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Tricycle Triumph: The Final Voyage of the Starship Fantastic

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Now It Can Be Told: Why I Performed For Two Minutes On a Tricycle While Wearing My Beanie Copter In Front of Hundreds of Co-Workers and the CEO at My Old Job Many Years Ago

I stepped to the front of the packed, humid ballroom. I was carrying a tricycle. I was not dreaming. The whole experience was utterly ridiculous, yes, but also horrifyingly real.

I had purchased a cobalt-tipped drill bit and convinced a confused salesman at the local big box to drill through the trike’s center shaft. “To allow the tricycle to support my adult body,” I explained. To my surprise, he didn’t have any questions, and set to work helping me. Maybe he could sense larger forces at work, the approaching roar of destiny. More likely he wanted to give me what I wanted so I’d go away faster.

That was days before I strolled onto the stage. I set the tricycle down. The ballroom was filled to capacity, as in standing room only. Hundreds of my co-workers were there. My boss. My boss’s boss, and so on several more times on up the corporate ladder right up to and including the CEO. This was the corporate talent show and I had something special planned. Wait. Scratch that. I hoped something special would happen. I actually had no plan at all.

Performances were limited to two minutes. I just had to do something for two minutes. My hands were freezing, but also sweating. My heart was thundering and my skin warm.

Spots appeared on the edge of my vision. I took a deep breath. Please don’t pass out, I thought to myself. That would make this so much worse.

So I put my foot on the tricycle. I was, naturally, wearing my beanie copter. The rest of me was dressed in typical business-casual for a summer company quote-unquote fun event: sneakers, khaki shorts and a dark blue polo. Two minutes. I had to do something for two minutes.

Just do something. The problem was, I hadn’t given much thought to what that something was.

The D.J. announced my name as the previous act (a woman who sang some karaoke song) ran off. “Now performing to Panama by Van Halen, let’s welcome Larry!” boomed through the speakers. Panama was the song I had selected. All systems were go.

Two minutes. How hard could it be?

Let me tell you something I learned that day. I’m not really sure this has application in anyone else’s life, but you never know, so here goes:

When you are wearing a beanie copter and riding a tricycle accompanied by Van Halen’s Panama in a ballroom filled with hundreds of your co-workers and the CEO of your company, and you have absolutely no plan for what you are going to do, two minutes turns out to be an excruciatingly long time.

So what happened?

Well, I ran around like an idiot. I got the crowd clapping. Then I pushed off and rode the trike like a scooter. I leapt off the trike, did a little Irish tap dance-thing (like in the show Riverdance) around the cycle and jumped back on. And the rest?

Hell, I forget. More of the same, essentially.

Later, someone told me they were impressed with my song selection. Paraphrasing: “If you had selected a silly circus tune it would have just been goofy, but a rock song made it something special.” Another critic was less generous, “We all looked at each other and said, ‘What the hell is he doing?'” Word on the street was, two of my managers (whom I loved) jokingly argued over who I actually reported to.

Many moons later, someone asked me to name the performance, and I called it the “Final Voyage of the Starship Fantastic.” Because it was a one-time-only show. It then became a point of importance to me that I give the tricycle to charity (which I did.) I never rode it again, to ensure the fulfillment of the finality in the title. Things like that matter to me.

Why did the talent show committee let me perform? In previous years people had sung Karaoke songs with naughty words, so each act had to be approved first. I have no idea why they gave me the okay. At the audition I was very vague about what I was going to do, being as I didn’t know myself, but I did bring the trike. They trusted me. Which is funny to me, because I wouldn’t have.

But why? Why did I do it? How did things get to this point? Can I explain something please?

Why?

I get that a lot.

I often defer to a lyrical snippet from The Doors’ song The Crystal Ship: ‘Deliver me from reasons why.’ Sometimes humanity’s lust for reason gets in the way of enjoying life’s craziness, of letting the wonder and the mystery carry you on its cosmic current, of just letting things be. On one level, the only answer is the rhetorical “Why not?” or the faux-mysterious “Because.”

I’m not a fan of those answers, because I prefer a more precise approach. Also, neither non-answer comes close to the truth. There was a reason for the silliness and an important one. Let me explain.

First, an observation: have you ever noticed how people with an authoritarian bent are extremely annoyed by goofiness? By behavior they cannot understand or control? Especially if such behavior generates laughter?

The goal with my tricycle performance was to display a symbolic obscene gesture in the direction of those types. See, I worked in a place that was overrun by such beings. Not completely overrun, as at the same time I met many beautiful folks I am honored to call friend these many years later. The place wasn’t exclusively assholes, but it was infested with them, and they shared the trait previously mentioned: overly serious and full of superiority complex.

As I’ve noted, few things enrage wanna-be dictators more than someone who doesn’t conform to their morose natures.

What better way to mock them than to do so without them knowing? What better way to annoy them than by showing them that I was free and crazy and laughing and there was nothing they could do to change that?

Okay maybe there’s lots of better ways, but none so fun. They would hate my tricycle “performance” for its unabashed absurdity, but in no way would they see it as a direct attack and invoke their petty wraths. Yet it would irritate them immensely because others would never stop talking about it. It would be so strange an event it would come up often, resulting in an itch the authoritarians couldn’t scratch, a bold expression they could not suppress with contempt.

So, did it work?

How the hell would I know? They were miserable before and miserable after. As for me, I had a great time rising to the challenge and now I have an unusual story. If nothing else, it was a lesson for myself. In the dark days of a miserable work environment, I thought I would never emerge. But I did, and did so laughing. My sense of humor — mystical, childish and inexplicable as it is — saw me through.

Hopefully you’re feeling the silliness too and can share a laugh with me. Or at least you’re delightful mix of amused and confused. I’ll settle for that. I get that a lot.

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Please Stop Assuming the Worst About Others

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Lots of people are complaining about public debate, saying that Americans don’t get along more than ever. This may or may not be true. It certainly seems that way, if you try to gauge debates by reading internet comments, and when it’s so obvious that politicians put the success of their party over the success of the nation.

Regardless, there’s a simple solution I think everyone (including myself of course, as I am a part of everyone) can do to improve things. Here’s the idea:

Stop assuming the worst about people you disagree with.

Stop assuming the worst about people you disagree with.

It sounds almost too simple, almost childish. Maybe it is, but when the discussion is childish, it’s time to go back to basics. For example, here’s an excerpt from a discussion about guns that can be seen almost anywhere guns are debated:

“I think guns are important for securing our freedom and personal safety.”
“You obviously have a small penis and/or have seen too many action films.”

Inverted:

“I think guns are an over-reaction to real fears and impractical for civil change.”
“You obviously hate freedom and prefer living in a police state.”

Some people are horrible and full of hate, yes. Some high profile people are paid to support certain viewpoints. Some people are jerks. Some people ignore facts or are ignorant of them. All true.

All I suggest is that we don’t start there. Don’t begin with those negative assumptions or immediately diagnose some disturbing underlying psychology as their motivation. You might get there eventually, but if you begin there, there’s no hope for connection. Start with a more probable assumption: that someone has a reason for feeling as they do, that they have given the matter at least some thought, melded it with their experience, blended it with what they believe are the facts and arrived at a conclusion of varying solidity, as you have.

Maybe the pro-gun person was a child when an intruder came into their home and it terrified them (as it would to anyone.) Maybe the anti-gun person lost someone to a suicide. On and on.

You lose your humanity when you fail to see humanity in others. We can all do better than that. Thanks.

Included below is a social-media-ready meme for you. Share as you see fit.

stop assuming worst pic

 

No One Mentions This About Shooting Rampages

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I can’t stand it when someone shoots up a bunch of people at random. It’s just so senseless. If you’re going to hurt a group of people, at least make sure they deserve it. Like Dallas Cowboys fans. Of course I’m kidding. I don’t want to see Dallas Cowboys fans get shot or even hurt. They’re a part of God’s creation, too. Like mosquitoes.

Speaking of wannabe cowboys, every time these shooting rampages happen, someone who’s watched too many westerns steps up and insists if only someone had a gun, they could have killed the shooter.

Now hold up right there, pard’ner. Do you see the assumption you just made? You’re assuming nobody was armed. How do you know someone wasn’t?

Just for fun, I recently tried some amateur journalism, like they do at Fox News. I contacted some pro- and anti-gun groups and I asked them all the same question: “If a citizen is armed, and a shooter begins a rampage, is the armed citizen legally obligated to return fire?” Just like the girls I knew in high school, they all said no.

“If a citizen is armed, and a shooter begins a rampage, is the armed citizen legally obligated to return fire?”

So, maybe someone was present and armed during the rampage, but they didn’t shoot back, because they did what anyone would do. They ran. Booked it. After every one of these rampages, slimy gun companies say, “Hey, buy our product and you won’t die.” You don’t see sneaker companies saying the same thing, but I bet sneakers have played a bigger part in keeping people unshot than guns ever have.

If I’m there with my friends, am I going to return fire or run and make sure my friends gets out? I’m going to run, because that has the added bonus of getting my ass to safety too. A wannabe cowboy says they would abandon their friends and engage the shooter. Yeah right. The same people who flip out when someone scams five bucks off welfare are suddenly going to enter life-and-death combat with a suicidal maniac just to save a bunch of strangers? I don’t think so.

I bet even if every single person was armed at a rampage there’s a good chance no one would shoot back, because of human nature. They’ll all be like, oh someone else will take care of it. That’s why debris can sit in the road for days and everyone just drives around it. Or a computer system goes down at work and no one files an I.T. ticket because everyone is certain someone else already did.

So let’s assume I’m correct and someone has been armed at these rampages but didn’t shoot back. We’ll never know. no one is crazy enough to come forward and admit that: “Yeah I was armed, but I was there with my four-year-old and I wanted to make sure she got to safety, so I didn’t shoot back.” That person would never live in peace again. They’d be called a coward, there would be death threats on their dog at the very least. At the very, very least.

Their life would become a living hell. All because of the supposedly sane people.

(A slightly different version of this totally awesome essay was originally an exclusive contribution to Yahoo! Voices editorial pages in 2013, but since Yahoo! has discontinued that feature, the rights revert back to me. It seems the point here is still very relevant. I hope you found it interesting. Cheers.)

Talking to Space Aliens: We’re Doing It Wrong

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Arecibo_messageEver heard of the Arecibo message? It’s a radio signal beamed into the stars in the 1970s from the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. The hope was that it would be decoded by any intelligent life receiving it. The message contains a bunch of science-y stuff about Earth and humanity that’s guaranteed to hurt your brain. The details are at Wikipedia and you can see a visual representation of the data nearby.

Now far be it from me to question the world’s finest astronomers, but I’ve been on this planet my whole life (except for brief interval after consuming “space cake” in Amsterdam) and when I look at this graphic I am dumbfounded as to describe what it is. Is it that E.T. game that they dug up in the desert? Is it some child’s drawing? Or something labeled “Modern Art” that morons think is amazing? Some new kind of barcode? Did somebody’s calculator get hit by lightning and gain superpowers?

If I, as a life-long resident of Earth, can’t figure out what this message means, then how is an alien species going to?

Besides, the Arecibo message just isn’t good marketing. I would have sent pictures of the best-looking people on Earth in minimal (or no) clothing hanging out on a beach at sunset. Unite a beer commercial’s hedonism with the placid vistas of a tourism pamphlet and you’ve got a sure-fire alien magnet. Because if the aliens that find this thing are anything like us humans, the trouble won’t be telling them how to get here, but giving them incentive to get off their alien butts and actually do it.

So let’s be honest. This Arecibo message is one big fail all around.

Wait! Wait a minute! Holy crap! Well that shows you how much I know! This just in! Looks like the Arecibo message finally hit pay dirt after all. It’s a message from another planet! They’ve responded to the Arecibo message! Let’s see what our fellow inhabitants of the universe had to say:

Arecibo_messageDear People of Earth,

We received your message when its frequency began vibrating our holy life-support towers, which caused their bio-distribution systems to fail, resulting in the deaths of 18.3 of our citizens, including 9.7 Glarbooten companion slugs.

We are very sorry to hear that your planet is under siege by a giant purple letter M wearing a toupee, but we will not be visiting you any time soon for many reasons.

First, it appears that your people, depicted with exquisite detail in green, posses at least eight genders. We here on our planet have enough trouble with five. The chaos during your mating rituals would paralyze our fore-brain and leave our tail-brain in perpetual base-nineteen computation mode.

Your planet seems lovely and we are envious that you have two blue ribbons of electrified chlorine gas on either side of your tubular ivory crust. We only have one blue ribbon and it is very boring, but nonetheless, to us it is home. We were however, deeply insulted that you would leave your sacred yellow excrement just lying about in public. Have you no decency? Were you all raised on a nucleo-genetic randomizer farm?

But what really disturbs us in the red object. Our best tri-minded scientists and even our dual-minded monk-beasts cannot compute what that is. It seems to represent one of the fictional creatures from the screech-songs of the wild Ulaniit, with a comical arrangement of the famed twin penises yet lacking the companion vaginal array. Its centrality to your message implies that it carries some kind of importance. Is this some strange monster devouring your people as the Yeznar-Alk-Endro did to our hive-ancestors eons ago? The idea of this beast on the loose makes our poly glands secrete from all of our two dozen orifices.

Though our bi-emotional consensus is grateful for your attention to us, we ask that you cease communication with us at your earliest temporal marker. We fear that this red monstrosity may find the location of our home.

We have a saying here that applies: don’t send us an odor-resonating pulse wave, we’ll send you an odor-resonating pulse wave.

MESSAGE ENDS

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