Like many people I have become more than weary of the incessant greed and profit-driven cynicism of American business. Everyone constantly has their hand out and evidently lies awake nights coming up with ever more devious schemes to filch a little more (and a little more…and a little more…) profit out of every transaction.
We’ve all become wise to product improvements. “New and improved” usually turns out to be basically an improvement in the company’s bottom line and a disimprovement for us customers.
Container walls are a particular peeve of mine. They have become thinner and thinner to the point that a bottle of mouthwash cannot be picked up with the lid off without collapsing and squishing out its contents. Labels have been replaced by printed information on clothing. A food container that used to contain 16 ounces is reduced slightly, like to 14 and a half ounces, but the price remains the same. It looks the same, just slightly (and the company hopes unnoticeably) smaller, but more profitable.
I have visions of company executives winning a (pre-Covid) week in Barbados for coming up with ingenious ways to wrest another penny or two profit on their products.
Greed has become the American national passion. Too much never seems to be enough.
Back in the old days most businesses, especially large, national ones, could be relied on to be basically honest. Not any more. The advertising and marketing pressure, coupled with corporate cynicism, have made consumer cynicism de rigueur. As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” Amen to that.
Hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t set me off. This morning it was Credo Mobile.
A few years ago my wife and I moved our telephone accounts to Credo Mobile because they claimed to be “America’s only progressive cell phone company.” On their web site they say they have donated more than 80 million dollars to progressive nonprofits. Their CEO says they support repeal of the Patriot Act and other measures that appeal to us.
They talk a good story and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And yet…
And yet they still use measures that tick me off.
Their procedure for paperless billing, for example. It seems obvious to me that it is all designed to get customers to pay online. But not with a credit card; you have to give them access to your bank account. And pay early. They love the float. Here’s the way they work it:
They send an email telling me the bill is available to be paid, several weeks in advance. NO amount, NO due date, NO other information (unlike other online billers). UPDATE: I don’t know whether it is because of anything I’ve said to them or not, but now the emailed bill notification shows the date due. But only that. That is an insignificant improvement because it does not eliminate the necessity to go to the site, sign in, and negotiate several pathways to finally get the amount of this month’s bill.
I have to sign onto the account in a browser, pull up the account which shows the amount but NOT the due date.
So I have to pull up a pdf of the statement to get the due date, then Log onto my bank’s billpay and pay it.
This is a pain in the butt. I wanted to switch back to paper, which is a lot easier for me, but—TA DAH!—that costs an extra two bucks a month.
The options: I want paperless billing. I want to receive paper bills. I understand that I will be charged a $1.99 monthly fee.
And they absolutely do not want to hear anything from me about being dissatisfied with their procedures—I was unable to find any way to contact them other than CHAT which in itself discourages communication because of the anticipated lags between responses, PR blather in a thick Indian accent, and the knowledge that it is all ultimately going into the trash anyway.
I write this at a calamitous and dystopian time in America. A troglodyte Donald J. Trump of immensely meager quality occupies the U.S. presidency, a national election is just two weeks away, and he has threatened nothing less than a coup if he is not re-elected. He and his Republican enablers are busily destroying democracy at home with OrwellianBritish author George Orwell who wrote a dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It was published in 1949 and contained many social and political dystopes that have recently come to pass. It is generally considered a bad thing to be Orwellian. tactics and vilifying us abroad while their corporate and Wall Street masters loot and pillage. Meanwhile the Democrats remain true to form by seeking safety in cowardly inaction. They back away from every fight so they can live to not fight another day.
“What’s wrong with these people?” Indeed, what is wrong with them?
Note: Role the cursor over underlined wordsSee what I mean? for further information.
Naive and uninformed voters
Driving past a neighbor’s house the other day I was surprised to see a re-elect Trump poster in their front window. They are both retired public school teachers, educated, reasonably intelligent-seeming, with grandchildren who are the focus of their lives. Those are all qualities one would like to think militate against being a Trump supporter.
One of them, when challenged about their Trump support, reportedly said, “What difference does it make? They’re all alike.”
That comment struck me as extremely naïve and uninformed, to put it charitably. How many other people I know, I wondered, are in their category (for lack of a better term). It reminded me of my long-ago experiences in Europe. I was a musician and worked all over Europe, but my home base was in Germany. So I was around, knew and interacted with a lot of Germans. This was in the 1960s, which was not really all that long after the end of World War II.
Germany’s Nazi past
Whenever I met a German for the first time, if the person was old enough to have been an adult during the war, I would wonder if that person had supported or been a member of the Nazi Party. Many of them must have been because just before the war 43 percent of German voters voted for Hitler and his National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazi party). But there was really no way for me to know who had and had not been a Nazi because they never voluntarily talked about the past and it would have been a social faux pas for me to bring it up.
Hearsay was the only way I learned anything about Germans’ political positions before and during the war. A fellow musician, Igon, for instance, told me about three close members of his family who had survived the war. His older brother had been in the Hitler Youth, a Nazi organization infamous for its National socialist propagandizing of its members. His brother was still, at the time I knew Igon, fervently in support of Nazi ideals, although he was quiet about it and only his closest family members knew. The Catholic Jesuits would understand this. They’re the ones who say “give me a kid till he’s seven and we’ll have him for life.”
Igon’s uncle and mother had believed in the tenets of the Nazi Party up to and into the beginning of World War II but later came to regret their support. Like Igon, most of the Germans I knew who were too young to have been Nazis had stories of relatives and other people they knew who had at one time or another been Nazi regime supporters. I eventually concluded that there were three reasons — either altogether or singly — people came to regret their Nazi involvement or support: Guilt, embarrassment, and political correctness. But they felt that way only after their world began to crumble and the writing on the wall became evident to all except the most ardent supporters of the Third Reich.
About the Germans back then I was mostly just curious. Today my curiosity about Republicans is much more serious because it appears to me the United States is in a condition somewhat similar to Germany of the 1930s when the National Socialists were forming and coming to power.
“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt.” Germany, Germany, above all, above all in the world. This is the first verse of the German national anthem, and it is now illegal in Germany to include it when the anthem is sung. “Germany above all.” That kind of sentiment is implied by “Make American great again”: Amerika über alles. And here is a typically Republican phrase from our own national anthem: “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is justLyric from the full version of “The Star Spangled Banner.” (And you thought you knew all the words to the U.S. national anthem.).”
The total social, civic and political disruption in Europe that resulted from fascism and nationalism has already begun in the Western world. Many find it easy to ignore reality and pretend everything is alright. It is not. Malevolent menMostly men, but there are plenty of malevolant women, too. have been elevated to positions of power, abetted by a largely somnambulant electorate in thrall to corporatists and thugs. There is in fact a national malaise that defies any description I can come up with. Today my fellow Americans are unhappy in a deeply unAmerican way. The country has drifted away from the sense of purpose and optimism that used to be its driving force. Its élan vital.
Liberal democracies and authoritarian tyrannies
Liberal democracies all over the world are giving way to sinister, horrifying authoritarian tyrannies. Barbarians are in the ascendance, breathing new life into fascist hype and blather, subverting language, eviscerating values, punishing courage and replacing it with their own loutish bullying, and blurring vision and critical consciousness with a relentless stream lies and obfuscations.
So who are these perpetrators of barbarity, and who are their supporters? What makes them tick? What can be done about them? These three questions have been on my mind a lot the last several years — since 1979, actually, when the Brits elected Margaret Thatcher, and 1980, when the U.S. elected a vacuous actorRonald Reagan who immediately began dismantling everything. The political road has been downhill ever since. The coup de grâce came in 2016 when America went berserk and elected a vile, phony dipshit president. That is, it will prove to have been the final, killing blow if Trump is re-elected in a couple of weeks.
[Update: Since I wrote this the election has been held and Trump lost to Joseph Biden. Trump is now busily proving his insanity by denying he lost. The Electoral College certified Biden the winner of the election and Trump has become the whiny Loser-in-chief.]
We know who many of these barbarians are, whether we want to or not. There are plenty of mad-eyed citizens loudly proclaiming their conservative convictions at the drop of a MAGA cap. Many are armed and dangerous. Not all conservatives are loudmouths, of course. Many are not first- or even second-brick throwers; they are malevolently quiet; lurking, mewling, say, in the anonymity of a Trump political rally or watching it on TV in their darkened homes. And there are clearly many who are closet conservatives and only occasionally feel strong — or deranged — enough to make their political position public. Like my neighbors who surprised me with the Trump sign in their window. After being challenged they removed the sign and have not been seen since. That was a disappointment because if people insist on being stupid I would like them to at least have the courage of their convictions.
There are conventional conservatives who strongly dislike Trump but who will vote for him because they prefer the poison they know over the poison they don’t. As far as I’m concerned that is an operational definition of shit-for-brains. Far too many on the political left also fall into that category, voting for whomever the Democratic Party tells them to. There is plenty of that kind of ignorance around; ignorance has become the primary stanchionWhen I was growing up in farm country a stanchion was a frame that held the head of a cow in place, especially to facilitate milking. Think about it. of American Society.
Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, said “know your enemy.” Americans don’t. Liberals don’t know much about conservatives and conservatives don’t know much about liberals. In my early adult years I was what today would be called a political operative. I ran, co-ran, and helped in numerous Republican electoral campaigns ranging from county commissioner to governor. In those years I had plenty of opportunity to observe Republicans of every stripe. My conclusion about them was that conservatives are hardly ever deep thinkers. They would almost always rather spend more of their time in action than thinking. Democrats, on the other hand, are more devoted thinkers but seem to have never seen a fight they couldn’t run from.
Based on my own experience — and on his high esteem among conservatives — I would say Russell Kirk’s 1953 landmark book The Conservative Mind is a good source of information about how conservatives think, their principal beliefs and principles in general, and how they differ from liberals. A brief and more concise online overview of Kirk’s idealized version of conservative values can be found in his article, “Ten Conservative Principles.” You can read a brief biography of Kirk in “About Russell Kirk.”
My reference to Kirk is simply to provide a readable source on mainline conservative values. In my opinion he was (he died in 1994) a middleweight thinker who, along with William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Kristols, did much of the (shallow) thinking for a long list of conservatives. (Frank Meyer, George Stigler, Milton Friedman, Phyllis Schlafly, George Will, Peggy Noonan, Nixon, Thatcher, Reagan, Bush … need I go on? Trump is not mentioned in this list because he does his own, well, whatever it is that passes for thinking with him.)
Conservatism and liberalism and the anterior cingulate gyrus
Mainline conservatives and liberals (as distinct from the radicals of either direction) differ in ideologies which in turn stem from differences in perception. We now have plenty of neuroscientific evidence — particularly in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — that brain physiology contributes to, or even determines, conservative or liberal orientation. The cognitive styles of each are different and correlate with the size of the anterior cingulate gyrus (smaller in conservatives) and the right amygdala (smaller in liberals) in their brain. These differences are present very early on, perhaps at birth.
Correlations have been found even in very young children. Whether the differences are there at birth, or are the result of environmental influences, is not yet known. But this goes a long way toward explaining the hard-headed stubbornness of conservatives to any form of rational argument against their beliefs.
People with a relatively larger cingulate gyrus have shown in research to be more amenable to belief change. But not a lot! Take any fundamental tenet of conservatism and try to get a liberal to agree it has any merit at all. You will see the same intellectual brick wall for which conservatives are notorious. They just won’t pull a gun on you.
The (probably) genetic differences between conservatives’ and liberals’ cognition explains why they see the world differently. Liberals see the glass as half full while conservatives see it as half empty. A more subtle test might be the way people see ambiguous figure-ground illustrations. Looking at the illustration on the left, the conservative initially sees a vase while the liberal sees two faces. I just made that up — which sees one or the other — but I’m probably right.
On the other hand, if one looks at an ambiguous figure long enough it tends to flip back and forth. One minute you might see the vase, then suddenly all you can see is two faces. Then it might flip back again. And so on. Does this mean that people can be conservative or liberal at will? Or if a liberal stares at at conservative long enough does he begin to look like a liberal? Nah. Not a chance.
Unless you can get them to look you in the eye for an extended period of time, and you do the same to them.
Eye-to-eye gazing causes positive affect and social bonding. You see it happening between just-born children and adults, and between pets and their people. Although it usually drives pet people nuts because they can’t figure out what their dog wants, just quietly staring at them. The dog doesn’t want anything, he’s just adoring you. Stare back and he’ll love it.
Just so you’ll know there is science behind what I am saying, here’s what happens. The eye-to-eye gazing causes the amygdala to produce oxytocin which is secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. This is sometimes referred to as the cuddle hormone. “Cuz that’s what makes ya wanna do it, Dopey.”
Don’t try this eye-to-eye gazing with just anyone. Pick the wrong conservative and you might get shot. There’s a lot of that going around.
This might be a more practical example of the difference between conservative and liberal thinking: Observing themselves and fellow human beings, conservatives come to the conclusion that humankind is not perfectible and therefore must always be kept under control by external forces. On the other hand, the same observations by liberals convince them that humans are infinitely malleable and utopia is possible along with great individual liberty and freedom.
Cognitive predilections of liberals and conservatives
Cognitive predilections do indeed have a profound influence on what we perceive. We might see the same things but what we perceive can be quite different. We don’t see eye to eye, as the expression goes.
Liberals are optimistic about human potential whereas conservatives believe Edmund Burke was correct when he wrote, “…nothing could be more fatal to mankind than his success.” This at least partially explains the strong dislike conservatives have for anything that smacks of socialism. Liberals generally have less trouble with it. In fact, the Republicans have made themselves so hated by the thinking classes that there is now a whiff of democratic socialism in the air. Populations here and around the world are beginning to rebel against the predatory capitalism of neoliberalism which has concentrated much of the planet’s wealth in the hands of a hateful, undeserving financial elite.
The financial elite have found willing henchmen in evangelical Christians and batshit crazy conservatives like Moscow Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham and William Barr. I avoid listing Donald Trump because he is mentally disturbed and belongs in either an asylum (other than the White House) or just, you know, dead. [Update: Barr just resigned. Good riddance.]
Modern Republicans’ characteristics
Today’s Republicans are despised by the Left and frankly by everyone capable of finding their way out from under a MAGA cap in the dark. You know a Republican when you see one, but you might not have taken the time to inventory their characteristics. I’m about to do that. Keep in mind that no one is likely to be all of the things at any given time. Also keep in mind that there can never be a complete list because Batcons What else could we call them? They’re just batshit crazy conservatives, as opposed to just garden variety conservatives. lie awake nights thinking up ever new ways to be mean and obdurately stupid.
Facts are foolish. Batcons will always choose alternate facts when they don’t like the real ones. In fact, most facts are anathema to them because facts force reality to intrude on their fevered dreams.
Government is bad. The less there is of it, the better. Which goes to show the Batcon’s almost total absence of rational thought in light of the next point.
Batcons MUST have a leader. Clearly they will follow anyone who can properly feed and maintain their self-delusions. The only requirement is that the presumptive leader must (1) already wield some power; (2) be willing to throw the first brick; (3) be male; (4) be annoying, painful or destructive to everyone and everything hated by the Batcon (and that’s just about every intelligent, civil and worthwhile human on the planet); and (5) be generally as batshit nuts as they are. (Cf. Trump.)
Global warming is a myth concocted by prissy liberals “who think they’re so damned smart just ’cause they got college degrees and shit like that.” After all, climate change is normal and to be expected and, anyway, even if there were such a thing, it’s certainly not our fault.
Everyone but us is lazy. People have to be forced to make their own way. Nothing should be free. Anyone can get a job who’s willing to work and lift themselves up by their own goose-stepping bootstraps. Hence any form of welfare (except bank and corporate welfare, of course), free healthcare, or any other form of freely given largess will only subvert capitalism and put a dent in human ambition. Any weakening in a leftward direction must be resisted.
The death penalty is good. It helps cut down on the number of Negroes and Mexicans running loose, and other elements of the surplus population. An additional bonus is that it feeds the Batcons’ insatiable need to hurt and kill anyone who disagrees with them. (Why else would firearms be such a fetish, and absolutely essential, for them? There are other bases for a fascination with guns, of course, but that’s an unrelated topic.)
Commies, queers and darkies should be killed when they riot. And every left-leaning demonstration is to be considered a riot. What else are we supposed to do with all these guns? Oh yeah, and Mexicans too. In fact everyone who ain’t white like us. Probably Gypsies too [spit]. And the towel-heads (that’s Muslims to you, you over-civilized mugwump). [Okay, my bad. No Batcon is likely to know what a mugwump is. I’m a mugwump. A person who remains aloof or independent, especially from party politics.]
Socialists should also be killed. Capitalism, although only dimly comprehended by your garden variety Batcon, is the only acceptable system. Free markets and corporations should be unhampered by taxes and government regulation.
Guns are good. They are not to be controlled in any way, in case this needs repeating.
No universal healthcare. Like Medicare for all, for example. Again, in case this needs repeating: Freeloaders must not be encouraged. (Keep in mind that this sentiment is held even by the Batcons who are on Social Security and Medicare. They are supremely ignorant of almost everything except what they have been told to believe. And, being truebelievers, they believe fervently.)
The United States is a Christian nation. Everyone should be Christian just like us. A Christian theocracy in the U.S. would be just fine. Forget all that science and all those fake facts. Just pray (beats the hell out of having to actually think about anything because thinking is hard!).
Same-sex marriage and all forms of gender difference are bad. Forget all that alphabet crap lgbtqrsdbd…argh!
Batcons really, really hate logic, reason and rational discourse. Thus they deprive themselves of even the simplest understanding of civilization’s foundations and everything that is the result of several millennia of human thought, value and work toward a civilized world.
Batcons are driven by anarchic impulse. The world is so screwed-up, in their opinion, so far from being the way the garden variety Batcon would like it to be (not that they really know in any detail how they would like it to be), that only destruction can produce improvement. Anarchy is welcome.
Equality is unrealistic and unachievable. [A belief also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] That goes for every kind of equality. No two things in this world are exactly alike. You want to be equal, you should have been born a white male. If that’s not what you are, go back where you came from. And if you are a white Christian male, and you don’t agree with me on every single point, drop dead. Here, let me help you with that…
Utopia is impossible. [Related to the point above and also commonly held by mainline conservatives.] Not only is the concept of utopia unrealistic, it would be fiendishly boring if ever achieved. If no utopia is possible then any effort in that direction is a waste of time. THIS IS A KEY TENET IN BATCON THINKING! All attempts at liberal achievement are considered a waste of time, energy and — this is particularly important — resources, some of which either belong to the Batcon or are provided through taxes. Therefore they are to be stopped and eradicated at all costs. This partially explains why Batcons are so mean, cruel and despicable. At least in the view of anyone with even the slightest leanings toward Enlightenment values.
Batcons have a Manichean vision of the world. They are in an irreducible struggle between good (themselves) and bad (everyone else). There are no shades of gray.
Private property ownership is the foundation of all great civilizations. [Another belief held also by mainline conservatives.] An attack on the concept of private property is an attack on civilization. That is, civilization as interpreted by Batcon warped metrics, of course.
Compassion is for sissies. Don’t bother me with all that touchy-feely crap.
Wisdom is whatever I say it is.
Meta-cognition is stunted. Okay, this one is a toughie to explain to anyone who is not a cognitive scientist. It is the collection of mental processes that guide our thoughts. In addition to emotions, motives, and visceral responses, thoughts are also influenced by other thoughts. That is what meta-cognition is about. Meta-cognition helps us: — Check ourselves when we are wrong. — Investigate complex issues to gather a broader range of perspectives other than our own. Legitimately consider the diverse perspectives of those with whom you don’t agree. — Construct a big-picture view. — Recognize the limits of ones own knowledge and experience intellectual humility.
These, then, are at least a beginning list of the primary descriptors and characteristics of Batcons. There are others. There will always be others because Batcons do not have values. They entertain only the unfounded beliefs that have been handed to them by those who know how to manipulate and control them to forward their own selfish ends. Batcons readily and willingly serve the wealthiest, elitist elements of society.
A Batcon’s mentality can only be comprehended through an understanding of the mentality of his masters, whom Batcons will unquestioningly follow. No assault upon a Batcon’s beliefs and attitudes will change them except in the unlikely event the assault is from Batcons’ enablers. Batcons are notoriously hard to proselytize, once they have committed to their leaders, because they have been inoculated against any information that (1) deviates from their received dogma or that (2) does not come directly from their leaders.
Just as measles virus cannot invade an inoculated host vaccinated against it, new or opposing ideas cannot gain purchase in the mind of a Batcon inoculated against them.
Reasoned discourse with Batcons is a fruitless waste of time. The inoculation of Batcons has rendered all forms of logical discourse and reasoning ineffectual.
The recruitment of Batcons in America takes place primarily through conservative talk radio, Fox News, and social media (Facebook and Twitter). How talk radio came under the total control of batshit conservatism is a story in itself, and Fox News has long been recognized as a primary Batcon propaganda ministry. Batcons have voluntarily subjected themselves to thousands of hours of far-right-wing propaganda spewing out of these media sources. Few humans can withstand that kind of sustained, withering brainwashing.
Nascent Batcons are initially attracted to illogical tenets of batshit conservatism because it seems to offer them strength to compensate for their own unacknowledged weakness and vulnerability, and retribution against those they have come to hate. They are quickly and easily hooked. The daily media doses of far-right drivel indoctrinate them beyond redemption. Thus is constituted both their instruction and their inoculation against any and all opposing views. Like the citizens of North Korea they are soon beyond saving. There is no logical, reasonable, humane way to break through their self-chosen bubble of irrationality and hatred, and their sense of invincibility.
They are frightening. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the many conservative talk radio stations are frightened by their audience. They live in terror of the monster they have created.
Censorship, though, is not the solution. The way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas. But it is now obvious that Fox News and talk radio must be dismantled if we are ever to get control over the Batcon epidemic among the susceptible.
One of the reasons there is such a large susceptible segment of the American population is the failure of our educational system. It must be reconstituted and begin teaching children the Enlightenment values so essential to the kind of culture and society in which most people prefer to live.
So how many Batcons are there in the world? This brings me back to my earlier comments concerning my curiosity about how many of the Germans I met were ex-Nazis. How many Americans truly fall into the Batcon mental sewer?
There is no way to be sure and the number is constantly changing because, as with any structurally defined population unit, there will be at least a few on the fringes who slip in and out of the defined group, depending upon how they think the world is treating them at the moment. But here’s an educated guess.
Begin with the assumption that the genetic tendency toward conservatism or liberalism is normally distributed in the population. As you can see from the normal distribution curve on the left, half of the population is conservative leaning and half is liberal. The beliefs and behavior of those in the very middle region of the curve might be hard to distinguish one from another, while those who fall into the farthest right and left are the more rabid cases; liberals on the right side conservatives on the left. On the farthest left are the Batcons. (Please note the intentional reversal of traditional “right” and “left” in the diagram.)
Considering the best evidence I have found (certainly nowhere near conclusive), I estimate the percentage of the American population that are Batcons to be nearly ten percent. About 75 percent of Americans are 18 or older. With a total U.S. population close to 330 million, that puts the adult population at roughly 250 million (or near-adult population, one could argue).
According to my estimate, then, there are close to 25 million Batcons in the U.S. I don’t think they are evenly distributed around the 50 U.S. states but if they were that would be about 495,000 in each state. You can see by the U.S. map below the political ideology of the population in each state. Whatever the distribution of Batcons actually is, there are plenty of them to go around.
To say that one out of every ten Americans are Batcons might seem a lot, but frankly I have the impression they are everywhere. Maybe it just seems that way because they are so noisy and obnoxious.
There used to not be nearly as many as there are today. About a half a century or so ago when I was active in conservative politics there were a lot fewer Batcons. As noted above, conservative talk radio and Fox News have really done a number on the American population, serving to divide as nothing else has since the Civil War.
And keep in mind that over and above that number are the hard-core conservatives who can still be plenty unreasonable. They are the people represented in the right-hand side of that 13.59 percent part of the curve (the second gray section left of center), between minus one and minus two standard deviations from the mean. (You don’t have to know about standard deviations if you don’t want to, just know that “deviations” in this context is a statistical term, not a slur on conservatives. At least, not intentionally.)
Batcons’ threat to society
Batcons are clearly a threat to civil society, a kind of threat that extreme liberals will never be. Not from overt aggression, anyway. It is the Batcons who are the domestic terrorists (they fashion themselves “militias”), killer cops, and kamikaze drivers into crowds of demonstrators. Most of them are too far gone to be converted into compassionate, thinking human beings. And they cannot be allowed to run rampant over everyone else. They can only be subdued, and to do that requires a massive, concerted effort on the part of those who recognize Batcons for the miscreants they are.
The more rational conservatives have already begun attempts to reign in the Batcons. There is widespread awareness that conservatives’ fortunes are sinking and American culture is turning against them. Their views, commonplace only yesterday, are coming under more and more condemnation. American conservatives’ redoubt, the Republican Party, has show itself willing to tear the country apart rather than face a bleak future of failure to win elections. Their main strategy is to narrow the electorate to give it a better chance of winning legislative majorities with a minority of votes. They have stacked the courts with incompetent, Batcon-leaning judges who can be relied upon to vote as their corporate sponsors direct. The henchmen of this disturbed and sinking order are the Batcons, and they must be constrained.
To get moderate conservatives on board with this will require shunning of Batcons, ridicule of them, and outright rejection by the rest of society. Only when Batcons are widely shown to be foolish and inept — and only when the Batcons themselves realize how foolish and inept the rest of the world considers them to be, even though they will never agree — will they pull in their horns and go back into philosophical and political hiding. They have to be forced back under the rocks from whence they came.
However, it is extremely important that things not be made to look hopeless for the more moderate conservatives. If they come to the conclusion that they will be permanently excluded from government by electoral politics, they may well reject democracy altogether. Some of the more benighted Republicans in Congress are already making disparaging remarks about democracy and representative government. Some of them would clearly rather bring down the whole national edifice than lose their cushy jobs and preference.
What it will take to get America’s Batcons on the run
The kind of concerted social demonstration needed to send the Batcons running will require participation by moderate conservatives, and to get them onboard will require a minimum of two things:
Conservatives must not be made to believe that all conservative causes and concepts have forever been plowed under. There must remain a glimmer of hope for them and they must be made to believe that losing elections in a democracy is preferable to winning in a state of anarchy. Some might of course actually prefer anarchy under the delusion that their own personal “specialness” and exceptionalism will keep them on top of the heap. They must be disabused of such thoughts.
Liberal extremism must be toned down. Liberal principles need not be abandoned, merely moderated and made less extreme. This does not mean there should be movement toward the middle in the way the DNC and mainline Democrats would like to see. That would merely be continuing to kiss the collective ass of the One Percent. Mainline Democrats — but not progressive Democrats and some Independents — have been doing that for too long. It is that prolonged butt-smooch that has contributed in large measure to what got us into the current mess in the first place. It must be avoided at all costs.
So changes will have to be made on both sides of the divide. But the biggest, most important changes will be required of the conservatives. They have already damaged their standing and reputation, perhaps beyond salvage. Already there are clear signs of many Republicans trying to distance themselves from Trump and his ilk. But whatever their fate, they must re-join the more humane segments of the people and embrace the tenets of liberty, equality, and reason. Batcons must be vanquished and dispersed, and anyone who sides with them should suffer the same fate.
Enough with the problem recitations, please. Article after article, in all sources both print and electronic, all we get is descriptions of problems, admonitions to face the reality (whatever it is at the moment), and the advice that we should do something.
But hardly anyone offers concrete steps to be taken or solutions we should implement to solve our problems.
Typical of the proliferation of such articles is this one: “Are we prepared for a climate crisis in the middle of a pandemic?” by Olivia Aguilar. According to Dr. Aguilar, we are not. So what should we do about it? Form committees. In about 1100 words that is the only concrete step she recommends.
Articles of little merit or value are generated by the score every day in colleges and universities that pressure their faculty members to publish something, anything, whether they have anything to say or not.
So-called think tanks are also prolific factories of shrieking calls to do something without even a scintilla of solutions offered. I’ve read article after article, watched countless mind-numbing Youtube videos, and listened to a few podcasts, all about how we need to prepare for this or that problem: global warming, swarms of climate refugees, the Coronavirus epidemic, food shortages, overpopulation, and on and on. The list of problems facing or about to consume us is endless. The list of solutions is, well, pretty much blank.
What follows are a few of the problems that need solutions, at least in rough format, that come to my mind without a lot of thought (which is my preferred mode). They could be fleshed out with a little research and high-powered thinking on the part of these people who have sinecures in academia and think tanks. With more of a project-orientation—solution centered as they like to say—they could actually earn their money by giving us some steps to follow.
Lawn to gardens. For at least eight years there has been a push in some quarters to convert our ridiculous lawns into gardens, especially vegetable gardens. Food supply is going to undergo serious threat so we need more how-to instruction on things like: — Getting municipal codes changed to accommodate gardens in place of lawns. — Psychological methods for breaking homeowners away from their grass fetish. — Protection methods against natural pillagers and human thieves. — And while we’re at it, canning procedures to store the produce from those gardens.
Golf courses to affordable housing. Golf courses are going to rapidly become a thing of the past. The areas they occupy could be converted to affordable housing. Focus on: — How to bring about forced change of ownership from private golf course owners. Municipalization? — Political action to achieve conversion of municipally owned courses. — How to incorporate the renting of small garden plats for individuals on former golf courses.
Farmland conversion. The dominance of beef and corn production are extremely problematic aspects of agriculture that must be radically changed. — Alternative crops appropriate to particular areas and circumstances. — Debt amelioration for farmers heavily invested in equipment and land.
Wind and solar acceptance. Over 70 percent of the American public supports alternative energy sources. But when it comes to actually implementing them the public wants them anywhere but in their own vicinity. — What influence techniques or methods would bring better acceptance of local installations? — What financial incentives or other benefits could be generated, and what would their sources be, to gain acceptance?
Propaganda remediation. Talk radio, social media, and Fox News have been seriously and in some cases almost entirely subverted to propaganda machines for contemporary populists and other rabble. — How can these media be effectively neutralized without censorship? — What methods could be employed to undo years of biased influence in people who have willingly subjected themselves to the relentless barrage of right wing misinformation and anti-social ideas?
Education rejuvenation. Starting in the late 1950s the far right-wing segment of the Republican party began to advance a policy of influence over the educational system to bring it into alignment with their warped values and focus on personal, financial wealth. Their strategy included gaining control of school boards, state departments of education, and educational legislation. They have in large measure been successful. — What kinds of political strategies will be necessary, and effective, in returning school board representation to the broader swath of the public? — What will be required to bring about truly free education from preschool through college? — State legislatures need to step up and fund higher education. How can that be achieved? — How can organizations like parent teacher organizations be more empowered to help bring about substantive, positive changes in public education?
Enlightenment values. The United States was once the proud embodiment in the world of higher enlightenment values. That is no longer the case with our incessant, never-ending wars and interference with foreign governments everywhere. What would it take to get back to a positive moral stature?
Freedom. It would be difficult to enumerate all the losses of freedom and liberty that have occurred just in my lifetime. This must perforce be the broadest and most difficult topic on this list. In brief, how do we regain our liberty?
This is a list I conjured up in just a few minutes. Certainly they are among those topics I think about frequently, and they are really only a small subset of the possible topics people could be studying, researching, and writing about.
And of course some are doing exactly that. Do an Internet search of any of the terms of this list and many sources will come up. But they are often, as is this one, isolated and relatively obscure websites. What we really need is for those with the biggest megaphones to stop dithering with resume or CV padding crap and produce something meaningful and useful.
Wife Chris and I have decided to install a natural gas powered 16 kWh stand-by electric generator.
Natural gas powered generators are quieter than the smaller, portable, gasoline powered types of generator. The location we have chosen for the generator, plus its quieter sound, will make it minimally obtrusive. We do not like noise and assume others feel the same way. The only time the generator will be running–other than when there is an electricity outage, of course–will be for periods of 10 minutes or less, once a week, which is part of the maintenance program. We will schedule this for a time during the middle of the day.
You might be wondering, why? Natural gas powered generators
with their permanent installation are not cheap. Plus they require
maintenance and upkeep. So why did we decide to do this?
Given the tenor of the times and the ways in which so much of our contemporary world is clearly breaking down, I have been giving a lot of thought to just how our quality of life is most vulnerable. It did not a lot of thought to conclude that one area in which a catastrophe would be most devastating is electricity.
Almost every aspect of our lives depends on the electricity being on. In the past we have lived in places where electrical outages were commonplace. Loss of power for even an hour is pretty inconvenient. It never happens at a good time.
We were living in New York during the Northeast blackout of 2003.
When that struck we were without power for several days. That made us
outage sensitive, so we subsequently invested in an emergency
generator (portable, gasoline powered) and electrical transfer switch
wiring. That made a world of difference in our quality of life during
those frequent times when the electricity went off, sometimes for
The Achilles heel of that system was the fact that it was gasoline
powered. In a widespread blackout, like the one in 2003, gasoline was
hard to get because filling station pumps require electricity to
work. We had to either drive outside the blackout area (too far) or
find a filling station that had its own backup generator (and had not
run out of gasoline to sell).
An added inconvenience was the limited number of household
circuits we could power with our portable generator. We could power
some of the basic circuits but we were nowhere near whole-house
With our electric-outage experience in mind I contacted the local electric utility before moving to the Madison area in 2013 to see what the outage history was like. I was told there had been only one brief outage, lasting less than an hour, in the previous ten years.
Great! I thought. We won’t be needing an emergency generator.
In the six-plus years we’ve lived here there have been a few brief
outages. More than I expected from what I had been told, but nothing
to get seriously bent out of shape about. So I was feeling pretty
secure about our electricity supply and the unlikelihood of
experiencing a serious outage.
It detailed the four most likely ways in which the national
electrical grid is vulnerable to prolonged collapse:
Electromagnetic pulse attack (EMP) via a high altitude
Kinetic attack. (Structural damage resulting from acts of
terrorism; nature, such as lightning; vandalism, such as someone
shooting at transformers; etc.)
The DOE Assessment makes for some bleak and scary reading,
especially when you consider that we the public are usually fed
feel-good nonsense that paints a rosy picture. If these people are
bad-mouthing the situation, then it must be really bad. Everything is
“Even if all the recommendations
of the Congressional EMP Commission were implemented, there is no
guarantee that the [national electrical] grid will not sustain a
prolonged collapse. There should therefore be contingency plans
for such a failure.” (Emphasis added.)
Evidently there are no contingency plans: “There should be an
actionable plan in anticipation of a possible prolonged collapse of
the grid—a retro-structure and a skill set to provide a framework
for survival. Our sense is there is no plan.” (Emphasis
So just how bad is it? I wondered. How likely is it that the
national electrical grid could go down, that there could be a
“prolonged collapse”? How long would the collapse last if
it did? After all, in modern times we have never experienced a
complete collapse of the national electrical grid. But if is
possible, and there is no plan . . .
I looked into the four “postulated mechanisms” that
could potentially cause grid collapse:
Geomagnetic storms. According to Science Daily,
a “geomagnetic storm is a temporary disturbance of the Earth’s
magnetosphere. Associated with solar coronal mass ejections, coronal
holes, or solar flares, a geomagnetic storm is caused by a solar wind
shock wave which typically strikes the Earth’s magnetic field 24 to
36 hours after the event.”
Often called solar storms, these magnetic disruptions can wreak
havoc on electrical equipment of all sorts, especially the essential
components of the national grid. In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm
blacked out large parts of northeastern North America. In 1921 there
was a solar storm several magnitudes stronger than the 1989 storm.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has
estimated that if a storm of the 1921 magnitude were to strike today
it would take down the entire U.S. grid. (There was no grid in 1921
like there is today.)
The 1921 Solar storm was not a unique, one-time event. NOAA is
confident that a storm of that magnitude, or even greater, will
eventually strike us.
Electromagnetic Pulse Attacks (EMP).
An EMP of sufficient magnitude damages electrical equipment. The most
likely EMP vehicle would be a high altitude nuclear
detonation. From what I can gather this is the least likely thing to
happen, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part.
A lightning strike is an EMP. As a result of global warming,
storms are getting more frequent and more powerful. A few unluckily
placed lightning strikes could leave us in the dark a long time.
Cyber attacks. A
cyber attack is an assault launched against computer networks and
systems. As might be
expected, the electric grid is managed by computers from stem to
Not long ago Russian hackers
took down a large part of the Ukrainian electric grid.
The damage, destruction and loss was enormous. It has been suggested
that the Russians could take
down the U.S. grid whenever
they want to.
A power company in the Midwest hired a
group of white hat hackers known as RedTeam Security to test power
company’s defenses against hacking and sabotage. The team was able to
break into buildings and hack into the power company’s network with
relative ease. They were able to gain full access and could have
easily done serious and permanent damage, plunging the entire region
into darkness for an indeterminate time.
Kinetic Attacks. These are old fashioned methods like
bombs, fire, bullets, and so on. A few years ago in California
someone with a high powered rifle took down a large power transformer
by simply shooting at it. Much of the region was without power for
Speaking of transformers, they are a critical component of the
transmission system. They adjust the electric voltage to a suitable
level on each segment of the power transmission from generation to
the end user. They are essential to the transmission of electricity
across the grid.
High voltage transformers (HVTs), sometimes referred to as large
power transformers (LPTs), are big and heavy. They weigh between 110
and 410 tons, and cost millions of dollars apiece. They are all
uniquely designed so they cannot be mass produced, and it can take up
to two years to make one.
There are approximately 80 to 90 of these LPTs in use across the
country. They are essential to the U.S. electric grid. Because they
are huge, transporting them from the point of manufacture to their
destination in the grid is costly and expensive.
Making them is even more problematic. It can take up to two years
to make one of these LPTs. That is, if the materials required to make
them are immediately available. (Don’t even get me started on the
problems associated with electrical steel, a special steel that is an
essential ingredient of all LPTs.) Keep in mind there can be no
economy of scale with these things because each one is unique. They
must be designed and built for the particular requirements of where
they are to be used.
It would seem reasonable to make a large power transformer in
place, where it is needed. But that is impossible. There are only a
couple of manufacturers in the world capable of making the largest
LPTs. One is in South Korea and the other in Germany.
The German manufacturing firm is Siemens. In an impressive 568
page company publication they state that LPTs have a lifespan of
around 35 or 40 years, and approximately 70 percent of the LPTs in
the U.S. are at or past their end of service date.
The publication cited above says the entire U.S. grid would go
down with the loss of no more than eight or nine LPTs. Yikes!
Think about it. Around 60 of our LPTs are outdated and could fail at
any time. And most of the rest of them are approaching that point.
Call me Chicken Little, but I find that more than a little scary.
From what I have learned over the past few months there is no
doubt in my mind that we are going to experience more frequent and
longer lasting electric outages. (I haven’t even mentioned the aging,
inadequate, and sorely neglected infrastructure of our national grid
of which the LPTs are a part.)
What to do? The first thing I wanted to know was if the electric utility had any kind of program, or perhaps suggestions about how to deal with outages, especially an extended outage which might even be nationwide, and might last for months or even years.
The utility’s manager courteously responded to all my questions in a timely manner, but what he had to say was not comforting. In his words, they were a small electric distribution company. It has little to no control over the supply of electricity to them. If they can’t get electricity, game over for them.
So! If an extended power outage is a real possibility, what’s to
be done? Do we really want to make a sizable investment in time and
money to install a permanent, natural-gas fueled stand-by electric
generator? After all, the national electric grid has never totally
gone down, and local outages have never been very long-term. It’s
never happened; maybe it never will.
First I looked at it from an actuarial perspective. We have paid
and lot in premiums over the years for life insurance, even though
neither of us has ever actually died. Same with fire insurance, auto
insurance, health insurance, and so on. We’ve had some claims over
the years but we’ve certainly never recouped the total cost of the
The way we’ve usually looked at it was that we were insuring
against catastrophe. The ramifications of a possible catastrophic
event were far more horrendous than paying the insurance premiums.
I believe the same applies to electricity. To be without it is
one of the most disruptive and potentially dangerous conditions I can
imagine. Or in some ways, that I can’t imagine. Things can
happen that were undreamed of just the day before.
Like the sudden appearance of a new virus for which no one has
immunity. As I write this Chris and I have isolated ourselves at home
due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I don’t know how long we are going
to have to be holed up here, but I would not want to do it without
We finally decided to get the generator if we could be
confident there would be gas to power it. I wanted to hear from
Madison Gas & Electric as to whether or not they could continue
to provide gas in an extended power outage. It was difficult to get
them to answer my questions but I kept badgering them until they did.
Their answer: Their ability to provide gas is not dependent upon
electricity from the grid. They do have to power the gas pumps with
electricity, but they have some very large stand-by generators for
that. I have to take their word for it that they can continue to
deliver gas even with the electricity is off.
I did ask, a couple of times, just how long they would be able to
provide gas with the electricity off. That question never got
So we decided to install a permanent stand-by generator. One that
is capable of powering our whole house. As long as there is natural
gas we will not have to be without heat or air conditioning,
refrigeration, light, hot water, computers, charged cell phones,
CPAP, and so on.
Solar panels and whole house batteries would be a better solution
but that option is not presently available to us because the
homeowners’ association voted against allowing solar panels. We would
prefer solar because it is renewable. But instead we will have to
burn fossil fuel. (I have wondered how many of the homeowners’
association members who voted against solar own MG&E stock.)
Wind power is out of the question for the present circumstances.
That just leaves natural gas
By the way, potable water was of concern to me in case of an outage. Local water company told me they have natural gas powered generators that back-up several of their water-well pumps. They can continue to supply water as long as there is gas.
It really is time for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to start breaking up the gargantuan online companies like ebay.
Amazon should also be broken up, and certainly Google and Facebook. But one thing has to be said about Amazon: They make buying (and returning) easy.
Not so ebay. I ordered a product from iherb on ebay. They evidently did not have the product they pictured and described, so they sent me a substitute. So I wanted to return it and get a refund.
That’s when all the fun began. I won’t go through all the laborious and ridiculous steps I was required to go through only to end up unwilling to spend any more time trying to get them to do the right thing.
The vendor, iherb, never did respond to my attempts to get their attention. After they had ignored me for a couple of weeks I went over their head to ebay. Although quite friendly about it, they required me to jump through numerous hoops, eventually said the vendor iherb would be sending me a return label.
They did not and getting back in touch with ebay about this specific matter has been a nightmare and now a complete failure. I have no more time to mess with them. I am stuck with a $50 item I did not want, did not order, and evidently cannot return for a refund.
This is becoming more and more a common experience in late-state predatory capitalism. I used to believe whole heartedly in capitalism and the American Dream. No more. There never seems to be enough profit for these greedsters and they lie awake nights figuring out ways to screw us, the consuming public, out of yet more money.
I was once used ebay’s service to take credit cards but stopped because of all the bad experiences others had with them.
Now I will not buy anything from anyone on ebay ever again. The ebay “guarantee” is BS, in my experience. You might be able to get a refund from them or with their help, but not without a lot of patience and time.
Ebay should take a lesson from Amazon. At least Amazon knows how to treat customers.
Sometime around next February the U.S. will send 20,000 troops to participate in a joint NATO military exercise in Europe called Defender 2020. There will be a total of 37,000 troops involved.
That’s 20,000 from us and 17,000 from the rest of NATO. There are 27 current European Union members 22 of which are members of NATO. So, what, five European countries are getting a free ride? And why are the European members contributing only 46 percent of the troops while we, the U.S., only one of 29 members, dishing out 54 percent of the personnel?
The national differences between European countries were put aside when NATO was formed after the last world war. But World War II ended 75 years ago and now those differences are resurfacing with a vengeance. Which detracts significantly from the primary objective of NATO has always been protecting the Europeans from Russia. It is time to call it quits. We can’t even protect ourselves from Russia’s vile influence (otherwise what’s all that noise about their interference in our elections?).
Besides, of total membership of NATO only Poland (and maybe France?) are contributing to the costs of NATO which they agreed to share a long time ago.
The NATO war games next February have been designated Defender 2020 but to me that seems disingenuous. The number refers to the year of course but I can’t help ruminating about the ophthalmological implication. It stands for perfect vision which we certainly do not have when it comes to anything military.
For instance, we are in the grip of global warming caused in no small part by the burning of fossil fuels. To that end Defender 2020 promises to make a significant contribution. Not to the solution but to global warming itself.
There is no way to even begin to estimate the carbon “footprint” of such a military exercise. Boeing C-17 Globemaster III jet planes will probably be used to transport the troops from the U.S. to, say, Ramstein Air Base in Germany. It will require 170 flights—yes, one hundred and seventy—to get the troops there. And of course they will have to eventually be brought back. What that costs us will never be made public by our government. In their mania for secrecy even public knowledge about something as silly  as the cost of one toilet seat to be a threat to national security. Conservative estimates range from 106 million dollars to over 200 million. That’s just for the transportation to get our well-heeled warriors there and back.
For what? Is it just a show of force? If that’s it it is not likely to impress anyone. When I was in the Army in Europe there were something like a quarter of a million of us there. Moving a mere 20,000 military meatballs a quarter of the way around the globe carries little threat to people like Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Ski Jumping or whatever his name is (yeah, yeah, I know, it’s Xi Jinking; easily googled).
A typical U.S.-Europe round-trip flight produces between one and two tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person. You know, that much loved and adorable greenhouse gas that is killing our planet. So if we multiply, say, one-and-a-half tons by the number of U.S. troops involved we get something in the ballpark of twenty to forty thousand tons of carbon dioxide. I don’t know what the correct number will be—does anyone, really?—but it is a lot.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that “CO2 remains in the climate system for a very long time: CO2 emissions cause increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 that will last thousands of years.”
What does that mean in comparative terms? The U.S. EPA calculator  tells us the amount of CO2 generated just to get the troops there and back will be the equivalent of the amount of CO2 created from generating the electricity used in one year by 2,395 U.S. homes. Or the burning of more than 21 million pounds of coal.
What would it take to sequester that amount of CO2 and keep it from entering the atmosphere? It would take 23,538 acres of forest a full year to do it. Or, if you were to plant 330,704 tree seedlings and nurtured them all into full and healthy growth they could sequester the CO2 in ten years. Or of course they could just not do this kind of stupid crap.
Our military is committing this rapine on our environment, and blowing countless tax dollars, all to justify their ability to re-fight World War II. Or to just keep fighting the endless wars predatory capitalism keeps coming up with to make ever more profit.
It is past time to put an end to all the war mongering warrior worship that has contributed so much to bringing us to the edge of extinction.
Starting now the Pentagon budget should be cut in half each year for at least three years, then re-evaluated. To do that will require replacing the current political leadership (?)—meaning Republicans and Centrist Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer—with people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.
I realize none of this is likely to happen, even on the smallest scale. But, hey … I can dream.
Several years ago I was conducting a program in the auditorium of the Denver Museum in City Park. An audience member came up to me afterward and said she had once worked for a company where a guy named Henderson had been a record-breaking salesman they still talked about. Was I related to that Henderson? I asked her the name of the company and when she told me I said, “Yes, that was me.”
Her jaw dropped as if that was the last thing in the world she expected to hear. That sort of thing happens to me once in a while. These days most people first encounter me as “Dr. Henderson” in my clinical or university professor role. Then a kind of cognitive dissonance sets in if they learn that I was the “Chuck Henderson” who was one of the nation’s top salespeople.
The purpose of this article is to give a partial history of how I got started in sales, what I discovered that made me so successful, and why I eventually left sales and became a psychologist. I have touched on this in All-In Selling which is available elsewhere.
Anyone with much experience in the world knows that there is a mysterious quality some people have that makes them practically irresistible. They are monumentally persuasive and can talk almost anyone into doing or buying just about anything.
What do these people have, and how do they get it?
That’s what this story is about.
My dad had always suspected I was totally nuts. He became sure of it when in my thirties I gave up a monstrously successful sales career and a gargantuan income to go to graduate school. He knew from my lavish lifestyle and the way I spent money that I earned more by several orders of magnitude than he had ever seen in his life. To his way of thinking—he grew up during the Great Depression—a man who could make the kind of money I did in sales had to be crazy to even think about doing anything else.
He never said it, but I know it made Dad very uncomfortable to see me abandon my “God-given talents,” as he would have put it. “Good salesmen are born, not made, Charlie,” he would say to me, “Don’t squander what you’ve got.”
The fact that I was such a good salesman proved, as far as Dad was concerned, that that’s what God meant for me to be. My people were a simple folk and my home town was smack dab in the Bible Belt of America.
I was a minority kid. That is, Dad was not a farmer. That makes you a minority member in a farming community.
The tiny little town where I grew up was in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Its name, Texhoma, was a portmanteau from the fact that the town sat astride the border between the two states. Half of us lived in Texhoma, Texas, and the other half in Texhoma, Oklahoma. Surprisingly there was never much debate about which side was better. You were more likely to hear impassioned arguments about whether Ford or Chevrolet made better pickups.
Texhoma’s population at its bustling biggest during my childhood was around 900. Today it is about the same. I was once told that the town maintains the same population because every time there is a pregnancy someone leaves town. I think they were just pulling my leg. Last year the record showed one registered sex offender living there, for what that’s worth. I think his conviction was for urinating in public.
If you have seen the 1971 movie The Last Picture Show you’ve seen one of the many look-alikes of Texhoma. The southwestern United States has lots of small towns that all look alike. If you want to see what the house I grew up in looks like today, Google 711 n 2 texhoma ok and click on “Street View.” It’s the dark house with the tree and picket fence in front. When I was a kid that house was on a dirt road north of town surrounded by prairie.
When I was about seven I remember my dad’s sister, Aunt Ada, who was visiting from California, standing in the front yard looking around and saying, “You sure can see a long way here.” I thought she meant there was something about being in Texhoma that gave everyone better vision. I recall wasting a lot of time trying to figure out what that was. Later when I was more jaded I realized that even short-sighted morons can see a long way in a flat country with a dry climate. Like the Panhandle. At least on days when the wind is not filling the air with dust, which is seldom.
About the time I was finally figuring out what Aunt Ada really meant it was becoming obvious to me that I did not have much of a future in Texhoma. I would have to get out of there when the time came and get a college education. I was not going to inherit a farm so there was little chance I would end up a sod buster. Those were the only two categories of grown-up activity that I knew about. You were either a farmer or you went off to college and learned how to do something interesting. One thing about it, though, I was determined not to get too smart for my own kind. That was what my folks often said about someone who came back to Texhoma with a college degree. “He went off and got hisself educated and now he’s too good fer ‘is own kind.” Too smart for his own good and educated idiot were also commonly heard locutions. At the time I was perplexed about how a person could be too smart for his own good. However, as I’m sure you know, I did come to realize later that it is indeed possible to be too smart in an enclave of ignorance and narrow minded intellectual poverty. But hey, no place if perfect.
Getting out and getting educated were not going to be easy. Money was scarce and I was not a good enough student to get a scholarship. I discovered that about myself in the third grade when I got my first really significant report card. There was a place on the card for the teacher’s comments about the student. Parents were eager to hear what the teacher had to say about their kid so the teacher had to write something, preferably something positive, about the kid. There were lots of interesting, uplifting, supportive comments on all the other kids’ cards. “Mary Sue always turns in excellent homework and plays well with the other children.” (She changed later.) “Ronnie speaks well and is very popular with the other students.” And so on.
The comment on my report card was different from all the others. It is still indelibly etched in my memory: “Chars is very neat.” That was it. And she didn’t mean neat in the sense of cool. She meant neat as in tidy. It was bad enough that she misspelled my name, but to simply say that I was neat?!?! Talk about damning with faint praise!
I was, however, eventually able to put that comment to good use with a simple change in verb tense. Later, during the numerous times that I was an undergraduate in college, it was fashionable for teachers to help students “get in touch” with themselves. One of the favorite ways of doing this was to have everyone write their own epitaph. I was subjected to this exercise so many times I became rather cynical about it. I adopted as my standard epitaph, “Chars was very neat.” Sometimes people would ask what it meant, but mostly they were too busy getting in touch with themselves to really give a damn.
As for the cost of going to college I was on my own because my family was rather on the poor side. Mom was always pushing education but I don’t recall her ever saying anything about paying for it. The way everyone talked about it when I was young I had the impression that you just went out and got an education. That was the only expression I had ever heard. “Get an education.” “Get your diploma.” Wasn’t it like getting anything else? “Get a new hat.” “Get a job.” “Get screwed.”
No one ever really explained to me that to get an education you had to learn a bunch of stuff. And while you were at it you had to pay a whole lot of money. Somehow the concept seemed absurd later when I realized I would have to actually pay for education with my own money. That was especially onerous because I didn’t even have enough money for the things I really needed like a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, or a motorcycle. Necessities like that.
One thing I knew from the very beginning, though, was that salesmen really raked in the dough. One of the earliest things I can remember my dad telling me was, “Charlie, you wanna do good in life, you go be a salesman. Salesmen really rake in the dough.” I remember the first time he said that because it was right after I had been screwed for the first time. I had hoed weeds all day for two old-maid* sisters and they paid me with a box of onions. A box of onions! What did an eight year old kid care about a box of onions? Like I said, my first screwing. Unfortunately it would not be my last.
Dad also told me that salesmen could name their own hours. I had no idea why hours needed names, but later I figured out what he meant. So, hey, if salesmen named their own hours and really raked in the dough, that was good enough for me. I would become a salesman, then a college graduate, then a doctor. That was what my mother was always urging me to be. “Be a doctor and help people.”
So you can see I was motivated to sell things early in life. My future well-being clearly depended upon me becoming a salesman.
My first chance at the big-time was in cosmetics. One day when I was about eight I asked Aunt Pete—my wealthy great-aunt Pauline—if she had any odd jobs I could do to earn some money. I figured if I did any hoeing for her she would pay me with real money, not onions.
Aunt Pete was the local Avon distributor. She had a basement full of Avon merchandise and a lot of order pads, so she gave me one and some samples and told me to go forth and take orders. She paid me a commission of five percent on all the orders I brought in. Screwed again, although I did not realized it at the time.
Years later I learned that for every dollar in commission Aunt Pete paid me she made over 12 dollars. She was one of the wealthiest people in Texhoma. Small wonder.
I banged around with the Avon thing for about a year selling cosmetics to old women. (When you are eight, any female who wears a brassiere is old.) I didn’t make much money at it—I don’t know why not, at five percent commission—but that didn’t really have much meaning for me at that age. The important thing was that I was in sales and ipso facto on the way to the good life where I could name my own hours and really rake in the dough. (I didn’t learn stuff like ipso facto until much later.)
Grow up in the Bible Belt of the US—where life is a seemingly incessant round of church service, Sunday school, choir practice, and revivals—and you learn to keep a conservative appearance. Take haircuts, for example. God did not like long hair, and if it touched your ears in any way, it was long. So haircuts were an important part of a good Christian’s grooming, and I got mine at Gus’ Barber Shop.
For as long as I could remember there had been an old, unused shoeshine chair in Gus’ shop. One day when I was about nine I asked Gus about it. He said lots of kids had tried to make a go of shining shoes over the years, but none of them had ever been successful enough to stick with it for very long. He said I could give it a try if I wanted to. My “rent” would be to keep the shop clean, keep the hair swept up, and deal with the towels. I would be expected to be there for two hours every day after school and all day on Saturdays.
It sounded like a swell deal to me so I accepted Gus’ offer and graduated from part-time Avon order taker to big time shoeshine boy. The going rate for a shoeshine was 15 cents so I figured I was about to start… you know… really raking in the dough.
It didn’t take me long to discover why no one had ever made a go of it. Very few of the farmers and cowboys coming in for a haircut asked for a shine. For one thing it was strictly a matter of faith that there actually were boots or shoes under all that mud and manure. During my first week I doubt that I shined more than two or three pairs of shoes and, no more than I knew about shining shoes, that was probably a blessing.
Gus’ shop was directly across the street from the Texhoma Hotel, a perennially derelict and frequently closed establishment that, like the rest of Texhoma, had seen better days. At this particular time the hotel had been recently re-opened by a hunch-backed professional gambler named Perry. Mister Perry, that is.
According to the received wisdom of the more knowledgeable townspeople, Perry was a disreputable, godless, whited sepulcher. He was also a slender, dapper guy whose shoes, I now noticed, were always beautifully shined.
Perry’s mien scared the hell out of me. He had a kind of sinister look about him, and it wasn’t just the hump in his back that made him seem so threatening. He had jet black hair pasted to his scalp and a thin, sharply-chiseled face that made him look like a Hollywood version of a river boat gambler. In truth he looked more like a Mafia hit man (Hollywood again), but I didn’t know about that sort of thing until later when I was learning stuff like ipso facto.
Perry’s countenance probably worked well for him at the poker table, but it did nothing to encourage this kid to bother him with silly questions about things like how he got his shoes so shiny. But I sure wanted to know. It quickly became an obsession with me. I was just sure that my shoeshine business would blossom if I could just get a pair of shoes to shine like his. In my youthful solipsism I had no doubt that my education and the rest of my life—maybe even the future of Western civilization—depended upon my possessing the secret to Perry’s shoeshine.
My desperation finally conquered my fear. One day, sometime in the second or third week of my growing humiliation as a failed shoeshine boy, I screwed up my courage and determined to ask. I crossed the street from the barber shop, entered the hotel and walked right up to Perry, who was sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper. “Mister Perry,” I asked, “how d’ya get your shoes to shine like that?”
“I spit on ’em,” he growled.
Shazam! It was like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning. My face got hot and probably very red. I think I might have gulped. I started slinking toward the door to make my exit. Then Perry said, “You wanna know or not?” Much to my surprise it appeared that Perry was glad I asked.
I would not realize until quite a bit later that that was one of the first major pivotal points in my life.
It turned out that Perry had been a shoeshine boy when he was a kid. “I know the ropes, kid,” he said, “and I’ll teach ’em to you.” Until that day I hadn’t even known there were any ropes. Now I was going to learn all about them. I was excited.
I did of course have some misgivings about accepting Perry’s help. Would it corrupt my eternal soul, I wondered, to associate with the likes of him? Would I get kicked out of Sunday School again—yes, it happened with embarrassing (for my folks) regularity—for taking instruction from someone who was definitely not a God-fearing, Christian man? These were very real questions for me but I was afraid to say no to him. Besides, I was greedy. Cash versus virtue was a no-brainer for me.
The first thing he taught me was how to give a good shine. A Perry shine actually was essentially a spit shine, so he was not being facetious when he said he spat on his shoes when he shined them. But spitting on customers’ shoes was not cool, so I kept the lid of a polish can filled with water on the stand. After slapping on the polish with my hand, I put a few drops of water on the shoe and rhythmically slapped the polish and water for about three minutes. The water treatment could also be repeated with the final ragging for a spectacular shine on a really good pair of shoes or, as was more often the case, boots.
Next came flair. For Perry it was a given that every shoeshine would be a good one. But just giving a good shine wasn’t enough. After all, any smart alec punk could shine a pair of shoes.
Smart alec punk. I can still vividly remember Perry with his hooked nose and harsh voice talking about smart alec punks and how I’d better not turn out to be one. “Henderson,” he would growl at me, “you’d better not turn out to be one of those goddamned smart alec punks.” I frankly did not have any idea what a smart alec punk was so I did not know if I was one or not. I lay awake nights worrying about it.
Perry’s unvarying facial expression was almost, but not quite, a sneer. I never saw him laugh but he was not totally without a sense of humor. His manner always confused me. He was a harsh, cynical man, disdainful of most people and all kids—yet he gave most generously of his time to teach me, and he obviously wanted me to be successful. I’m tempted to say, “bless him,” but that might make him turn over in his grave. He would not appreciate it. And it would be out of character for me to say such a thing.
Once the customer was in the chair the show began. Rag-popping, dual-brush rhythms, and—my God, the glory of it all!—a rhythmic hand-slapping to rub in the polish. To have this kind of fun and get paid for it too. “Sure, you’re gonna shine their shoes, see, and you’re gonna do it good, see,” he often told me, “but show ’em somethin’ too, boy, show ’em somethin’.” I seldom see an old Humphry Bogart movie without thinking about Perry.
Give me a couple of brushes and a shoeshine rag and I could probably still be moderately entertaining.
All of this was important and contributed to my success as a shoeshine boy. But the really essential ingredient of success was what Perry called The Hustle.
The Hustle according to Perry was composed of three parts. First came the pitch. This is where you let people know they needed a shine and that you wanted to do the shining. Ask for the business. Ask for the privilege of giving a top notch shoe shine for the paltry sum of 15 cents. (This was back when 15 cents was more than just dead weight in your pocket.)
Paltry sum. I said that a lot, too. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, and I ‘m sure the cowboys and farmers I used it on didn’t either, but Perry had said it so it must have been okay. I think he picked it up from some W.C. Fields movie. Perry also told me he was the ping-pong champion of the Lesser Antilles, and I know he picked that up from a W.C. Fields movie.
The Hustle included pitching everyone. This was very important. Never mind whether their shoes or boots looked old or new, shined or scuffed, clean or dirty. Ask them if they wanted a shine. If I was not busy in the shop, I would go out on the sidewalk and pitch everyone walking by. Smile and be courteous. Compliment their footwear. “Them’s good lookin’ boots, Sir. Shine?” Ask for the business. Say “sir” a lot.
There were some vitally important lessons here that would be easy to miss. Perry did not spoon feed anything to me but somehow he got me to see the deeper issues involved in this kind of enterprise. I could not have talked about them then but here they are as I know them today:
Rejection is not personal. Never be afraid to ask for the sale—in this case the shoeshine—because “no” is not a personal rejection. If someone did not want a shine it had nothing to do with my personal merit or worth. I was to learn much later that this is one of the most common reasons for failure in selling: People can’t deal with rejection. It actually applies to many things in life.
Don’t prejudge the prospect. Just because shoes already look shined or, in the other direction, don’t look like they are worth shining, does not mean the wearer will not want a shine. People often, maybe nearly always, buy something because it makes them feel good about themselves, not because they wanted that particular thing itself.
Be respectful. Every time and place has its rules of respect. Violate them at your peril. For example, I would never have done what so many people consider acceptable today: Young people addressing older people by their first name (or “guy;” waitpeople, take note). Everybody in town called him simply Perry. To me it was always Mr. Perry.
Speak the prospect’s language. Though their education was limited my parents spoke very good English so I never spoke incorrectly, at least not grossly so. I would never normally have said “them is” or “them’s” because I knew it was grammatically incorrect. But that was not the case for most of the farmers and cowboys around Texhoma. So I made it a point to speak in their language, not that of my folks. Today it is an easily demonstrated tenet of neurolinguistics that it is easier to get along with, and influence, other people if you speak their language.
When I first took on the shoeshine job, I thought of it, if I did any thinking at all, as being just that: putting shoe polish on shoes and buffing them up. But Perry showed me that success came not from the quality of the shine, but from the selling. He gave me my first real taste of selling and its rewards. For three years, from age nine through eleven, I made good money shining shoes. I knocked down enough to buy things like the fanciest bicycle in town, the only Schwinn within a hundred miles. The best Daisy Rider BB guns (I had several). An expensive bow and good arrows. Plenty of cigarettes, pipes and tobacco (yeah, I smoked). Most of what I bought was stuff I did not need. I should have been saving more of my money, but you know how it is with po’ folks.
Saturdays were the busiest for barbering so it was on Saturdays that I made the most money. I could count on bringing in a total of about eighteen dollars on a typical Saturday. That was a twelve-hour day—eight to eight—and I was often so busy there was no time to eat. (I just did an inflation calculation on the US Inflation Calculator and found that $18 back then is the equivalent of $175 in the fourth quarter of 2019 as I write this. Add to that what I was making weekdays after school and it was enough to give me at least a small taste of really raking in the dough.)
Eventually my lucrative little shoeshine business and all of my newly acquired worldly possessions were too much of a temptation for Gus’ son, George David. He and I were the same age. I had been out sick with the flu for a couple of days and when I returned to work at the barber shop George David was shining shoes. He was not a particularly industrious boy, so I suspect it was his dad’s idea to give George David my shoeshine business. Gave him the business that I had built up from nothing. I was devastated.
George David had been at it about two weeks and was not doing well. He asked me to teach him the business. That was my first experience of the joy of telling someone to kiss my ass. It would not normally have occurred to me to speak this way but a couple of months earlier I had found a pamphlet in the library titled “How to say Kiss my ass in 10 languages.”
This little four-page pamphlet was stuck between the pages of a book I had checked out. It had nothing to do with the subject of the book, and it did not have Texhoma Public Library stamped on it anywhere, as did everything else in the library. So I kept it to begin learning to speak lots of languages which was one of my many totally unrealistic childhood ambitions. I regretted that George David did not, to my knowledge, speak anything other than English.
The loss of my shoe shine business happened at the beginning of summer when I made my best money because school was out and I could be there all day every day. George David hadn’t worked out and Gus had become accustomed to the way I kept the shop clean. After all, I was nothing if not neat. He told me he would be willing to let me come back and pick up where I left off.
I asked Gus if he spoke any other languages. He gave me a strange look and said no, he didn’t. Disappointed, I had to tell him to kiss my ass in English.
He told me I was a smart alec kid. Well! So I was one after all. The doubt and wonder could end. I decided maybe being a smart alec was not all bad. But the whole episode had made me pretty despondent, marking the beginning of the end of innocence for me.
Anyway. There I was, eleven going on twelve, unemployed. I was not going to be able to name my own hours and really rake in the dough. My future looked bleak.
In those days there were lots of ads in the backs of comic books touting all kinds of money-making schemes. I had already tried the one about selling flower and garden seeds. That was how I had lucked into that great job hoeing weeds all day for a box of onions.
An ad that had always looked particularly appealing to me had to do with selling fireworks. I sent off for information and received an exciting, beautiful full color brochure picturing the company’s various wholesale packages ranging from “starter” (not much money) to “professional” (a lot of money).
I ordered the starter assortment and put out the word that I had fireworks for sale. No store, no stand; I just kept everything in cartons beneath my bed.(…!…) Customers, mostly kids, would come to the house and I would take them to the bedroom to buy what they wanted. I gave Mom a price list so she could cover for me when I wasn’t at home. When sales slowed I would go out and throw cherry bombs at older kids. They would have to come to me to buy some of their own to get even with me. I was amazed at how quickly my first order sold out. My second order was for an intermediate assortment. It sold quickly so I ordered the super-duper big assortment. My bed wasn’t big enough so I stored everything in the garage. Several times I reordered that summer. That was the beginning of my fireworks business which I repeated every summer for several years.
Selling firecrackers and roman candles was fun and lucrative but it left me with a lot of time on my hands, so I used my folks’ lawn mower to start mowing yards. Once again, Perry’s tutelage came to bear and I had no trouble getting customers, except now I was going door to door to make my pitch instead of waiting for people to walk by or come into the shop. Those were the classical days when behind almost every door there was a stay-at-home housewife just waiting for me to offer my yard service.
Eventually I had too many customers to keep up with on foot, so Dad let me use his old beat-up pickup and he walked. That was the kind of dad he was. Besides, it was a tiny town and it was only about six blocks from our house to the pool hall where Dad spent most of his spare time playing Pitch.
About that. They used domino-like tiles to play Pitch in Ike Long’s pool hall. The tiles had playing-card faces instead of dots like normal dominoes. Ace of spades, ten of harts, like that. I mistakenly thought until just recently that Pitch was a game unique to those tiles, kind of like a Monopoly board is only good for playing Monopoly.
Turns out I was wrong. I have recently learned that Pitch is a commonly known game played with ordinary playing cards. The kind made of cardboard. It is also known as Auction Pitch, High-Low-Jack, and Setback, to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about it. The playing-card-like tiles they used to play Pitch were evidently unique to the time and maybe the region. The only such tiles I have found are antiques that were originally made in Newkirk, Oklahoma, and are evidently no longer available. In an overly exhausting search on the Internet, that was the only reference I could find. So I suppose in a basement or attic in Texhoma some descendant of Ike Long has several boxes of what were evidently called Hard Cards and that have my dad’s fingerprints all over them.
I asked Dad a couple of times about the game but he never gave me much of an answer. I knew they played for money, but it was not until many years later that I figured out that his winnings from Pitch were at times the only income my family had. That embarrassed him so he didn’t have much to say. I wish I had known so I could have helped out more. I am very disappointed in myself that I did not figure it out at the time. Stupid is is stupid does.
With the use of Dad’s pickup I was able to get around much faster. My Uncle Raymond—who, along with his brother, my Uncle Fred (Aunt Pete’s husband)—owned Texhoma’s main lumber yard, suggested I buy a gasoline powered mower. I decided to do that when he offered it to me “on the installment plan.” In other words, weekly payments. At full price, of course. He was actually my mother’s uncle, my great-uncle, and Aunt Pete’s brother-in-law. So no family discount; familial largess extended only so far in those days (and probably today, too). But there was no contract, no interest charged. I was trusted to make good on my word.
Those payments made me nervous so as I recall I paid off the balance in a matter of a few weeks. I was having to work harder than I wanted to so I hired Leonard Rhoden to help. Leonard loved that power mower, called it “a beauty.” About that time another friend, Ronnie Hager, asked if I could use any more help so I said sure and bought another mower—same deal from Uncle Raymond—and put Ronnie to mowing with it. Now I had a crew and my time was spent ferrying them back and forth to jobs, taking care of details, and getting new lawn clients. I was still working harder than I wanted to but I was, you know, raking in the dough.
Dad’s pickup was an old Chevy with hardly any paint left on it and there was a tear in the metal of the front fender. Everyone knew when I was coming because the fender vibrated and screeched. It made a truly horrendous noise. It was such a disturbance to the peace and quiet of Texhoma that I eventually had to fix it. Well, the disturbance and the warning to Dad from Sam Spradling. Sam was the local deputy sheriff and a good friend of Dad’s, but he told Dad he needed to get the fender fixed because people were complaining. So I fixed it with a piece of scrap chrome bolted across the tear in the metal. If it won’t go, chrome it.
I was now thirteen. You might wonder how, at that age, I could conduct a business that required driving. All I can say is it was a different time, a different place. It was not that unusual in the small towns of the region at that time. Besides, the only serious law enforcement was one Oklahoma Highway Patrolman for most of the Panhandle — three counties. He would cruise through town maybe once every week or two. If he did happen to see me driving, all I had to do was make a dash for the Texas side of town. It dawned on me years later that he didn’t really want to catch me.
The deputy, Sam, was county law. He was a really great guy. When he saw me driving he would act like he was going to catch me but he never did. He certainly could have if he had really wanted to. He, like everyone else in Texhoma, knew exactly where I lived. And I’m sure he and Dad saw each other almost daily. It was and is a very small town.
Perry had told me during one of his shoeshining tutorials that I needed to think more about what I did. “You’re smart enough, kid, but you’re not clever. You need to be more clever.” Fact is, I’m not clever now, so I guess I never have been. At the time I did not know exactly what Perry meant. What exactly was the difference between smart and clever? I learned later, as I’ve already mentioned, that I was a smart alec, thanks to Gus Berry. But that clearly was not the same thing. I made it a point to try to think about things more.
And thinking about things more really helped with my lawn mowing business. By questioning and experiment, through trial and error, I made a few discoveries that have stood me in good stead ever since.
One was to consider it a relationship instead of just a sale. I stopped obsessing over making a sale—I had been getting ever more manic about getting more yards to mow—and instead began thinking more about what I could do for the customers I had. Started thinking in terms of quality instead of quantity. What could I do to make myself more valuable to a prospective customer. Or just make him or her like me, for that matter.
This was different from shining shoes. For that I just had to ask for the business (if they didn’t already know they wanted a shine), do a good job with the shine itself, and put on a show. I had of course learned issues about quality from Perry. I never, ever said “good enough” with a tough pair of shoes. I often spent a very long time on scuffed up and abused footwear. Or getting off multiple layers of dried on mud. Or paint spots. But getting someone to trust me with their yard was a larger issue than letting me shine their shoes. The state of one’s footwear was important in a minor sort of way. But one’s yard was a whole different matter. It was right out there in front telling the whole world just what kind of person you were, a statement about about you, everyone in your family, and your place in the community.
I grew up in a time and culture where personal integrity and moral values were more important than they seem to be now. One’s strength of courage was important. America had just recently been through World War II and it was important to have the moral fortitude to do what was right. That’s part of what Perry was trying to tell me, but he was too wise to just come out and say it. A kid has to give thought to these things, these community values and social mores, see them as important and relevant, and internalize them. From Perry’s own example it was clear that you didn’t have to think like everyone else. You just had to be the kind of person they could trust. There was some room for self-actualization but only within certain bounds of conformity.
This sounds trite today but thinking in terms of doing for others was a new way of thinking for me. With this new thinking I was able to come up with things to do for customers that helped them, that went above and beyond what I had merely contracted to do. Like pulling some weeds and not mentioning it when they were just paying me to mow. (They always noticed sooner or later.) Like helping carry in groceries from their car if they came home from the store while I was doing their yard.
I also did pro bono work, but I’m not allowed to talk about that. (It’s a subconscious prohibition kind of thing. Many years later while living in New York I heard George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, say that if you do something for someone and anyone else besides you and that person know about it, you did it for the wrong reasons. Sounded about right to me.)
I found that if I stayed alert for opportunities to do little favors for others, many arose. I worked on fostering a good relationship with them and in turn I became known as a Good Kid to just about everyone but Gus. And I kept them as customers, even when an older kid, Jesse Reynolds, decided he wanted to go into the yard business and tried to undercut me. Just like George David, Jesse did not last long.
One Monday Leonard and I were doing Ote and Mima Worley’s yard when a kid name Johnny came running by trying to get away from an older kid named Leon. Leon was a notorious bully. He caught Johnny and started slapping him around. It made me furious. I decided we had all had enough of Leon’s bullying. I grabbed him in a bear hug, squeezed as hard as I could, then threw him on the ground. I was a husky kid and all the work I did had made me strong for my age.
Leon started to jump up, like he was going to come at me. I squared off and said, “C’mon, Leon, get up so I can finish you off.” I’d heard Alan Ladd say that in a movie. It didn’t sound nearly as neat when I said it. I was also not all that confident that I could finish him off, whatever that meant. But it must have convinced Leon because he jumped up and ran off at a pretty good clip. When I turned around Johnny was running up the street in the opposite direction.
Oh well, I thought. It was the right thing to do even if nobody appreciated it. You know how it is; no good deed goes unpunished.
Leonard had been watching. “Good,” he said, restarted the mower, and went back to work. Leonard was not given to chatter.
When I got home at the end of the day Mom asked me if I’d been in a fight with Leon. Nervous, thinking I might be in trouble, I said it wasn’t really a fight, that I had just thrown him on the ground. Once. And of course I had to add the disclaimer of every kid caught in a rumble, “He started it!”
“Genevee [Johnnie’s mother] called and told me about it,” Mom said. “She said to thank you.” So I did get thanked after all.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Genevee was the manager of the Texhoma Times, the town’s little weekly newspaper. She wrote a brief article about what happened and threw in a tongue-in-cheek apology to the Worleys for the interruption in my tending their lawn. The paper came out on Thursday, as usual, and when I got home the next day Mom said I’d had about a dozen phone calls, all of them asking a version of the same question: “Want another yard to mow?”
My yard mowing business flourished. Editorial mention, even in a paper as small as the Texhoma Times, was clearly a wondrous thing.
Yard work was obviously out of the question in winter so I started hauling trash after school and on Saturdays. This was back in the day when everyone burned their trash in a barrel behind their house in the alley. I would contract to pick up their trash on a regular basis. I think I charged 50 cents a barrel. Once again I was able to make a go of it because of Perry’s teaching. Because I had worked at developing and keeping a good relationship with all my lawn customers, most of them became trash customers, too.
It did not take me long to discover that trash barrels burned and rusted out at a pretty fast clip. Here was a need, but where to find empty fifty-five gallon drums? As it turned out I could get them from a colorful old character named George Washington something-or-other who lived about seven miles north of Texhoma. For some reason—or for no reason other than simple weirdness—he had amassed about a zillion empty barrels on his property. He agreed to sell me as many as I wanted for fifty cents apiece.
Back then in that part of the country the dicker was everything. It was a test of your virility. You were not a man until you could hold your own in a horse-trade. To let someone get the best of you in a deal was as bad as losing a fight.
So George was not about to let me get a good deal, much less get the best of him. Somehow, though, he got confused about the fifty cents I charged to empty a trash barrel. I don’t know how that could have happened, what with me not being clever and all. He thought fifty cents was what I was going to charge customers for a new barrel. He was downright giddy at the thought of getting to me. Add to that the fact that I still had to cut the tops out of the barrels. He figured he was really getting to me.
The fact is, I sold those barrels for several dollars apiece. Over time I bought a lot of his barrels and George never did find out how much I was making. He didn’t get out much.
I cut the tops out of the barrels with a hammer and chisel. Well, I did some of them myself. I quickly learned it was an endless, thankless chore so I paid Leonard to do it. I paid Leonard and Ronnie the standard hourly wage for a kid in those days: Fifty cents an hour. Leonard was pretty fast and could cut the top out of a barrel in about fifteen or twenty minutes. I was doing pretty well on the deal so I paid Leonard a small bonus for each barrel. Then he really got fast at it. I had Ronnie to help me haul trash. We also did other things, like cleaning up vacant lots, selling scrap iron, cleaning out garages and hauling off the junk, and so on.
There I was with two year-round employees. My first experience of the joys (not!) of being an employer. But hey, I was naming my own hours and really raking in the dough. Relatively speaking.
A guy named Paul Huntington had come to Texhoma to be the band director when I was ten or eleven years old. I was already “in the band,” as we used to say. I played fourth chair clarinet which, in case you are not familiar with this sort of thing, was the bottom of the heap. I would have been relegated to fiftieth chair if there had been one, I was that bad. Actually I was even worse than that; I was not good enough to be bad.
The only reason I was in the band at all was because I knew how much my folks had sacrificed to get me a clarinet. Actually, I hated that horn and never practiced. It had all been a big mix-up.
I had wanted to play the cornet, and when I was in third grade and old enough for band, I told my mother what I wanted to play. Except I had the name wrong. I thought they were called clarinets, so that’s what I said I wanted. A few days later Mom drove over to Guymon which had the only music store in the region and bought me a used, beat-up metal clarinet. When she gave it to me, it was hate at first sight.
Anyway, back to Paul Huntington. I remember the first time I met “the new band director.” It was on the street about a week before the start of the school year. He asked me if I was in the band. Yes, I said, but I wasn’t very good. We’ll change that, he said. And we did.
Paul was young, in his early thirties at the time, single, and kind of funny looking. Actually he was quite eccentric in a street-wise sort of way. That might have come partly from the fact that he had worked in a lot of different music situations to get through college: the standard issue dance and show bands, a military band, a circus band, and who knows what else. He played a lot of instruments and he had, for me at least, a lot of charisma. He was especially cool because he looked the other way when I would sneak back to the instrument room and have a smoke during school hours.
Under Paul’s influence and inspiration I caught fire (nothing to do with smoking in the instrument room). Got it in my soul, as they say. I started practicing and eventually took solo chair. Became concert master and student director. did well at regional and state music contests.
All this time Paul was playing weekends with a dance band composed of band directors from around the area. They usually worked on Saturday nights, sometimes traveling 200 miles round trip just to play a gig. But they made good money working mostly in VFW and American Legion halls.
When the tenor player had to drop out of the band, Paul asked me if I wanted the job. Never mind that I had never even touched a tenor saxophone. I hadn’t even played any music that wasn’t a march or other typical high school band music. But Paul told me I could do it, so I took some cash and headed for Guymon to buy a used tenor sax.
I didn’t have enough money with me—what? you want how much for that used horn?—so the music store let me charge the balance if I promised to pay it off at ten dollars a month. Not a promissory note, mind you, just a verbal promise. No interest, no security. Like I said, things were different then.
The sax was a Conn 1050 big-bore. I never did learn what that meant, but it was a beauty. And big! I don’t think I had ever even seen a tenor saxophone up close before, so its size was a bit daunting. But Paul had been right; with some practice it did not take me long to translate my clarinet skills to playing the sax.
It took me a few months to begin to feel comfortable in the otherwise all-band-directors dance band. Tom Ward and the Allstars. Tom was the school band director in Liberal, Kansas. It helped that the other guys were all band directors and accustomed to nurturing young musicians. With their support and help I caught on fairly quickly.
Those weekends were a magic time for me. Paul and I would drive to the jobs in Paul’s new Studebaker Golden Hawk. It was a high-powered, sporty work of automotive art, very fast for the mid-nineteen-fifties. The speedometer went up to a hundred and forty. We never got it up to that speed, but we did go fast when it was three o’clock in the morning and we were trying to stay awake long enough to get back to Texhoma. Well, I was trying to stay awake. Paul drove to the gigs, and I drove back. He liked to have a few beers while we were working so he zonked out while I drove ninety miles an hour with my head out the window. Those flat, straight prairie highways, late at night, with no other traffic and rarely a cop were an irresistible invitation to this callow boy to speed. And boy did I!
As was emerging as a pattern, my experience with the dance band eventually involved sales. Someone had to book the band to keep it busy. Haphazardly waiting for a VFW or American Legion call Tom to book the band left holes in the performance schedule. What was needed was someone to book the band in an organized way. Like a booking agent.
I jumped into that role with both feet and began staying in touch with VFW and American Legion halls all over that part of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Not only was I booking our band, I was also involved in arranging the booking of a few other bands, too. They were mostly professional western road bands like Tex Beneke and Chill Wills. Sons of the Pioneers. Texas Playboys. What names! What music!
Although most of the bands I booked had recording contracts and exposure on national radio programs like Grand Ole Opry, they were for the most part just marginally profitable (when they were at all) organizations usually in need of engagements. A few of them would actually call me when they were in the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandles region to see if I would get them a gig for a night they had open. It didn’t happen often but it was fun to help them out when I could.
I played one-night stands with a few of the bands when they needed a sax player. (Tenor sax was often considered a reasonable replacement for a steel guitar in Western music, although not so much in Country music.) One night I played with Bob Wills and his Western band the Texas Playboys. I had a reputation for being a decent blues player and Wills loved the blues but was no good at playing them himself. So he hired me as a pick-up side man to work one night in Dumas, Texas. Which coincidentally is where I was born. Fifty miles from Texhoma.
Wills was smitten with the idea that I was originally from Dumas. Early in the evening he introduced me to the audience as “Dumas’ own … [pause] … Tex Rhino.” He couldn’t remember my name so he made one up on the spot. I later learned that Rhino Records was the label The Texas Playboys recorded for. I don’t think there was any significance in the name he made up for me other than it was something he could remember.
The Texas Playboys were, as I said, a Western band. Western music is significantly different from standard dance or blues or jazz and I was not that familiar with the Western music canon. I had thought I would be there primarily to play blues tunes and maybe provide a little background fill-in on their Western tunes. Not so. I would hear “Take it away, Tex” from Wills and what with being (surprisingly) the only Tex in the group, I would stand and do my best to take it away.
I was faking it all the way on the Western tunes. Most of them I had heard only a few times on the radio or on the jukebox at Lilly’s Cafe in Texhoma. Evidently I was getting away with it because as the evening wore on I kept hearing that dreaded take it away Tex. It was making me a nervous wreck. The key signatures common to Western music are more difficult on a saxophone and, like I said, I really didn’t know most of the tunes. I was not having a good time. We were scheduled to play till two in the morning. It promised to be a very, very long night.
Around eleven—we’d been at it about two hours—someone in the crowd set off a firecracker. Then a second one. I heard a piece of the second one whiz past my ear. That’s one of the dangerous things about firecrackers. Parts of the wrapping, especially on more powerful ones, can fly a long way and put out an eye. But I didn’t think that was any reason for the whole band, about eight other guys, to hit the floor. I just stood there laughing at them. Big fireworks promoter that I was, I wasn’t afraid of a couple of firecrackers.
Then I became aware of a ruckus out on the dance floor. Some guys were wrestling a man down and I heard something heavy hit the floor. I looked and saw it was a revolver. They really were gunshots, not firecrackers, and that was real lead that whizzed past my ear. With that realization I got scared.
By this time the band was getting off the floor and one of the guys said, “Did you see that? Tex ain’t afraid of nothin’.” They were well aware that I was the only one who had not dropped to the floor. I didn’t know what to say so I just kept my mouth shut.
Wills paid me for the full gig even though the shooting incident brought everything to a standstill and we were done for the night. He gave me a promotional postcard and wrote on the back: “Tex, You will always be a Texas Playboy. Bob Wills” That night was not the last time I would be shot at, but it was the only time I felt like it was worth it.
By the time I was fifteen I was feeling pretty cocky. I had moved up the sales food chain from a guppy taking Avon orders to a big shot promoter selling entertainment packages. I was a real barracuda, ready for the big time.
My family moved to Denver between my junior and senior years and of course I moved with them. I was eager to move to the city. As former Texhoma classmate Kay Chrisman said about me some years later (she was Kay Thrasher by then), “Charles was too smart for Texhoma.” I don’t think she meant it in a nice way. It was just a more refined way of calling me a smart alec. But whichever way she meant it, I agreed with her. Although it is where I grew up I never really felt like I belonged there.
Denver, on the other hand, felt natural to me. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it. It was a great place to be at that time and to finish growing up. (Well, as much as I ever finished growing up.) And it had two (count ’em, two) full fledged newspapers with huge classified advertising sections listing more “salesman wanted” ads than I could shake a stick at. I think I might have drooled on myself the first time I looked at the Denver Post.
There were tons of sales jobs available and getting one was easy because most of them were commission based. Which is to say, if you didn’t make sales they didn’t have to pay you anything. So I could get just about any sales job I wanted. Doing the actual selling was what counted.I figured that all that experience in Texhoma was bound to have given me the skills to be successful selling anywhere, maybe even easier in a real city.
First I got a job selling something that had just recently been invented: the garbage disposal. Nobody had one yet. I lasted only about a week. Fifty or more housewives telling me they weren’t interested soured me on selling disposals. I just couldn’t get my heart into selling a thirty-nine dollar doohickey for the sink. I was pretty sure they would never catch on.
I tried a few other sales jobs. Then I snagged a job selling cars at a brand new dealership on West Colfax Avenue. Woody Cavnar Lincoln Mercury.
About two weeks into that gig I made my first sale to a retired engineer and his wife. It was a new model, a Mercury Phaeton hardtop convertible. It wasn’t really a convertible, they just called it that because it did not have a post between the front and back side windows. The top did not actually go down; it did not “convert.” The elderly couple were very nice people and I did not sell them the car so much as just facilitate their purchase. They traded in their old convertible and drove off in the new Phaeton that day.
The next day they were back, saying they could not figure out how to get the top down. My heart sank. I explained the deal about that, that the top did not really go down. They were crestfallen. They had had their old convertible a long time and loved it. They thought they were getting a real convertible and this was probably the last car they would ever buy. To say I felt terrible is an understatement. When I went to the sales manager he told me nothing could be done. They had bought the car and that was that. I argued with him for quite a while until he told me to go out there and tell them nothing could be done and leave him alone.
I asked him if he spoke any foreign languages. It turned out he did, but it was Flemish. That version was not in the pamphlet so I had to tell him to kiss my ass in English. Like my sales career, my study of foreign languages was just not paying off.
Clearly I was not cut out for selling cars. At least not the Woody Cavnar way. I felt so bad I couldn’t face the old couple again so I slunk out the side door and left. I mean all the way left: Fled! Never went back. My only excuse for not sticking around to face the muse, and it is a poor excuse, is that I was only sixteen at the time, a few months shy of seventeen. I have never forgotten how rotten I felt and I never got over the guilt. I hope the retired engineer sued Woody Cavnar. After all it was called a convertible. How could that not be misleading?
That experience was so devastating to me (and to the elderly couple also, I’m sure) that I vowed to never, ever again run the risk of selling anything to anyone if I thought it was not right for them, or if for any reason in my estimation they should not make the purchase. I had not been aware there was a problem with the convertible sale, but I should have been. If I had been more alert it would have been obvious. That experience stayed with me and I never again sold anything that I had to feel guilty about.
My next job was selling accordion music lessons for a music studio in Englewood, a suburb of Denver. It seemed a natural for me, what with me being a musician and all. There was, however, a major problem. Even at that early age my dislike of the accordion was firmly established. It only took me a day or two to realize that here again was a violation of ethics. I should not be representing an accordion studio. Fortunately I did not make any sales. Otherwise I would have been contributing to the addition of more accordionists in the world. I was already feeling guilty enough without that.
There were a few more sales jobs I tried that first summer in Denver, but nothing worked for me. I had to conclude I was not the hotshot I had thought I was. My overall failure was a great disappointment. I was not going to be able to name my own hours and really rake in the dough.
I had to do something to bring in some money. I still had money left over from what I had saved in Texhoma but that was not going to last forever. And I had a car payment to make. It was obvious when we first arrived in Denver that I was going to need wheels to get around so I bought a used car with a loan from Dad’s bank (well, the bank where he was a customer; he didn’t own the bank). Payments of fifteen dollars a month. But gentlemen’s agreements did not cut it in the city. I was too young with no credit rating so Dad had to co-sign the note.
Scanning the classified ads in the paper, I was looking for something appropriate for a hick kid who couldn’t sell. I ran across an ad for a rock ‘n’ roll band. Al Cole, the owner of Joe’s Place in downtown Denver, needed a band to play Friday and Saturday nights. I called and scheduled an audition for the following week. I did not have a band. I had never played rock ‘n’ roll. I was too young to legally be in the bar. I was in over my head again. Oh, well… details, details.
I quickly placed an ad in the Denver Post for musicians, hurriedly put together a group, practiced night and day, auditioned, and much to my surprise we got the job. The place was a real dive, only one block from skid row in lower downtown Denver, but I didn’t care. I played there every weekend for over a year.
Joe’s Place was for me a real education. It was a three-two joint, which is to say, only 3.2 percent beer was sold and in Colorado it was legal for eighteen-year-olds. I was not eighteen but acted like I was and no one ever asked for my ID.)
Later in the school year, after football season was over (I lettered) I only had to be in school mornings. I answered an ad for a dance instructor. “No experience needed. Professional training provided.” I got that job and spent the rest of the school year working afternoons and evenings—except Friday and Saturday nights, when I was working at Joe’s Place—teaching and selling dancing lessons. Dale Dance Studio was in the fourteen hundred block of Welton Street in downtown Denver.
The most important part of my job was to sell dancing lessons. There I was once again trying to sell something but this was not a straight commission job. I had an hourly income while I was trying to learn to sell. The studio continuously ran promotional campaigns, like offers of free dance lessons as a come-on. It was the job of the teaching staff to sell more lessons to the people who came in for their free lesson. I did not do very well at this, either, and just barely managed to hang onto my job and my hourly wage. There was a commission on every sale but it was against the hourly pay. I don’t think I ever actually earned more than a few dollars in commission over my wage. I did become a pretty decent dancer, though.
With graduation from high school I was faced with the immediate prospect of going to college. But I was not naming my own hours and raking in the dough which was still essential to my plan. The preacher at my parents’ church talked me into trying to sell waterless cookware. Preaching did not pay very well, he had worked his way through seminary selling cookware and other hope chest items to “single working girls.” He still did it to supplement his church pay. It was not hard for him to persuade me to try it. I still had dreams of the rake-and-hour-naming thing.
I registered at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the fall, and moved into a cheap apartment with another musician, Byron Peterson, as my roommate. I was trying to sell pots and pans part-time, go to college full-time, and work seven nights a week (six nights and Sunday afternoons, actually) with my band at the Turnpike Bar and Grill on West Seventy-second in Denver. Not surprisingly I was not doing well at school or selling. I still didn’t get the selling thing, I didn’t get the studying thing, and the music was just basically work in a large hard liquor dance hall that had at least two serious fights every night. Looking at the bright side, though, I nobody ever shot at me there.
I actually had two bands at the Turnpike. At the same time. I would play thirty minutes with my five-piece rock band followed by thirty minutes with a standards trio. Back and forth like that for thirty minutes at a time all night. I worked from nine p.m. to two a.m. without a break.
My academic schedule included a daily (eight a.m.) German class and Chemistry 101 with a lecturer fresh off the boat from Scotland. His accent was so thick I couldn’t tell what language he spoke; I understood practically nothing he said. That I would flunk chemistry was a forgone conclusion.
All things considered it was idiotic to think I could carry a full academic load and simultaneously earn a living. Inevitably I was going to wash out of college. Which I did in spades, as the expression goes. By the end of my Freshman year I had accumulated mostly Fs and Ds, a couple of Incompletes and one B. The B was in gym class where we had to learn to either ride a unicycle or juggle three balls for a B, or accomplish both for an A. There was only one unicycle for a class of about 30 and I never got a chance to even try it. I did though learn to juggle three balls as evidenced by my lonely B.
There I was, rudderless and without prospects. I felt worse than I did when I lost my shoeshine business. So I figured I might as well get my military service over with. This was back in the days when there was a draft and everyone was required to serve a couple of years in one of the branches of military service. I chose the Army because they promised to send me to Europe. Which they did and I had a swell time.
During my stint in the Army I began to experiment with some off-beat mental methods and techniques. I don’t mean the bizarre beliefs, cultures and mindfuck games typical of the United States military mentality. In the beginning I just played around with simple thought experiments. I was trying to figure out what it was about some people that made it possible for them to lead charmed lives in which almost everything goes their way. They make more money than almost everyone else, they ascend the power structure of just about any organization they are in. Inevitably they eventually reach the top of whatever pyramid they happen to occupy.
By my observation there was only one unique characteristic I could see that these people had in common, and that was their persuasive ability. They can sell and they do it, by all appearances, effortlessly. Their persuasiveness was the only characteristic the people I studied had in common. Lots of hair, no hair; good looking, not good looking; tall, short; glib, not glib; mentally organized, disorganized; funny, sober; and so on. No matter what dimensions I chose to look at—and admittedly my prospects for research were quite limited by my being in the Army and my ignorance of the scientific method—persuasiveness was all they seemed to need.
The really persuasive ones for the most part did not sell things or services. They sold themselves and their ideas. Big time corporate presidents and chairmen of boards, and successful politicians, were where most of these high-level persuaders could be found. I should mention I was not seeing any of these kinds of people in the Army. There might have been some high-level persuaders at the general officer level but I had no way to learn about them. From what I have seen and learned about military generals since, I have to say I think not. Success in the military does not call for the kind of stratospheric level persuasiveness I’m talking about.
Then one day I had a strange experience. I was walking back to the barracks from the post exchange where I had picked up some things I needed. As I was walking along, thinking about nothing in particular, a thought came to me as clearly as if someone had just spoken it in my ear: “Moff’s dead.”
“Moff” was Carl Moffit. He and his wife were close friends of my folks going back to before I was born in Dumas and they had maintained their friendship ever since. I didn’t give a lot of thought to the “message” other than thinking it remarkable that such a thought would just pop into my mind. Especially in the middle of Germany, 5,132 miles from Cactus, Texas, where Carl and his family lived. And especially about a man my dad’s age whom I knew only slightly.
About a week later I received a letter from home and learned that Mr. Moffit had indeed passed away around the time I had had that macabre thought.
A couple of things need to be pointed out here. First, this was long before the Internet or cell phones. I had no access to regular news from the United States except the Stars and Stripes newspaper and it certainly would not have had anything in it about Mr. Moffit. There were no cell phones and in fact phoning between Europe and America in those days was a major undertaking.
So I had no way to get even a prior intimation of any non-famous person’s dying in American except via mail, and I had had that striking thought a week before the news came in the letter from Mom.
I did not then nor do I now believe in ghosts or that spirits of the dearly departed survive physical death and hang around whispering things into the ears of the living. So I did not for a second entertain ideas of ghostly visitation or any kind of spiritual messaging. Besides, even if that were a possibility, I’m pretty sure Mr. Moffit would not have been thinking of me at the time of his passing or thereafter. Was mine a random thought, a mere coincidence? Perhaps.
Whatever the truth, the fact is I took off in the wrong direction, although it actually worked to my benefit. While any form of ghostly visitation was out of the question for me, I was inclined to place credence in mental telepathy. As an adolescent I had read several books on psychic phenomena. Extra sensory perception (ESP) had been really big in the nineteenth century and there was a lot of old literature around on some pretty weird beliefs. I was susceptible to its lure. Which is why I wondered if maybe one of the Moffits—his wife or one of his two children who were approximately my age—had somehow mentally broadcast the “Moff’s dead” message and I had received it? Please keep in mind I was young, not long off of the farm, and uneducated, having not that long ago flunked out of university. Paragon of rigorous scientific theorizing I was not.
One thing led to another in my thinking and it was just too tempting to think that maybe the super-persuasive power some people have came from being able to telepathically transmit persuasive messages. It did not occur to me at the time that that was not really an answer because it only moved the locus of persuasiveness back a step. Why would ESP be any more persuasive than verbal or textual communication? My hypothesis explained nothing and probably appealed to me only because it added an element of mystery to the overall concept of persuasiveness. There actually is mystery involved in persuasion but it would be many years before I would really know anything about that.
In line with my suspicion that ESP was the answer I developed some crude mental conditioning exercises that I figured would strengthen my ESP muscles, so to speak. Now, here is where luck played a key role. I would learn much later that my exercises could influence one’s persuasion skills. But the reasons were totally different from anything I was thinking. I was doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Wrong as my theory was, my exercises did yield some results. A guy in my outfit named Dave and I liked to do a coin-in-hand gambling thing. One of us would hold a coin in one hand and the other person would try to guess which hand it was in. Guess right and win the coin. Guess wrong and pay the amount of the coin, usually a nickel or dime. It was a simple game and in the beginning neither of us was better than the other. We both won and lost at about the level of chance, which is to say, half the time I lost and half the time I won.
After I started practicing my mental exercises things began to change. I started winning more. This was a zero sum game so it goes without saying that concomitantly Dave lost more. Within a short time—over a period of a few months—I got so good I hardly ever lost. I could accurately tell in which hand Dave was holding the coin, and I was doing something that made it nearly impossible for Dave to correctly guess in which hand I held the coin when it was my turn to hold. Eventually Dave refused to play the game with me. Now only would he not play the coin game anymore, he bet on anything with me. My ability to consistently guess correctly, and his to incorrectly, spooked him. Seriously spooked him. He studiously avoided me all the rest of the time we were in the same unit. That was now many years ago but I am quite confident that if we were to bump into one another somewhere he would not be glad to see me. Nor would he stick around to chew the fat.
Eventually my time was up and upon discharge from the Army I matriculated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. This time I did not start with a full academic load. I did some work as a musician but not for long because I got a part-time job selling pre-need cemetery lots.
The exercises I had developed that had such dramatic results in my gambling were still doing some good so I did make enough sales to stay afloat. But I was just limping along.
Then one night I had a dream. For me it was The Dream. I have explained it in detail in my book, All-In Selling, so I won’t go into it here. That dream changed my whole approach and put me on the road to an unbelievable transformation of the power of my persuasive abilities.
The change happen overnight but it gradually became quite dramatic. Within six months of The Dream I began setting sales records. It seemed like I could do no wrong. People acted like they were just waiting for to come around so they could buy. I still remember the numbers as if it all happened yesterday. The number of sales I made, the average number of sales per week and their dollar amounts, the commissions I earned—Perry would have been proud of me.
As to my style of living, I was long past the days of driving my old Ford, the one I had paid for with earnings and tips from Joe’s Place. I drove expensive cars, both foreign and domestic, never keeping one longer than about six months. I dressed well with custom tailored suits and English hand made shoes. Lived in one of the most expensive apartment complexes, which in the D.C. area is saying something. It was right on the Potomac and had its own yacht club. If I had liked boats I undoubtedly would have had one.
I continued to polish my sales skills and self-confidence, and had attitude out to here.
About that attitude. It was better and it was worse. It was better in that I felt a lot more confident and of course I was having a lot of fun. (I’m sure I was an insufferable arse.) My attitude was worse in that my academic interests plummeted and I dropped out of school. But all of that is also in All-In Selling.
Over the next decade-and-a-half I made a ton of money and lived a lifestyle more extravagant than even I could have imagined possible for a kid from the Oklahoma prairie. Eventually I quit and changed directions. Went back to college, earned a few degrees culminating in a doctorate and lived the clinical, academic and research life I had dreamed of as a kid.
It might not have been necessary for me to get out of sales in order to become the person I wanted to be. But that’s the way I chose to do it. But you know what? I don’t think it is possible to stop being a salesman. In everything I’ve done over the years, I’ve always been selling. As a psychologist I was selling therapy and mental health. As a teacher I was selling education and intellect. And when I conducted programs like that one at the Museum Auditorium in Denver City Park I was selling ideas.
I commend sales skills to you. Whether you call yourself a salesperson or not, persuasion power makes a huge difference in anything you do. Huge!
Here is something I have seen firsthand, and a lot of people have trouble understanding: Life’s problems are often solved or made better by an increase in persuasion power. It is not the answer to everything but I have seen it positively affect marital problems, personal adjustments, even personal objectives like weight control and quitting smoking. Part of the reason is because the process of becoming more persuasive makes it more likely that a person will have what looks like greater willpower. So wanting to be more fit become being more fit. And so on.
Being persuasive works on yourself as well as others. What would it be like if you could consciously decide you want to be a certain way, then became it? Things like more assertive or less aggressive; more attractive to others; more in control of your urges and impulses; more disciplined and in control of yourself; or even smarter with a better memory. Ask yourself what it is you would like to have that seems out of reach at the moment. Being subliminally persuasive will help you become the person you really want to be.
Here is a thought experiment for you. Imagine for a moment that there really is such a thing as being able to not only control yourself but also others with some sort of ESP. That in dealing with others you could somehow “throw” thoughts into their minds, thoughts that would make them do and behave as you wish. People would become putty in your hands, bowing to your every wish and desire.
Sound silly? It’s not. The kind of persuasion power I am talking about is based on subliminal communication. It is a way of effortlessly communicating with others that seems like magic, but it is not. It is fundamentally real and fits perfectly in a lawful universe. That is, there is nothing magic about it. It is scientifically valid and objectively demonstrable. It is a way of mental functioning that you can demonstrate for yourself and develop with surprising ease. Once you know how.
And to know how you need the book All-In Selling. Get it, read it, do the mental developmental exercises, and I guarantee it will change your life.
Scientists have been telling us for several decades that we were running out of time to do something about global warming. Last year (2018) the consensus of scientific thinking gave us twelve years. Now, in 2019, we’re down to eleven. That is, we have eleven years to change the ways we live and do business to drastically reduce our global carbon footprint. The objective is to keep average global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The baseline average is based on NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) for the years 1951-1980.
According to NASA/GISS the global temperature annual average for 1951-19800 was 14 degrees Centigrade (57°F). What happens when the global average rises to 1.5 degrees warmer? If you have to ask, you have not been paying attention to what is going on in the world. Here’s the way Astra Taylor put it writing in Laphams Quarterly:
[There will be] the annihilation of coral reefs, greater melting of the permafrost, and species apocalypse, along with the most dire consequences for human civilization as we know it. Food shortages, forest fires, droughts and monsoons, intensified war and conflict, billions of refugees—we have barely begun to conceive of the range of dystopian futures looming on the horizon.
Get it? Pay special attention to that part about how “we have barely begun to conceive” of the horrors that lie in wait for us. Clearly it would be in our—humanity’s and the rest of the world’s—best interests to get our collective butts in gear and mitigate the effects of global warming. And mitigate is the best we could hope for because we have already done things that will negatively affect our climate for at least several hundred years.
We were told 30 years ago what we needed to do to avoid most of the problems of global warming. We did nothing. Nothing significant, anyway. A relative handful of the world’s population began doing a few constructive but insignificant things, like recycling paper and plastic, most of which somehow ended up in landfills or the ocean. Out of sight out of mind, I guess.
(Please don’t mistake my tone. I have been no better than almost everyone else.)
There have been activists all along, trying to draw public and governmental attention to the problems of global warming, but recently there has been an uptick in public awareness. Most notably there is Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish environmentalist who has roused students and adults alike to demonstrate for global action against climate warming. Someone has referred to her as the tiny Swedish climate devil.
The worldwide attention now being drawn to global warming has many people hopefully asking, and speculating, about whether or not the world is finally going to meaningfully tackle the problem. Is there reason to hope that we will now do what is required to avoid at least the most serious effects of global warming?
The answer, I very much regret to say, is no.
As I see it there are some fundamental reasons that nothing is going to be done. There will undoubtedly come a point when there will be a scurrying to take action, but it will be far too little and pathetically late. Americans always do the right thing but only after they have tried everything else.
The corporatism which rules today is composed of and fed by many attributes, not the least of which are personal greed for wealth and power of the ruling elite. Corporations rule the world as proxy to a small group of ruling elites, the oligarchs who continue to profit from ecological extraction. The standout examples of this are the numerous companies and activities of the infamous Koch brothers. Make that Koch brother (singular). One of the brothers died this year; so sad. Their immense fortune was derived largely from the extraction of coal.
It is the burning of coal which has contributed more than any other single cause to global warming. Because the Kochs successfully used their wealth to stymie any meaningful attempts to stop the burning of coal, they stand out to many as the worst enemies of the future of Earth, especially any future that presumes to include humans.
For life on Earth to continue in any semblance of how it has been, coal and oil extraction and emissions would have to be lowered to virtually zero and replaced with renewable energy sources. That would require corporations to forfeit trillions of dollars in assets. Stock markets would crash. American politicians would be cast adrift without their regular infusions of cash and direction (by virtue of being told how and when to vote). There is no question that the ruling elites and the politicians they own—in America that includes almost all Republicans and most Democrats—would continue to fight tooth and nail to prevent any change in the status quo.
The well known human aversion to change has never been more evident than in the national debate (weak as it is, considering the stakes) about global warming and what to do about it. By my tally, thirty-three percent of the American public have thoroughly deluded themselves with their denial that there even is such a thing as human-caused global warming. The excuses they give for their position are ludicrous and, were it not for the seriousness of the consequences, laughable. But they will not change.
I suspect that this group is roughly the same as the thirty-three percent of the American population who support and believe in Donald Trump. I know a thing or two about brain washing and I want to tell you something about those Trump supporters. They are the Americans who have voluntarily exposed themselves to years of right-wing, populist, narrow-minded propaganda. That is how they became the political and educational retards they are. The kind of mind control-slash-brain washing to which these people have voluntarily subjected themselves does two things. It creates a mindset in line with the objectives of the oligarchical, capitalism-loving plutocrats; and it makes it extremely difficult to change that mindset to another direction. It is mind control with built-in inoculation against other ideas and values. Especially those of the Enlightenment sort. It is highly unlikely they will ever change.
Here is how you can spot these folks. As you already know (probably), they tend to spout misogynistic, white supremacist, anti-science, illiberal claptrap. But what really gives them away are the expressions, phrases, even whole articulated arguments, that are repeated verbatim over and over. Especially on right-wing talk shows and that conservative propaganda machine, Fox News. I know because I lurk and listen to them.
Here is an example. This is a phrase that I first heard from Rush Limbaugh, whom I occasionally listen to when my stomach feels particularly strong:
Greta Thunberg thinks she has it figured out at age 16, when she has no concept of the long term cycle of climate change which is thousands of years.
This phrase was repeated almost verbatim over and over in the right-wing conservative echo chambers. No credit given, no one saying they heard it from so-and-so. And each hearer absorbs it as their own. So when they spout it later they really believe they are speaking a wisdom that is their very own.
I most recently came across this particular phrase in an email from an old friend. He has been listening almost exclusively to Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk programs and Fox News for decades now. In his email to me he repeated the above Greta disparagement almost verbatim. When I challenged him on it he back-peddled and said that maybe the statement did not actually represent his own thinking. But I suspect he was being disingenuous with me. Most people like him will not budge, or if they do, they sooner or later return to what is for them the more comfortable (brainwashed) position.
The brazen Criminal in Chief, President Trump, has publicly and loudly stated that global warming is a scam. His mindless followers think they know it is a the-sky-is-falling scam, although all they really know is what they have heard him and his servile minions say. But what would happen, you might wonder, if President Trump were to do an about face and declare global warming real? After all, since he is one of the most corrupt people on the planet, he could easily contradict everything he has said about it.
If that were to happen every brainwashed Trump junkie would experience cognitive dissonance. They would deny the reality of what Trump was saying, convinced that the evil, conniving forces trying to bring Trump down had somehow taken control of his brain and made him say it. Or even deny that he actually said whatever it was he is reported to have said, and indeed that they may even have actually heard him say. “Fake news,” they would say. They would remain loyal to the real Donald Trump and continue to believe global warming is a scam.
As for the rest of us, polls show that sixty-six percent of the American public believes that global warming is real and that it is caused by human activity.
A majority of Americans are clearly concerned about the problem but here again we see the effects of denial and cognitive dissonance. People are not filling the streets screaming for action. The only people coming close to that are students activated by Greta Thunberg and her Friday for Climate actions. The adults are determinedly not bestirring themselves except to pat her on the head (figuratively speaking) and tell her how nice it is to see young people taking an interest in things.
The fact is, most humans don’t function well in the face of impossible odds. And that is what we face now with global warming. The thought of getting ruling elites, oligarchs, and governments to back massive change and expense for the sake of the planet is just too daunting to even contemplate. It is clear to most people that there just is not much that can be done.
Except hope! And maybe pray among those who are religious, although most of the religious factions don’t seem to place much confidence that we can pray our way out of this mess if they even acknowledge the mess to begin with.
The naive belief that history is linear, that moral progress accompanies technical progress, is a form of collective self-delusion. It cripples our capacity for radical action and lulls us into a false sense of security. Those who cling to the myth of human progress, who believe that the world inevitably moves toward a higher material and moral state, are held captive by power. Only those who accept the very real possibility of dystopia, of the rise of a ruthless corporate totalitarianism, buttressed by the most terrifying security and surveillance apparatus in human history, are likely to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.
“…to carry out the self-sacrifice necessary for revolt.” Indeed. The problem, though, is that there is no time left. The UN has told us that oceans are already so warm we will not be able to avoid the dire consequences already set in motion. That in itself, I believe, deprives us of the eleven years we thought we might have in which to do something about climate.
Add to that the possibility of at least seven potential tipping points that, once any one of them is tipped, will cause a vastly sped up runaway greenhouse effect. The seven I refer to—melting of the Arctic permafrost, burning of the Amazon, marine ice sheet instability in West Antarctica, melting of huge methane clouds in the deep ocean, things like this—are only the large scale tipping elements. There are also many regional or smaller-scale tipping points. The faith (or even hope) that none of these will be tipped is beyond my ken.
The faith in a scientific miracle is also beyond my ken. I am a scientist and have always respected science and scientists but expecting a miracle at this point and and in this time frame is beyond irrational.
Our time is growing extremely short. For the first time in my life I am fatalistic about our chances for survival. It is best, if possible, to not worry about it. If even one of those tipping points is triggered we are probably done for.
In the meantime I believe we have an obligation to maintain a moral position in keeping with the highest ideas of the Enlightenment. If we have to go out we should go out standing tall, caring for one another and easing suffering of people and animals as much as possible.
I personally intend to do as much as I can to head of what looks like our guaranteed end. Not from any senseless hope but out of principle. And celebrate my good luck for having lived in this best and worst final stage of humanity.
Your concepts regarding the snow on Crestone Needle [a Colorado mountain] are irrelevant. Whether or not the snow is melting does not constitute an argument against global warming. I think you are being mislead by isolated “facts” like this. I recognize the roots of your comments in contemporary Republican misinformation enabled by the propaganda machine Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
Please take a look at this 6,000 word article on snow and global warming by some of the top climate scientists in the world: Scientific American. You will not find any Fox News blathering heads or Trump tweets or administration poobahs cited in it. Nor can you find any more than a tiny smattering of crackpot scientists who claim to refute the scientific facts supporting the view that global warming is real, that it is the result of human action, and that we are headed for a near-time catastrophe. The crackpots’ claims are each and every one invalid, unscientific, and totally without merit. I know, I’ve looked. Trust me; I’m a doctor — as we used to be fond of saying.
Then please view this speech by Greta Thunberg. Earlier when I asked you your opinion of her you said, among other things, “Greta hasn’t lived long enough to have knowledge of all the planet’s weather patterns.” And you have? What the fuck?
Both the article and Thunberg’s speech
are powerful. But they will not be viewed as such by anyone
constitutionally incapable of facing the reality of our rapidly
approaching extinction. To them I say, I am no longer disposed to humor
bullshit. There is no more time to waste swallowing the insultingly
erroneous, wishful-thinking-based capitalist swill blasted forth from
the Trump administration and his propagandists.
You also said, “I must find fulfillment in other ways. It has to be with my mind, my resolve, my decision to be productive somehow, and not be satisfied with limited time and place.” You are certainly capable of doing that. Your excellent writing skill and perceptive intelligence have always been a model I have looked up to and tried to emulate. We both started out — you were the department chair, I was lowly faculty — as conservative Republicans and I still consider myself somewhat conservative (but now definitely and defiantly anti-Republican). Where we differ significantly is on the concept of intellectual freedom. I fear you have voluntarily subjugated yourself to the rigorous straight jacket of contemporary political conservatism and it hurts me to see you slip into claptrap mode, expressing thoughts and reasoning not your own on politics, economics or climate.
None of us has all that much time left. To me that makes it all the more important to spend time in ways that are honest to myself and to others. I continually strive to honestly question the positions and stands I take. That, I believe, gives me license to challenge the opinions and positions of others in like manner. Which of course makes me offensive to a lot of people, especially those who are perpetually offended.
Cutting through the bullshit, I have always found, is expensive. It does not make life any easier for me. But I have no trouble sleeping at night. I used to take great pleasure in discussing, or debating when appropriate, contentious issues with you. But in recent years you have more and more parroted Rush Limbaugh or the talking heads on Fox News.
It would be unreasonable and foolish to expect you to agree with me on everything, and I have enjoyed batting around ideas and concepts with you when we did not agree. But only when the positions you espouse are your own thinking and not the residue of Trump/Fox/Limbaugh propaganda.
I know you have felt alone since your beloved wife died, you hurt, every day is a litany of discomforts and inconveniences, your dignity is frequently assaulted, and you have very little freedom left. Believe me, I get it. But the great thing you so have left, the thing that is so valuable and precious, is mental freedom. Videtur quod sit libera. “Think and be free.” But only if you sunder the shackles of conventional wisdom (the phrase itself is an oxymoron). I believe it a far grander finale to go out free and liberated than to go out whimpering, being a chump who hews to the party lines of those pygmy intellects who are abjectly terrified of intellectual freedom.
If I were advising someone else about the wisdom of writing a message like this I would tell them to save their breath; don’t waste their time. I know how difficult it is — impossible, often — to break through those obdurate, protective boundaries the human mind sets up to protect an embrace of conventional wisdom.
But I had to try. This is the only way I know how to be an honest friend.