all of the selves we Have ever been
What About the Other Guy?
Welcome to America’s hottest new game show: What About the Other Guy?--the audience-participation game in which powerful people are confronted about their behavior. The point of the game is to see who is best at evading responsibility for his actions by shifting attention to someone else. The contestant’s role is to maintain his stance as victim while responding with vague and impressionistic speech that deflects all responsibility for his actions. The contestant then asks: “What about the other guy?” and begins naming names. Prior to the start of the show, audience members record their guesses of who the contestant will attempt to humiliate in this word version of grade school dodge ball. The audience’s answers are compared with the accusations of the contestant, and the correct audience members go home with bragging rights and a moral vacuum.
Contestants for the show are selected from a large pool of politicians, CEOs, and powerful wannabes who enjoy the spotlight. When the buzzer sounds at the end of the game, the person who has knocked out and humiliated all of the other guys wins a leadership position in the corporation or branch of government of his choosing where he can raise endless amounts of cash and create maximum pandemonium while building a celebrity brand. The winner is sure to become America’s favorite advisor on everything from space travel to socks, and he receives the additional psychological benefit of unleashing every bit of anger and venom he has nursed throughout his life along with the opportunity to seek pardons for crimes previously committed but not yet publicly revealed.
The top ten winners return for the Tournament of Champions, an extreme contest in which the participants compete to see who can bring an end to democracy in the shortest amount of time without breaking a sweat. The winner of that contest earns the title of King, his own social media platform, a television series in which he gets to play God, and a trip to outer space inside a giant penis-shaped rocket.
Interested in becoming a contestant? Please answer the following screening questions:
1. Is there anyone smarter than you?
2. Have you ever been wrong?
3. Does a sworn oath mean anything to you?
4. Have you ever been accused of decency?
If you answered “yes” to any of the questions, you are not eligible to participate at this time, but keep trying. We love a contestant who never gives up. In the meantime, follow us on our social media platform:
What About where we will never share your data. But if it does get out, don't call us; it was probably that other guy.
Our Auntie Mame
Running behind schedule one Sunday morning,
Aunt Addie grabbed her full length fur coat and put it on over her bra and panties. She slipped on some high heeled shoes and headed for church. Addie made no secret of her attire as the family left the house. No one was surprised. We all knew that Aunt Addie had reached a compromise with nature long before we were born. Nature would not defy her. Neither would we.
We also knew that if Aunt Addie got it into her mind to remove the coat during mass, she would not blink an eye or bother to look right or left. She would simply slide the luxurious fur off her shoulders and drape it over the back of the pew. When mass was over, she might put the coat back on or hang it over her arm and walk home. Aunt Addie’s philosophy was: go bold or go home, and if going home, go home boldly.
Once on a crowded department store escalator, Aunt Addie broke wind, thunder really, that trailed her for the entire ride down. She never flinched or even lowered an eyelash. She simply enjoyed the ride and stepped off at the bottom like royalty. Had Addie lived to see Donald Trump descend the escalator to launch his presidential campaign, she would have dismissed the performance: “A fart on an escalator? That’s already been done.” And then she would have inhaled deeply on her long cigarette and blown a smoke ring for emphasis.
Addie envisioned herself a kind of Auntie Mame, that Manhattan-dwelling, flamboyant, free-spirited aunt with an objectionable lifestyle, and a friend who ran a nudist school. Auntie Mame is famous for saying: “Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Aunt Addie never missed a meal, and, generally, she was doing the cooking. We rode the waves of her moods into countless adventures.
Erasmus, Mark Twain, or somebody in between is credited with saying that the clothes make the man. I’m not so sure. It is my observation that women like my Aunt Addie who came from simple immigrant roots were fully formed before they purchased the fur coats and the designer fashions. Addie was smart enough to know that clothes gave her access, got her invited to the banquet, and so she acquired them. But those wardrobe items were simply props that embellished her already big personality and fed her appetite for living.
Some of us fret about having nothing to wear to the banquet, or that what we have isn’t good enough. We’re ashamed of the state of our underwear. And so, we don’t attend. Aunt Addie would have had none of that. She would have said, “Grab your coat, Doll, we’re going! Meet me in the Cadillac. It’s not the clothes, Doll; it’s the courage.”
Peace, Love, and Gas
I’ve got gas!
And I’m not embarrassed to admit it. In fact, I am celebrating. Living without gas proved to be much harder than living with it.
On a recent Friday morning, I stopped at a local gas station to fill my tank only to discover that my car’s fuel door would not open. I pulled the lever, but I did not hear the affirming pop. I tried again. And again. But no matter how many times I tried, the little round door would not open. I squeezed my fingertip into the narrow space surrounding the door and pulled, but I could not get the fuel door to budge. I resorted to reading the owner’s manual, confident there was a back-up system. Eight chapters later, and with no alternative, I returned to the cashier to secure a refund, and then I headed straight for home. I called my regular auto repair shop to make an appointment: “We can get you in on Wednesday,” the manager said. It was going to be a long five-day weekend.
Feeling vulnerable without my wheels, I realized that I needed to preserve the remaining gas to get to the repair shop on Wednesday. Immediately, my mind began a thorough exploration of all of the emergencies that could arise between Friday morning and Wednesday evening, crises that would require a full tank of gas. Topping the list was something awful happening to one of my children. I mentally lived the horror and the shame of not being able to get to one of them on some dark and lonely road or in a busy emergency room, and what if one of them was abducted and I needed to join the search?
Shaken and grief stricken from all of my vivid catastrophizing, I reminded myself that I was a trained therapist. I took some deep breaths and began the process of cognitive restructuring. I made a conscious decision to be positive. I would use the time to catch up on chores around the apartment, do some deep cleaning, and get in a lot more walking. By the time I fully committed to positive thinking, I was exhausted, and it was time for bed.
I awoke Saturday morning to the sounds of heavy equipment in the parking lot just outside my window. A crew from the electric company was busy replacing some tall light poles. I went about my morning business until I noticed the faint smell of natural gas. The electric workers had hit a gas line. A gas company representative arrived promptly to shut off the gas to the entire building. They would be back to deal with the issue sometime on MONDAY. Now, with no gas in my car, no gas for cooking, and no gas to heat water for bathing, not only would I be helpless in an emergency, but I would starve and be stinking when the authorities came to recover my body. They would look at my fetid condition and my empty refrigerator and charge my children with neglect of a senior. All of the evidence would point to the conclusion that I should never have been left alone.
Despite my resolve to accept my circumstances and look for the positive by spending this very long weekend on self-care, chanting words of peace and love, and sniffing essential oils, I continued to wander out to my car to try to open the fuel door. It’s hard to say how many times I tried, but I am sure it was enough to arouse suspicion, and all of my comings and goings were caught on camera by my neighbor’s RING doorbell. The authorities would have more physical evidence to prove their case.
I was torn apart by what this behavior might do to my children’s future, but I just couldn’t help myself. I really did try to stay focused on the cognitive restructuring plan, but let’s face it--peace and love will only get you so far, and then you need gas.
After innumerable trips to my car, it finally happened--the fuel door opened! Was it a miracle? The fruit of obsession? A never-say-die attitude? Who knows?
In any case, I immediately got gas. The peace and love came much easier after that.
How Lucky Were We?
It is 76 degrees and sunny.
The sky is brilliant blue and cloudless. The air is fresh and gently caresses my face as it moves the day forward. It is one of those early summer days that feel endless, one that is surely a glimpse of Paradise.
I drive past the municipal swimming pool on my way to the grocery store. A mom dressed in a bathing suit and filmy white cover-up holds the hand of an excited preschooler as they make their way from the parking lot to the pool gates. On the street, a dad steps out of an SUV wearing a bright red t-shirt, black swim trunks, and flip-flops. He opens the back door of the vehicle, and out pour two school-aged boys each with a towel under his arm and eyes dancing like sunlight on water.
For a moment, I get lost in my own memories of long summer afternoons at the community pool, except in my memories, our parents did not accompany us. They dropped us off as was the case with most of our childhood activities. In the summer, we had our pool passes and a handful of change. Our marching orders were: “Be good.” Those two short words contained an encyclopedia of advice. The Reader’s Digest condensed version was: follow the rules, listen to grown-ups, don’t fight with each other, and be at the meeting place ON TIME.
We passed many of our youthful summer afternoons at the swimming pool, in the water or stretched out on our towels, or at the concession stand consuming as much of the sugary pink popcorn as we could afford on our tiny budgets. By the time we got home, we would be starving, but in the meantime, the pink popcorn was a special treat available only at the swimming pool, and it was sufficient sustenance for those afternoons on which we filled ourselves with sunshine.
We listened for the lifeguard’s whistle that kept us safe. Maybe it was a warning that we had violated some rule, or that our dunking shenanigans were becoming dangerous. The sound of the whistle might be notice that it was time to clear the pool for a cleaning or for the changing of the guards. If other kids’ parents were present, we listened to them too, even if we didn’t know them. While we did stretch the definition of “walk,” we tried really, really hard not to run on the slippery wet pavement surrounding the pool. We had heard plenty of stories of children who had slipped, fallen, and smacked their heads, or of that one boy who had broken his arm.
I was never afraid at the pool. I lived with the assumption that with lifeguards and adults present, my watery world was safe. Anything that troubled me that the surrounding adults couldn’t handle, like a sudden attack of menstrual cramps, could be managed for a dime by calling my mother from the pay phone. The worst mass event that I could imagine was everyone peeing in the pool at the same time.
I grew up in a time when children like me were kept separate from the weapons of war and even graphic images of violence. Children were to be protected. Our parents and grandparents knew war first hand. They fought to keep such carnage an ocean away from their children. If ever I knew such events occurred, I would never have anticipated that they could or would happen in my special places like school or at that treasured community swimming pool.
While my grandparents had lived the immigrant experience, not an easy one, their grandchildren grew up white and with full citizenship. We lived in friendly small towns and new suburbs. We had space, peace of mind, freedom. And safety.
How lucky were we?