek Lou (no doubt,  back hair overtaking his straining tank top straps) and the long-suffering Terrance.

Lou: What a compliment! To be a sweet, tender, understanding learning experience. And Terrance: Jonathan gets his kinky, lying mind-blown, and this guy gets six months of "I hate you, Don't leave me" from an otherwise "going down on you in a theater" Morrissette.

Terrance and Lou were clearly not invited. And that's not fair.

Part of what seems to be going on is that, yes, she dated a variety of guys, but also, that the guys are serving a different, sovereign piece of Morrissette's head. Yes, you did just hear little birdies flying around; that's a little nutty.

Possibly Morrissette is projecting on these guys roles that accommodate her needs. Who knows? Maybe each of these guys could be better or more complete if Morrissette didn't need them to play their part in her song that is her life narrative?
Maybe Matthew and Jonathan are really reliable today? And maybe Terrance and Lou have come into their own  and become the hot lovers they always wanted to be.

But I doubt it, the big pussies.

                                        Charles Stuart: A Number One "Keeper"

You know who are real keepers? Sociopaths.

Sure they have a whole other bag of problems, but if you are looking for someone who caters to unintegrated feelings, who will present themselves in a way that makes you look good in front of your friends, then that's the way to go.

Take Charles Stuart. Stuart managed a high-end Boston Furrier. He had come from a working class background, moved up in the world and out to the tonier suburbs; he was a worker and climber. He accentuated his good looks, gift for gab and publicly pronounced his "love of his wife."

Trouble was, he was a sociopath. He lied on his resume to get his job. He pined for other women and used his marriage mainly for the purposes of professional appearance and keeper-bait.

Oh yeah. Another problem. He killed his wife on the way home from a birthing class in 1989, blamed a fictitious black man and ignited a search of the area slums for a suitable suspect. Weeks later, he killed himself by leaping from the Tobin Bridge.

But a keeper, nonetheless. He would've passed the checklist at any boozy Sunday brunch.

Let's be clear, I am not in any way suggesting that all keepers are sociopaths. All I AM suggesting is that every sociopath is a keeper; to someone, at least.

Sociopaths put winning over people over genuine love. And the more people the better.

Very simply, there could be no greater compliment for a sociopath than to be called a keeper in front of room full of family and friends.

A girl comes home to Ma and her friends sitting around the kitchen table. She's had a date: The guy was handsome, took her to the most expensive restaurant in town and told her how much he loved his own mother and was  moving up in business.

"He's a Keep-ah!"

Same girl comes home with a guy who took her to Chili's on a gift certificate, is finishing off the elusive masters' thesis and works part-time at a video store. But she had a great time. "We had a great time."

Silence, followed by a scramble to set her up with anybody, even a distantly removed cousin rather than another date with this loser.

Okay. Which guy is more likely to be sociopath? And why?

Of course the guy who puts in all the effort to impress is more likely, but what else? She, the girl, mentions herself and the loser having a good time. The sociopath doesn't care if he or she enjoys the experience for themselves; he wants the girl to go home and talk highly of him. That's what he gets off on. The girl most vulnerable to the sociopath is the one who doesn't enjoy the experience as it happens, but is having it for other people...such as the ladies' gossiping over Sanka and Coffee Ring.

Truth be told, if you're concerned your daughter will bring home Charlie Manson, offend the guy unfairly and see if he reacts.

No sociopath has ever told in-laws to fuck off. (That is before the divorce, estrangement, restraining orders, etc.).


As the rehearsal dinner for Jaclyn and Dan winded down, their parents asked others to offer their remembrances of the couple's first dating.

Then I recalled it:
we were having beers after softball and Dan was telling us all about this new, great girl he was dating. Jackie was her name.

She gave the absolute best blow-job he had ever received and told him that she was interested in giving a threesome a shot.
I was going to stand up right then and share the memory with the group of extended family and friends. But common sense won out. It wasn't the appropriate time. I had a crab cake in my mouth.

Ah well, There's always the baby shower.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kicking The Bucket-List

                        "Morgan, definitely on my list: Wipe my own ass..."


In the few years I worked as a police officer, I went on dozens of calls to nursing homes, hospices and houses with round-the-clock home health aides where people were in their last moments, hours, days...

Never once did I hear any of them complain that they had never bungee jumped.

Or anything like it:

"I had a great marriage, wonderful kids, grandkids, a rewarding career, but...if only I'd swam the Hellespont, my life would be complete!"

Didn't happen.

And yet, there are those who insist that should you suddenly be wheeled into an ER, bursting from within, that your thoughts will drift to all the extravagant things you didn't do.

So, they say: Do as much as you can! Treat each day as an opportunity to climb mountains before it's too late.

I assure you: It will be far better to cope with the reality that you never sky-dived than to find yourself a half-mile in the air with a malfunctioning 'chute and realize: You know, I've always been luke-warm on this skydiving-stuff.

The bucket list mentality, as an approach to life, is the construct of people who place the pursuit and fulfillment of ambition as the ultimate existential experience. Excluding the spontaneity of the terminally ill, such lists are wacky evasions of the real stuff that, get this, I like to call "life."


And you know what? You can't avoid it!

Even if you climb Everest, swim with Great Whites, make love in JFK and Marilyn's Carmel getaway, and win the Iditarod, you will as Zorba the Greek, the consummate liver of life (though, not a bungee-jumper), said on his deathbed:

"I have done heaps and heaps of things in my life and still not enough!"

And that's the way it's suppose to be.

In Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," his lone traveler looks back on the fork-in-the-road of his life and, alas, though each be "just as good" he went that-a-way, and you are to think he made the right choice:

"Somewhere ages, ages hence I shall say this with a sigh
'I took the road less traveled. And that has made all the difference."

Ah! See! Life! Go for it!

Not so fast...

Why "sigh?" When do we sigh? Before we say our cloying and cliched and not totally honest remarks; when we want to let ourselves off.

Of course, the traveler has regrets. How could you not? What he and all of us want is to be "two travelers," but we can't and so, we are limited to how many roads we travel. Jumping out of an airplane makes perfect sense if, and only IF, you have a spare life.

We don't. And that's part of our inevitable regret.

This regret, I'd say, though, tempers our judgement in our dotage, makes us wise and prevents us from being assholes with t-shirts that say: "The one who dies with the most toys wins!"

And according to Kubler-Ross, the only real way to mitigate regret is the old-fashioned one: living a long time.


First off, most of the stuff that "makes people feel alive" just happens to be extremely dangerous.

Secondly, you are really borrowing from someone else's life: I wasn't a Navy Seal, but I'll jump with a parachute into the middle of the ocean!

What may be going on is that you are having an identity crisis. Big words, I know, but it's a helluva thing to lose your life over.

Here: You missed your window of opportunity. That ship has sailed. You went to work in advertising and wrote commercial spots for Chewy Granola Bars. That's good. You achieved in a competitive field.  You're fit and not bad at softball. Now let it go.

You are not a Special Forces Operative and no amount of weekend training will provide you with that opportunity. Even if you die, it will read: "JOE DAVIS, 35, AD MAN, wrote spots for Chewy Granola Bars."  Not: "JOE DAVIS, Almost NAVY SEAL."

And let me tell you, some of these to-do's are pretty silly. Ride your motorcycle on the Great Wall of China? What the Hell would that even entail? And what if you can't? What if you get like a huge ticket, dude, and you leave it to begrudging next-of-kin? That wouldn't be cool.

Lastly: Stop living like you're padding your resume or filling the photo album in your head with snapshots that will really win over the next group of folks you'd love to impress. I know your guidance counselor in high school stressed that you make your essays "stand out." Yes, it got you into NYU. Now stop doing that.

Focus on building a good bond with those you know and continue that with new friends.

You'd think with everyone and their brother fucking their fists, feet and neighbors instead of their wives or husbands, that we'd have picked up the clue that real relationships are the most challenging life experience to face.

But what do I know?


What to do? Here's one thing I do:  I lie.

Have you been to the Great Pyramids? Why, yes.

See? That was easy. And would you imagine, that moment of wishing I had the edge just floated away? No plane fare. No dysentery.

And let's say that holding your seat on the floor of the stock market has got you down and you wanna Hemingway-it as a bullfighter?

First: try doing your own laundry. I promise that you will feel more alive bleaching your own skivvies than getting light-headed in the high-altitude of Mexico City. Same is true about most dreary chores or household tasks: There's no doubt you're alive.

It's also possible that you'll need to make a career change. Maybe pushing a mower for the local landscaper will reorient your thinking. Sure, you will no longer be considered "a great catch" and you won't be able to dine out every night, but it will keep you on terra firma where you belong.

More: Stop giving a shit what the imaginary Joneses will say and heed the advice of Satchel Paige: "don't carry on in the social ramble, it ain't restful"...

It can also be fatal. And may not get you to where you should be: you.

And if you insist that your pursuits are of the purest origin, then instead of sating your need for the thrill of heights by tightrope walking, work a week or so with a window-washing crew.

Virtual reality may also help.

Some other possible life experiences not everyone has...

-- Forgive someone you have long harbored a grudge against
-- Cope with aging, illness and impairments; yours and others
-- Accept your children despite them not always making you look good

Lastly, should all these not totally kill the impulse to do something reckless, then try this and with Godspeed...

Grow the fuck up.