Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 204, August 2016)
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I'm watching people here at the shore (New Jersey has a shore, all other places have beaches, go figure) with massive, visible tattoos. There are also the facial piercings, for me difficult to even look at without cringing.
There are people-including infants-with caps on backwards in the glare of the sun. Grown me are actually covering their eyes with their hands to block the rays while the bill of the cap is at the back of their skulls. (There are few things as pathetic as a man of a certain age with his cap backwards, gold bling dangling, and untied sneakers.)
I see women with stilettos-walking on the boardwalk, which is designed to have large openings between the boards. There are tee-shirts with obscenities, often worn by a kid in the company of parents. (One used two weapons in a certain configuration of an "f" and a "k" to discuss a positon on gun control, for example.)
There is some drunkenness on the beach after it closes, and the cops (here in great force and always visible) quickly put an end to it. There are others, more subtle perhaps, whom the cops don't find until they collapse on the floor near the bar.
The Jersey Shore represents part of the vast middle class, which is why we continue to come here, acknowledging our roots (and why we also go to Nantucket, acknowledging what we've become). The economy is quite good, gas is cheap, and people are taking advantage of some of the best beaches in the entire country.
Yet it's also an abject lesson in the power of normative pressure, of being victim to style and fad, of being afraid not to be part of the "in crowd." I can see young women walking down the beach strutting for attention, with the most popular leading the way and others maneuvering to be next to her, some in a frantic power walk to stay close. You and I know what happens after high school to the king and queen of the prom.
It's astounding how contorted and uncomfortable people make their own lives just to be able to conform to irrational norms created by strangers. Maybe, as adults, that's why people of any class open their wallets to a Bernie Madoff or expect a crazy dance across hot coals will make them successful.
Or, maybe, you should learn the rationale for wearing a cap with a bill meant to shade your eyes. If you send me $100, I can send you the instructional video.
The human condition: Fudging
"Fudge": To make vague or misrepresent in some way.
I encountered a woman once whose biographical sketch claimed she had "written over seven books." I asked, "Does that mean eight?" She replied, "Actually seven, with one in the works."
I can say I've written over 50 books, or evan over 60-because I've written 64. But I wouldn't say, I've written over 63"!
A speaker told me she had spoken three times a month over the past two years. I thought that was very impressive, but also very suspicious. "Oh, the assignments are all on my site," she said, clearly suspecting I wouldn't bother to look. But I did, and found she had included invocations at her church group, introductions of other speakers at non-profit chapter meetings, addressing the local Red Cross volunteers pro bono, and so forth.
"Yes, I was in Paris last year," a man exclaimed when someone had mentioned her desire to see the city. I asked if he had gone to Notre Dame or cruised the Seine. He then admitted he had only been in the airport to change planes. Recently, we cruised past Bratislava on our Danube cruise. But I'm not about to say to my wife in front of others, "Remember, hon, when we were in Slovakia?" (She'd say, "Sure, it was a great 40 minutes.")
People fudge because they're desperate to be part of the "in crowd," to impress, and/or because they begin to believe their own lies. They move from supporting that high school championship team, to having been on it, to having started, to having caught the winning pass. That's why we see so many high-level people mortified by early fudging on their resumes about the schools they attended or the positions they've held-they've come to believe their own lies.
You may tell me you were the best looking person in your class. That may be vanity, but it's subjective and you're entitled to your narcissistic opinion. But don't tell me you were number one academically in your class unless it's so.
Or, unless you've written over one book.
I drove to the Shop Right at the Jersey Shore to get my morning papers. Once inside, I realized I had left my wallet home. However, because I'm so brilliantly resourceful, I knew I had a couple of rolls of quarters in my console, in case I ever have to feed a meter somewhere.
I went outside, grabbed one, and returned to pay the clerk. She eyed the role with interest before opening it.
"That IS five dollars," I assured her, and then I noticed the subject of her scrutiny: The roll indicated "Fun Town Games and Amusements!" on the wrapper.
She looked outside at the car, looked at me, and said, "You have a big night at the arcade?"
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If you want to be coached but "refuse" to discuss certain issues which are "off the table," you don't want to be coached, you just want someone to lie to you and tell you you're doing fine.