Skip to content

Faux Outrage

Literally the most important blog in the universe since 2010.

Category Archives: Introspection!

Not long ago, while walking from the grocery store back to my apartment, I passed a man who by all accounts — or at least one specific account, mine — was in dire straits.  My evidence?  The fact that he approached and asked me for some money.

I guess you could say I’m a bit of a detective.

Now, I’m not so obtuse as to believe that the mere fact a person asks/begs/pleads/juggles for money automatically means that he is homeless or “down on his luck” in a meaningful, dickensian way.  But I do know that whatever inspires a person to ask a stranger for money, whether it be desperation, depression, or any number of soul-crushing addictions, it is a behavior that I cannot (or perhaps choose not to) imagine exhibiting.

In that sense, if nothing else, it is fair to say that the person in this story is worse off than I can imagine.  That said, there are a couple of reasons why I felt it a tad strange — or at least a bit uninspired — that this particular man in this particular situation asked me for straight-up American currency.

Number one, I didn’t have a hand free to dig into my pockets (wherein the currency theoretically resides).  And number two, the reason I did not have a hand free to dig into my pockets was due to that fact that I was carrying two enormous bags of food.

Food, glorious food!

_
I’m a softie, though, so I said to the guy, “Honestly, I don’t have any change, but how about a peach?”

A pause.

“Nah.”

Yes, after quick consideration, this man — possibly homeless — sighed out a half-hearted nah.

Nah.

I was floored.

First of all, if you’re asking strangers for money, you should at least have the decency to pretend you’re interested in using that money for food.  Food like a peach!  If nothing else, this perception needs to be a part of any money-taking routine/charade:  You pretend that you’re not going to put my $0.60 toward a Steel Reserve tallboy later on, and I pretend not to know that very same fact.

That’s the deal.

But then, as I turned the corner and headed home, my anger rapidly faded into confusion.  The more I thought about the interaction, the more I realized that the awkwardness and indignity I felt ultimately had nothing to do with poverty, politeness, shame, gentrifier’s guilt, or any social science theory neatly explained in a Sociology 101 textbook.

Nah.

This is about peaches!

_
Who, no matter what his circumstances, turns down a free peach?

I don’t care if you’re looking for drug money, beer money, beer-laced-with-drugs money, or not looking for anything in particular.  When someone offers you a free peach, you take the free peach!

Peaches are wonderful.

Free peaches are manna from heaven.

As a general rule, I am intrigued by these getting-asked-for-change circumstances, but that intrigue is usually followed by a sharp, painful sort of guilt that I specifically associate with my interactions with the homeless (or “homeless” if you prefer).  Leading up to — and in the midst of — these interactions, my internal monologue shifts into detached academic mode.  I carefully weigh and consider the macro-socioeconomic issues that led to the interaction, thus diminishing the actual (“potential”) suffering taking place before me.  The ease with which I am able to quickly disassociate from a very real, upsetting interaction is an aspect of my personality that I am willing — but so far completely unable — to shake.

As a result, I’m a bit of a sucker.

I say “a bit of a sucker” as opposed to “a full-fledged sucker” because I never physically open my wallet.  When I have change — as in, physical, clangy coins in my pocket — I will give it away.  Even in the event the total amount of change surpasses $1, it is available to anyone who asks earnestly.  But I will never reach for paper bills.

The paper bills are mine.

In the 21st century, this is actually a bit of a problem if you goal is to get currency in the hands of those who request/need it.  I am still perfectly willing to give away my change, but the fact is I don’t use cash much these days.  Every transaction that I can complete using a credit card will be carried out in that manner.  Basically, I only have coins in my pocket when I am returning from a Cash Only (“tax evading”) establishment.  As a result, with each passing year — though my standard for money-distribution has not changed — the amount of cash I distribute consistently diminishes.

Presumably, I am not the only one with the “change in pocket” standard for giving money to homeless people.  My guess is that there are thousands of people who are in the same boat as me: they would give more money than they do, but because they are tied to using their credit card, they are not often provided the opportunity to do so.  In the end, the pool of “available” money for the needy shrinks as credit card usage increases.

But could this be a good thing?  Perhaps, as a result of the ever-diminishing pool of money, asking people for spare change will no longer be a functional way to raise money for your food/drugs/food-drugs.  Perhaps, to the extent that us change-givers are enabling a lifestyle that ultimately should be altered, there is a net benefit to our not having any pennies, quarters, nickles, and dimes in our pockets.

Wouldn’t that be peachy?

Meek, "Keep Your Coins I Want Change"

Advertisements

Relationships are basically a series of woulds.

In order to objectively measure what is normally understood to be subjective concept (“friendship”), we simply add up the number and value of the behaviors that we would engage in for another at a particular moment in time.  Of course, doing so would be a hideous waste of energy (and kind of creepy), but it could theoretically be done.

Ideal relationships (friendship or otherwise) exist when the two lists overlap perfectly, where both parties are equally beholden.  I say “equally beholden” as opposed to “entirely beholden” because relationships can be ideal without being huge emotional investments.  What matters is that two people agree on and bind themselves to equal terms of the relationship, and whether those obligations are particularly difficult to follow through on is entirely beside the point.

Venn Diaphragm (wikipedia.org)

But usually, since life is not often described as fair (as opposed to both “love” and “war”), it seems proper to assume that any understanding of Person1 vis-à-vis Person2 at TimeX contains two lists with columns of uneven lengths and weights.  We are a different sort of friend than our friends are to us.  And since what we do for another — by simple virtue of being a different human being — differs from what that individual would do for us, we begin to understand why Mr. Venn was so keen on inventing his precious Diagram.

Of course, all of this this does not mean that our goal should be to find the greatest number of people who are willing to perform the greatest number of actions for us at any given time.  I am certain that you would rather have a friend that you like meeting for coffee exactly once per week who only likes to meet you for coffee once per week than a friend that you like meeting for coffee once per week who wants to have dinner with you every night.

And vice-versa.

Yet for better or for worse, we are not in a constant state of awareness of the specific nature of our relationships.  I don’t always know specifically what you would be willing to do for me just as you are not always sure what I would do for you.

For non-crazy people, none of this is a problem.

We don’t literally have lists.  We don’t know which list is large or which is small, and we don’t even know which list is bigger (and no amount of time spent in the locker room would aid us in answering this question).  But, because we are human and because we have a reasonably solid sense of the world around us, we are usually vaguely (and sometimes even keenly) aware who is worthy of our attention, and which of our acquaintances would be willing to pick us up from the airport at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Now, this is the point where I feel compelled to admit that the calculation of friendship would actually be much more complicated than the simple construction of a numbered “list.”  Certain behaviors we no doubt value more highly than others.  Allowing a person to borrow your pen certain should be weighed differently than allowing that same person to borrow your car.  Obviously, in any fair calculation, those two circumstances should be weighed differently.  Likewise, telling your friend that it’s okay to date your ex-girlfriend is a completely different situation than telling your friend that it’s okay to date your ex-girlfriend and actually meaning it.

Another glaring weakness of this analysis is that we are never completely aware of the actions we would be willing to take in a particular set of circumstances.  We are quick to criticize bad actors, bystander apathy, and unfaithfulness, but are often ourselves the worthy target of criticism.  Whether we are capable of, for example, standing up for – or commiserating with – a friend is quite easy to believe, but sometimes a little tricky to carry out in practice.

Only if you are lucky are you provided with an opportunity to prove to a friend that you are there for them, that you are a martyr for them — that your list of “woulds” is long and proud!  And as I learned many years ago, one of those “lucky” opportunities to display your martyrdom (a martyrtunity!) could come at any time, even if you find yourself confined within the pock-marked brick walls of French Road Elementary School.

And so in 1992 I learned just how long a list of woulds could go.

You probably know that fourth graders are trained to be Jacks (or Jacquelines) of all trades.  Though the harsh reality is that the vast majority of us were wasting our time – from a purely professional standpoint – in art, music, and gym class, we were nonetheless asked to become at-least-barely-proficient in self-portrait drawing, the glockenspiel, and dodgeball.  (Interestingly, “I hope nobody notices what I’m doing here” is the proper way to make it through all three of these skill sessions.)

First let me start off by pointing out that although this story takes place in an art classroom, my hopes of embarking on an artistic career ended about the same time my literal taste for uncooked macaroni subsided.  Once I was no longer interested in eating the stuff, gluing it to construction paper began to seem like a bit of a chore.

My classmates and I were milling about in art class, learning how to draw faces, or trees, or shadows, or…something with pencils.  And while my usual instinct here is to blame my lack of specificity on a poor memory, the truth is that I am probably as aware now as I was back then about the art topic de jure.

All I know is that pencils were the focal point.  My focal point, anyway.

We were never specifically instructed on the art of keeping pencils sharpened (mostly because it was not — and has never been — an art), but I considered pencil-sharpening my main function in the room that smelled as though a truckload of Crayolas had just detonated.  And I was good, real good.  The trick was knowing exactly how hard to push a standard pencil into the (manual!) sharpener so as to not to damage the critical point.  There is an upper limit on how sharp a pencil can become, and though there were times when I would channel Icarus and sharpen a bit too long or a bit too hard – flying too close to the sun – I was always ready to give it another go.

An artist, if he is to perfect his art, must above all be resilient.

One afternoon, following a particularly fortuitous pencil-sharpening experience, I began my march back to the paint-and-permanent-marker-stained seat I left only minutes earlier.  My friends were waiting for me.  I glided between desks, clutching my prize, a razor-sharp Number 2, stunning graphite point safely tucked inside my tiny fist.  The flesh-toned eraser stuck proudly outward, guiding me towards my destination like a paralyzed compass pointing due north.

And then I crashed, eraser first, directly into a table, cramming the graphite tip unapologetically into my palm.

It hurt, a lot.

Meanwhile, my friend Erik, who witnessed this whole ordeal from start to finish, had — so far as I could tell — a few options.  He could:

  1. Offer words of support
  2. Offer first aid
  3. Offer to escort me to the nurse’s office
  4. Offer a knowing joke at my expense

What Erik chose to do, however, in a moment of idyllic solidarity, was quickly find a loose pencil and jam it into his own hand.  Today, though our relationship is best defined by the words, “Facebook friends,” we have matching scars — tiny gray dots in our palms — to remember the time I decided to give up my pencil-sharpening hobby for good.

Since then, though I am certain that I have at least satisfactory number of friends that who would do any number of things for my benefit, I only know for sure of one friend who has ever included on his List of Things That He Would Do, the entry: “Intentionally stab self with pencil.”

On the surface, adults don’t make any sense.

If you consider the overall behavior of any particular individual, it will seem rather, well, odd.  It seems improbable — no matter which personality traits/flaws develop — that a person would grow up to be any specific way.  The statistical chance that, at birth, you would end up like you, or that your frienemy would end up like your friemeny, round to zero.

No chance.

Statistically speaking, people are strange.

Only after you obtain perspective about the fundamental influences in a person’s life (e.g., learning about parents/upbringing, discussing traumatic or otherwise crucial life happenings, etc.) can you finally begin to understand an individual.  You begin to triangulate, and begin to see the person not as an irrational thing-doer, but rather as a series of (usually) reasonable-given-their-perspective reactions based on an amalgamation of past experiences.

In other words, context is everything.

For the most part, I think we are generally willing to accept the experiences-shape-personality theory, though it seems fair to say that we are less enticed by the concept when this lens is turned inward.  The idea that my behavior and social instincts may be based on something other than my innate, natural charm is a bit more disturbing than that same notion used to explain your lame story.

The reason I bring up all of this (nonsense?) is because I have recently started considering which, if any, creative influences have molded my writing style.  My first instinct — narcissism, as it turns out — immediately had me considering the notion that I am a perfectly distinct, creative snowflake, floating down from the heavens in my perfectly distinct creative snowflake-y way.

Untrue.

As it turns out, though I never had dreams (delusions?) of becoming a writer (I was more interested in having the largest Lego-slash-MicroMachine collection in the world), my writing style makes perfect sense when you consider the media that I was gleefully consuming at such a influential time.  That said, I can barely understand what drove me to these particular sources.

Keep in mind, I was a weird kid.

(But you were, too, probably.)

Erma Bombeck

I could be mistaken, but it’s entirely possible that the first book I ever read cover-to-cover was, at 11 years old, If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?  This book, published four years before I was born, inspired Art Buchwald to rave, “[Bombeck] has done it again–this time taking a hilarious swipe at husbands, honeymoons, tennis elbow, marriage, lettuce, the national anthem, and a host of other domestic dilemmas.”

What more could a prepubescent Zach ask for?

(I have no explanation for this.)

Tom Lehrer

If you asked me who my favorite musician was around the time when I was reading Erma Bombeck in the bathroom — circa 1995 — I would say, with a straight face,  “Tom Lehrer!”  Of course, I had no idea at the time that most of what I was listening to was recorded in the late 1950’s and 60’s.  And I really had no idea at the time about the history and social awareness required to understand even a fraction of what Lehrer was carrying (a tune) on about.

For those who are unaware of Lehrer’s work, he was a brilliant songwriter, mathematician, and political satirist.  (I say “was” even though he is still very much alive because, so far as I am aware, he is no longer engaged in any of the aforementioned activities.)

Lehrer’s tapes were always at arm’s length from the front passenger seat in my mom’s 1988 Volvo stationwagon, so there was some comfort provided as I was being whisked away to Sunday School.  Only in retrospect am I able to consume Lehrer’s work the way it was intended, although I clearly remember laughing at the appropriate parts as a young’n. But listening to his songs still give me a unfiltered feeling of joyous naivety, even if now I’m laughing for the right reasons.

Dave Barry

This one is the biggie, at least in terms of writing style.

My curiosity about Dave Barry peaked right about the same time that high-speed Internet meandered into my life.  Dave Barry’s page on the Miami Herald’s website was actally one of the first things I ever bookmarked (in Netscape, after searching for his name on AltaVista, probably).  Thanks to magic of the current Internet, we can take a ride in the WayBackMachine to see what his website looked around that time.  Reading Barry’s column became a routine, even though I was still pretty confident at the time that I “didn’t like to read.”

His writing was always fun and pointless.

Which kind of explains this place a bit.

The Sick Rose by William Blake

O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed,
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

The following is a (completely unedited) review of William Blake’s “The Rose” (above) that I wrote in 1997.  I was 15.

I can’t say enough about this piece.[1] Unfortunately, the words that I would use aren’t that complementary to the author.[2] “The Sick Rose”, in my opinion, needs to find a cure for the writing.[3] That may be a tad on the harsh side, but after examining this poem, I realized that there was no order to this poem what so ever.[4] It does not rhyme (which I enjoy) and did not tell a clear story.[5] Also, the metaphors chosen are weak in that they really do not have much to do with one another.[6] The first stanza is lacking a clear description of what is going on.[7] The author jumps from a sick rose, to the “invisible worm that flies in the night.”[8] Maybe I’m missing something, but this makes no sense at all.[9] After analyzing this poem, I came to realize that I did not gain a single thing by reading it except confusion.[10]

Other than that, I loved it…[11]


[1] Off to a great start, Zach!  I assume this assignment involved some kind of minimum word count?

[2] The words that you would use?  What about the words that you will?  In either case, I’m sure the dead-since-1827-Blake is heartbroken.

[3] But first, we need to figure out how a poem can “find a cure” for anything.

[4] No order!  Who knows where to begin!  If only our written language evolved over thousands of years into a system with very clear rules about how to read lines of text!

[5] To be fair, it’s completely understandable to get lost in the storyline of an 8-line poem.

[6] Yes!  The metaphors!  They are weak!  Weak!  They are so weak, in fact, that I will not even bore you with examples, apparently.

[7] Right, who knows what is going on!  “O rose, thou art sick!”  What can that possibly mean!?

[8] A quote!  Finally!  A quote that…seems like a reasonable transition from the sick rose.

[9] Maybe, Zach.  Maybe you are missing something.

[10] Clearly, the problem is either William Blake’s or mine.

[11] Take that, one of the most influential poets of all time!

Emptiness.

Nothingness.

The physical manifestation of things-have-been-accomplished!

Staring into the abyss that is an empty laundry basket is one of my favorite pastimes, if only because I can — for one magical moment — convince myself that I will never actually have to do laundry again.  To live in denial.  To pretend that everything I have learned about time and space and socks will not apply in the days and weeks that follow.  For one moment, I have forgotten everything I know about reality and begin to marvel at the width and depth of my laundry basket.  I can’t imagine ever filling it again, no matter how long I live!  No matter how many puddles I trudge through!  No matter how many times I eat strawberries without a plate or napkin!

But alas, time will pass, undershirts will be worn under shirts, Febreze-infused cotton will acquire other, less profitable smells, and (speaking of less profitable) newspaper print will almost certainly find a way to be smeared into my newly-pressed chinos.  That is life.

And then, time passes.

And then, once more I will be separating lights from darks like a Jim Crow water fountain, I will do my best Baatan impression (note: horribly inappropriate analogy), marching up and down five flights of creaky stairs, and then folding everything in sight like I’m playing cards with Daniel Negreanu.  I will despise it.  I will grind my teeth.  I will wonder why we lack insta-fold robotic technology.  I will recall fondly the days when Ali C. would save me from this sadness (for $5) because she “actually likes folding.”  I will be on the verge of tears.  I will match my socks.

I will finish.

I will never have to do laundry again.

nar·cis·sism (noun) :: inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.

You will find that reading this blog is like reading Ayn Rand’s Anthem backwards on Opposite Day.  (Reverse, alternate universe spoiler alert!) The first thing you will notice is “EGO”  and the pages following will be littered with “I”.  (Even now, I am thinking about how surprised I am at myself for beginning my first ‘real’ post with a reference to Ayn “The Looter” Rand.)  Frankly, I think author (“me”) and audience (“not me”) should be honest about the nature of the Faux Outrage relationship.  I am writing this because I love myself, and you are reading this because you are bored (or are my mother).

There is almost no other reason to start a blog other than to shout, atop the highest mountain, that you are in possession of two stone tablets and there is so much the world simply must know if it is to survive.  So, to that end, feel relieved knowing that you know that I know that this is, above all, a vanity fair (lack of fried dough notwithstanding).  Of course, the only thing more painful than being overtly narcissistic is the irony (“I”-rony!) of recognizing my own narcissism and unapologetically discussing it.  “Look at me!  I recognize that I recognize I constantly recognize myself!”

Seriousness Alert: That said, regardless of my self-love-related reasons for starting Faux Outrage, I can honestly (earnestly!) say that I believe we owe it to ourselves to document that which might otherwise be lost.  We spend so much time enveloped in our minds and so little time translating our firing synapses into readable, recordable language.  Without getting too grim, I’m reminded of neuroscientist David Eagleman, who observes that death occurs in three stages:  “[T]he first is when the body ceases to function, and the second is when the body is put in the grave. The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”  When we consume art and media, and when we reference the work of others, the creators live on (in perpetuity, if they are lucky).

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve started this blog because I love myself and I want to live forever.

%d bloggers like this: