Category Archives: Married life

Gamergate and women

From what I understand, Gamergate began as a brouhaha about journalistic integrity in the game industry (a longstanding oxymoron), then morphed into game nerds harassing women in ways they didn’t harass any of the men involved. Is that about the sum of it?

I don’t care much about the game industry or its media; if they have a -gate of some sort, well, whatever. The dominance of Steam, the decisions of console makers and developers, and perhaps my own focus on other interests make me less of a gamer now than I used to be. But I care a great deal about the subject of how women cannot participate in situations without experiencing bullying and harassment. I’m not joking: if I were female, by now I am pretty sure I would have completely lost it. I don’t know how the women keep it together. (I can think of a dozen rejoinders to that. “Some don’t.” “Why do you think we do things and go places men shy away from? It gets rid of you for a while!” “Go to a women’s prison–you’ll see the ones who lost it.” “You’re asking it wrong, buster. Why is it your gender can’t learn to woman up?” And more.)

When we talk about game nerds sending death threats to women, publishing their contact information, and treating the women in ways they would not be treating a male, I suspect they come from a demographic long and often mocked: socially awkward, generally unathletic, mostly gifted males who in years past gathered for D&D, but who now gather–only virtually–in online gaming environments. This accounts for a percentage of those young males who play games, though I do not know how large the percentage is. Since these young males are not in any socially protected group, it is socially acceptable to mock them on principle without limit. It is supposed that most are gifted, but if they are, a good percentage are not all that intelligent. If they were, they would not go Full Jackass at the very hint of a female presence.

That’s why you can’t get boned, boys: because you have never taken time to develop the skills that would enable you to relate to women. You can’t ask to be ‘accepted as you are’ if ‘as you are’ is repellent. Do you like being treated like a bizarre novelty? No? Women might tell you ‘welcome to the club.’ They don’t like it either, so they tend to shy away. When they reject you, they are not being evil oppressors. And I submit that the singling-out of women in this situation tells us a lot about what’s going on inside.

The women aren’t your oppressors. They are not what inspires women to react to you as if you were a live skunk. If you have an oppressor, it is yourself.

I don’t especially care about the Gamergate brouhaha in and of itself, but when I hear about intimidation, even death threats, that will get my attention. If you’re a gamer and you are completely opposed to that, good. If you made excuses for it, or thought it was awesome, you represent the problem.

It is your choice to build social graces. It is your choice to use your intellect to adapt. It is your choice to learn what is important to other people, what they will tolerate, what they will not. It is your choice to stop being a jackass. It is your choice to decide that females are fellow human beings, who look and generally think a little differently, but deserve decent and polite treatment.

If you choose instead to be a jerk, then when the women edge away from you, and your porn dependency advances, fault yourself. Real women do not and will not behave like your porn. That’s why it’s fantasy, just as games are fantasy. And don’t try to tell me your porn consumption isn’t getting toward a dependency level, either.

However, there is a way out of your solitary world of customized self-gratification. It’s a tough level to beat, because it takes time and involves mistakes. You will reload it again and again, but it can be beaten. I am 51, I credit gaming with saving my sanity and giving me much of my teen and young adult social life, and I am happily married to a woman I would not trade for all your porno women. My wife does not mind if I game. In fact, she believes that nerds make better lovers because we try harder.

(Yes, I am going to keep calling you ‘game nerds.’ I was a game nerd back when that meant playing Asteroids for two hours at a pop, kids, or D&D until 5 AM. Unless you are over 35, you were not yet whelped at that time. I have earned my right to call you what I call myself.)

The catch is that not enough game nerds do try harder, because many become caught in the spiral of social awkwardness. It’s hard to break out of social awkwardness. I know how hard it was for me. It involves mistakes, embarrassment, stepping outside your comfort zone. It does not provide immediate gratification. The early reactions make you just want to hole up again, back in the comfort zone of the game environment, assuming an identity other than your own. The game is imaginary, but its comfort zone is not. From the comfort zone, you can vent your humiliation by behaving however you like. It is where you find your own kind, where you are not abnormal.

The way out involves self-honest assessment of what went wrong this time. Women are not vending machines, where if you dispense the correct change, they will produce a predictable result. They are people, who differ and vary, and there is no perfect formula that will always inspire them to like you. If you view it as finding the key to beating a level, you will fail. Most of the time, when I see a young man who reminds me of me in my teens, he’s complaining that he did X and Y and it didn’t work. That’s the vending machine approach. It is never that simple. If you understand that you must learn what you did wrong, and that it is not the others who are bad and mean, then you’re equipped to use your considerable smarts to change who you are. Of course, then you will learn something else you did wrong, and keep addressing the somethings wrong until you can’t come up with much, as demonstrated by the fact that you’re being invited back to places.

Overcoming social awkwardness is like getting bleu cheese dressing out of a bottle. At first, it just hangs there. Then a little bit comes out. Then too much. Then a steady, encouraging flow. Then you are at the phase where you know there’s a lot stuck to the walls of the bottle, but if you turn it upside down and wait, when you open it, there’ll be a mess.  At some point, you accept that there’s always some dressing left into which you will never dip Albertson’s deli spicy chicken strips.

“But I want to be accepted for what I am! How is that wrong?”

If ‘what you are’ is a jackass, it’s wrong, because it is unreasonable to present society with the demand: “Love me! I’m a jackass!” No matter what your mother told you growing up, you aren’t automatically wonderful just for being you. She was biased, and the prevailing culture and her own emotional needs conditioned her to say that to you. If you think it through, for her to say otherwise would have been to say that one of her most important life works was faulty, and she wasn’t and isn’t going to do that. You might appreciate her, but she’s not objective. She almost can’t be. Her connection with you is far too intimate for that.

Being wonderful takes no work at all for some people. They have it pretty good, and they have a hard time understanding why others don’t just automatically do the same. For social clods, such as myself, trying to be wonderful is a work in progress toward a theoretical goal. If you turtle, and quit trying, your skills atrophy, just as it takes time to get back into a game if you don’t play it for a while.

My father was like me, but before there were games to nerd about. So he became an engineer, then a radio control model nerd. His social life occurred only on his own terms with fellow R/C nerds. Everywhere else, he stopped trying. And when he found himself alone, having alienated his children and his wife, he went into serious but not dangerous surgery, seized up, and died. I’m pretty sure it was his final flight from social awkwardness. I decided to fight against social awkwardness because I didn’t want to die alone at 54.

Your social life does not have to suck. Plenty of game nerds are like me. They have good relationships, work and play with women just fine, and do not engage in harassment. The lonely nerd stereotype only goes so far. Being a lonely nerd is a personal choice. Being a harasser also is.

So what will it take?

  • Resist the impulse to become an idiot at the very hint of a female presence. They aren’t that special. There are three billion of them on Earth. They aren’t ivory-billed woodpeckers, and very few are pop stars or supermodels. They aren’t novelties. They’re all over the place. (They even, to my consternation, show up in traditional barber shops.)
  • Understand that feminine companionship is not a divine right. It is earned on personal merit. Every time you become insulting or harassing, you prove that you deserve only the love of your Fleshlight.
  • Accept that much feminine companionship is not romantic or sexual, and value it regardless of love or sex. If you cannot be a woman’s friend, I fail to see how you can be her lover.
  • Shut up and learn to listen. Not just hear and react, but listen and consider.
  • Try empathy, which is not the game nerd’s natural strength. For some of you, I probably need to define it. Empathy is when you take enough time to see the world through others’ eyes, and imagine how it feels to them, and give a damn. If you will not see the world through her eyes, how are you entitled to expect her to see it through yours?
  • If you behave in repulsive ways, break the habit. If you have a really irritating voice, tone it down. If you think it’s funny to fart a lot, or your belches set off seismometers, stop. No, ‘who you are’ is not worthy of acceptance if you choose to be repulsive. Choose not to be repulsive.
  • Sending dick pics, or hitting up random females online with sexual innuendoes, makes you a loser. It never works. Almost no women want that. And of those who might appear to, often they are just retaliating by letting you make a bigger fool of yourself.
  • Examine your social behavior, especially the moments where you lose people. Fault yourself, not them.

You are not going to fit into every social environment. I have learned to tell when someone has simply decided s/he doesn’t like me, and I’m fine with respecting that choice. (Maybe I’m not too fond of him or her either.) I would be outright disaster at a DC cocktail party, for example, and I don’t care to change that. I was never cut out for a fraternity. In fact, I am not even cut out for D&D groups, and I can live with that. It is not the fault of any of those environments that I do not fit into them. I chose not to bother, and I am at peace with it. I can just about hold it together long enough to get through a typical social gathering without slipping into my opinionated, emotion-sleeved, long-winded, audience-losing self. And by going to enough social gatherings, I developed the mental muscle memory to avoid making others uncomfortable by accident.

It takes effort, but it works. My wife is not my only female friend. I may have more female than male friends. Wouldn’t that be a nice situation? That is where this leads, if you choose it.

The Gamergate situation soon stopped being about the original issue, as I see it, and became about the rejected frustration and rage of loneliness. If you are a lonely gamer, you choose to be. And if you are a harasser, you are choosing to be evil simply because you can get away with it.

That’s like a bunch of smug jocks giving you a Rear Admiral and flushing your head down the toilet because they can get away with it. The answer to bullying is not to find someone else you can bully in turn. The answer to bullying is to kick the shit out of the bully (I don’t believe in turning the other cheek), and then empathize with other victims, and do not become a victimizer. When you harass in turn, you have become a victimizer. And if you are not careful, the women may kick the shit out of you.

If you harass them, I hope they give you a few kicks on my behalf. I keep encouraging them to. But I’d rather see you abandon harassment and learn to function like the kind of man that women want as a friend.


Is the relationship a jail or a resort?

My wife recently posted something about toxic relationships. Since she and I have both experienced those, we know a bit about why people don’t just leave them.

As I thought about the difference, I recognized that in broad terms, there are two ways to maintain a relationship. I think some people commingle the two. The paths are simple: one can either make it perilous, cumbersome, or guilt-fraught to leave, or one can give a partner incentives to stay because life is better.

In other terms, one can run a relationship as a jail, or as a resort. Some relationship jails are humane enough, just hard to escape from. Others are places of constant, brutal interrogation. I know people who, if their partner transgressed against them, would never leave the relationship–and not out of fear. “And miss the ability to punish him/her for years?”

If one manages one’s side of the relationship like a resort, giving him or her reasons to stay, one is a partner.

If one manages it like a jail, presenting mostly barriers to escape, one is a prison warden. And if the reason for confinement is to inflict suffering, one is also a terrorist.

Then again, the same could apply to much of life.

If a parent assures filial devotion through kindness, wisdom, support and gratitude for past sacrifice, that’s a parent.

If a parent commands filial devotion through browbeating, passive aggression, fear of disapproval, withdrawal of affection, and/or threat of disinheritance, that’s not a parent. That’s a jailer and and a terrorist.

If a supervisor retains employees through competitive pay, a positive environment, quality leadership and personal growth potential, the workplace is a resort.

If a supervisor keeps them through fear of starvation, gaslighting, constant dicking over, and changing expectations on the fly, the workplace is a jail. The supervisor isn’t a manager, but a terrorist.

If police spend most of their energy in the primary role of preventing harm to people who generally do the right thing, and helping them when they have problems, they are resort security.

If police are mostly occupied with reasons to catch right-doers in the occasional wrong, they are jailers. If the purpose is to intimidate, they are also terrorists. If the purpose is revenue, they are organized criminals. If the purpose is their personal gratification, they are sadists.

If a soldier points a weapon at your enemies, and blocks their path to reach you, s/he is your defender.

If a soldier points his or her weapon at you, to compel your obedience or submission, s/he is your jailer.

If government spends most of its energy figuring out ways to empower and help people, it is resort management, inspiring voluntary compliance for the common good.

If government spends most of its time inventing new reasons why people can’t go here, do this, have that, it’s a prison warden. If it does so mainly through bullying and fear, it engages in terrorism. Its minions who take pleasure in this are sadists.

Maybe if one spends a portion of one’s life in a virtual jail under intimidation and terror, it’s easier to accept that jail, intimidation, and terror are just normal life, the eternal state of humanity.

Maybe if we’re going to fight against terrorism, we should begin with our families, homes, workplaces, streets, and highways.

Hosing off after automobile shopping

It will take a high-pressure nozzle. After dealing with most of the auto sales outfits in my wife’s area, it may take that to denude us of the ick.

My wife’s work requires her to drive moderate distances on a regular basis, which means that when her vehicle ceases to feel reliable, she isn’t the only one uncomfortable with that. Call me a sexist pig to your heart’s content: I view it as my personal undelegateable husbandly duty to make sure that my wife has a safe, reliable vehicle. I’m still driving my 1990 Toyota pickup, and with luck, I may drive it for another twenty-four years. She goes through cars in six to eight years. When it’s time to go shopping, I do most of the research, because I have more time to do it.

I have a number of friends, however, who know many things I do not. One goes back with me to third grade: my man Russell Deason, a fellow veteran of Heritage Child Abuse Christian School in beautiful Fort Collins, Colorado. Among Russell’s virtues is a mean streak when it comes to those who prey upon others, and with his sales background, that’s terrible news for car dealerships.

Before I get on with the story, with Russell’s kind permission, I quote here most of the advice he gave me. I took as much of it as possible, and kept some of the remainder in the quiver in case I needed it. I would like to share it with the world.

RD: “Look and show interest early in the month but walk on all offers. Return the last week of the month when they are desperate to make sales and fulfill their quotas. Continue to string the salesman along all month with teaser contacts (usually less painful over the phone than in person). Beware of the “tie down” questions. Those are designed to get you to answer yes, nod your head and other affirmative actions which in theory make it psychologically easier for them to ask you for the purchase. Drive the salesman nuts by constantly answering those questions ambiguously or negatively. Create a very long objections list to each vehicle you are considering. Dig through every consumer report on each and compile every petty complaint. Salesmen are taught to “answer objections” in ways that allow them to turn the objection in a “tie down.” If you beat them at this game they will become frustrated, their egos get bruised and they get desperate to land your sale because they cannot stand to be beaten at their own game. Finally, beware the “manager.” This person is their most well trained “closer.” They are the party best at the “tie down” and high pressure tactics. Do everything possible to avoid that person until you are actually ready to make the deal. When you do reach that point, insist on changing the chair position in the office. They will seat you back to the door. Turn the chair sideways so you can see the door. This unnerves them as this is a key point in their tactics. Tell the actual salesman to either not stand behind you or leave the room. Make that statement an order. They use that tactic to create an uncomfortable environment. Insist on time alone in the room to read the contracts in their entirety and hold out the possibility you may ask your lawyer to review them before finalizing the purchase. These are all things I was taught in sales training. Use them to your advantage with my full blessing. Please make the salesmen squirm so I can hear about it afterward.”

And I did. Russell, I know this is the best way to thank you.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t practical for us to time it that well. We needed to get Deb a new car, my window of time to help her was July 4, and that was that. But we were well prepared for their psychological warfare, and when they cut loose with it, we made sure it backfired.

RD: “I very much like David’s [another helpful commenter, David Lee] idea of a list the salesman is not allowed to see. They will find that most unnerving. I agree it’s also a very good idea to withhold job, family, downpayment amount or any other personal info back until you are ready to negotiation in earnest. Simply tell them that information isn’t relevant until “you are ready to be closed.” They hate customers who know what the close is and know how to avoid it. Also tell them upfront that you “will tell them when you’re ready to be closed. Please don’t try before that time as I find it offensive and more likely to go to your competitor if you do.” The more you take control of the entire situation the better. Their entire sales system is predicated on isolating the customer, controlling the conversation and narrative, creating a conversation full of the “tie down” (yes it does work on most people), and in hyping the emotional interest you show. Be dryly analytical about your interest in the vehicles. They play on emotion. They prefer the customer who is impressed by horsepower, options, fancy colors and street presence. If you display nothing but a dry analysis which allows no room for emotional manipulation you’ll be better off.”

I steeled myself. I think the points on my ears actually become more pronounced.

RD: “One more thing … the salesman is trained to exhibit positive body language especially when using “tie down” statements. They will nod their heads affirmatively vigorously, touch the vehicle fondly, pat you on the back or any other thing they can think of to reaffirm their desire for you to respond positively. They are also taught to watch for your compliance. So be VERY conscious of this and any time they are nodding yes, nod no. Respond to every question designed to get an affirmative answer (even if you answer affirmatively) with a negative head shake or other action like turning your back on the vehicle or salesman, scrunched face or a fart for that matter. This also confuses the salesman because they aren’t getting their desired reaction.”

We did not really get into this part as much, since we made looking at vehicles the last step, and did so only at the dealership where we had already negotiated what I think was a reasonable price. However, it does apply to most people.

RD: “If you are mindful in person, and force yourself to be cold it’s a great advantage. Go in person only when you are already in a bad mood and have negativity on your mind. Do anything that will put you in that frame of mind before meeting them. It helps.”

That was easy. After a month of emailing with dealer sales representatives, being put on spam lists, having my questions ignored and getting answers to many questions I never asked, the hard part was not being cold. The hard part was not betraying any emotion at all, especially the dominant ones of a) quivering with revulsion, or b) visceral loathing that burned with a sickly greenish-yellow flame.

RD: “Another good help with the in-person contact is to be in a hurry. Tell the salesman you have fifteen minutes and nothing more. Carry a stopwatch or set your phone for one if necessary. Control the situation by announcing the time left every 5 minutes and every minute after the halfway point. This was a tactic actually taught to me in a seminar by a 5 star salesman who used it to put off car salesman when he made his own purchases. He announced upfront, “I’ve done all the research. I know what I want. I’m in a hurry I only have 15 minutes. After that I’ll go somewhere else if you don’t give me a satisfactory deal.” Salesman use fatigue as a tactic. They drag out the sale and the close to wear people down. Thus the “let me go ask my manager” gag done several times before the manager finally comes in to do the close. By then you’re worn down and already beaten down by tie-downs. Don’t give them any time. Always be in a hurry.”

We did this right, though it only factored in on our trade-in evaluation visits. And oh, how they hated it.

RD: “I keep thinking of things. A technique is taught to turn objections into tie downs. The classic example is a price objection. Salesmen are taught to say “so what you’re telling me is that if I could get you this car for x$ you would buy this car today?” They attempt to put the affirmation in your head. The correct response is ALWAYS to say no and to reiterate your objection saying “I was only seeking an answer to the specific question. It does not infer anything further than a desire for information.” This also flummoxes the salesman because they know then you are onto the technique being used.”

We didn’t even let them get that far. They tried.

RD: “They use the same for options or features … “so what you’re telling me is if I had this car in hot pink with power windows and a V6, you’d buy it today?” The kicker is always “buy it today.” It’s a form of psychological warfare. The best defense for this is the hurry. I’ve only got 15 minutes and I have a LONG list of objections and questions. I’m NOT prepared to buy today, I’m only info gathering. If the salesman decides to blow you off because you’re holding your ground then you have the impetus to later to call the sales manager and complain. In turn the sales manager will force the salesman to call you repeatedly to try to make amends. It can be quite an amusing scenario. Always try to appear nonplussed and even a little pissed off with their performance or offerings when leaving. Also, always ask to use the restroom and complain about it’s cleanliness. This usually results in the salesman cleaning the restroom or being forced to do so when he’s being interrogated by the SM about why his contact with you didn’t result in a sale that day. Using the restroom is a good diversionary tactic if you are feeling overwhelmed by tiedowns and other high pressure gimmicks and it gives you an open opportunity to criticize. Also complain any car you sit in or test drive isn’t very clean and doesn’t have that “new car smell” you love so much. Ask if it’s been on the lot a long time, or has been used as a loaner by the service department and if it has been smoked in. This makes them manic.”

We used the hurry very effectively. And when some of their managers follow up, they will not like what they will hear.

RD: “…their system was researched and designed by psychologists. One must be very diligent and aware. Even those like myself who are aware of all these techniques can fall prey to a skilled operator. The best advice is to be obstreperous, hurried and constantly shake one’s head no. The very act of shaking your head no helps to allay the psychological pressures being brought against you.”

And it’s true. If you don’t realize that the whole tactical goal of what they do is to cause you to purchase something whether you want it or not, you can get maneuvered. You can’t play any game well unless you know its rules.

So. With that, our story.

A month beforehand, I wrote to about eight Toyota dealerships in the Portland, Oregon area requesting quotations on specific new vehicles, plus trade-in estimates. In my mail program, I coded their names with an abbreviation for the dealership and a number representing the order in which they responded, so that I could hold tardiness against the tardy. Thus, there was James RMT0, Julian RTT6, and so on. The result informed me that I wasn’t going to like the process.

Some took days to get back to me, and a couple never did at all. Some had communal e-mails, so you never really knew who you were dealing with. Some sent quotes from addresses one could not reply to. Many were semi-literate. Two put me on spam lists, and one actually failed to take me off their list upon the first request. No matter; I got a price spread, a rough idea of trade-in values, and a feel for which dealerships were pushiest, which were stupidest, and so on. All, of course, wanted me to phone them. Not a chance. The vast majority of the responses I got were garbage, irrelevant to what I’d asked.

The trip to Portland approached, and with the necessary funds on accessible deposit, it was time for us all to get serious. I explained our timeframe and the models that interested us, requesting quotes on three models, a quote on an option, a rough trade-in estimate subject to examination, and their work schedule for the upcoming weekend. Four responses came in, of which three were close to fully responsive: let’s call them Theater, Royal Baby, Mr. Wilson, and Witch Trial. (Samira, the rep at Theater, was perfectly responsive–strong props for a businesslike reply. Mr. Wilson’s rep refused to give even a range for the trade-in based on our very liberal parameters, immediately marking that dealership as a trouble spot. Royal Baby’s rep only remembered late in the game, just as I was leaving for the airport, that he wouldn’t be there on July 4, and sent me a colleague’s name. I didn’t bother to record it or ask for him. Let’s call him Walmart.)

Since we were doing the initial visits on July 4, Witch Trial wasn’t open that day, and it was out of the running unless all the rest failed, in which case we’d have to resort to Plan B–going in without some numbers beforehand. Had we found that necessary, we’d have had occasion to use far more of Russell’s good advice. Even so, it was of great value. In retrospect, where we didn’t do it his way, it was because the method we had chosen insulated us from the need to worry about that.

Before I left, I printed out all the quotation e-mails, and organized all the prices into a spreadsheet. The biggest remaining variable was trade-in value. Normally we’d sell the car ourselves, but I didn’t want my wife having to mess with that. Also, frankly, there were a few things about it that could stand to be serviced, and I felt more comfortable putting it into the used auto sausage machine than dealing with an individual coming back to complain that the gas mileage was lower than usual (normal on older vehicles of this model), or that a couple of the indicator lights wouldn’t shut off.

Thus, my logic: go to the three available dealerships and simply obtain a firm trade-in value. Nothing else. And see how they reacted to ‘nothing else’ as a concept.

First, off to Theater, where we met with Samira. She did precisely as we asked: obtained a firm trade-in value, and otherwise did not hassle us. Bear in mind that we already had her pricing, and in order to know what her cars would cost us, we needed only a firm trade-in. We advised her that we were in a hurry, and within twenty minutes we had what we’d come for. Overall, her pricing was second best not considering the trade-in.

We haled south to Mr. Wilson, which was an astonishing experience. Since the individual we’d spoken with was not present, we figured we were starting fresh (albeit with some reality check quotes to consider). Mr. Wilson was a shark tank, with plastic smiles converging on us before we got inside the front door. We asked to obtain a firm trade-in value for our vehicle, and were routed to the ‘sales manager.’ He began to deliver an oration on the dealership’s virtues and methods. I interrupted him, explaining that we didn’t need to hear any of that right now. Amazingly, he attempted to insist: “No, you do need to hear this.” I stood my ground. “No. We are not here for that. We are not going to buy on this visit. If you would like to be considered, we have fifteen minutes for you to evaluate our trade-in.” A frustrated, resentful employee finally undertook this task. While he did that, in a move that creeped us both out, the dealership looked us up in some database, presumably from our previous purchase, asking about us living at an address that was now obsolete.

While we sat in the lounge chairs, we watched another customer being strung along by another salesman as he waited, and he was blissfully vocal: “Goddamnit, I’ve been here three hours. If you guys don’t get it together, I’m leaving!” We enjoyed commiserating with him about the general suckage of car dealerships. I’d just about decided that Mr. Wilson would be at the bottom of our totem pole anyway, because their prices had been least competitive to begin with. The trade-in was reasonable, but not enough to overcome the poor pricing and ick factor overall.

As I was walking around the outside trying to find Deb, yet another salesman accosted me–let’s call him Potato. He’d seen the Idaho tags and wanted to talk, so we talked about Idaho and other meaningless things while I tried to spot my wife. He then switched to asking questions about our purchase. I explained that we were there for a trade-in value only. He persisted, asking rapid-fire questions about what we wanted to buy, and demanded to know why we did not buy today. I politely changed the subject. “You haven’t answered my question!” Potato said, polymer grin masking frustration. I said something else irrelevant. “You’re not even going to answer my question?” he demanded. Yes, demanded–and incredulously. I spotted Deb, said we needed to get going, and walked away. My last memory of Potato was his voice complaining: “I’ve never been treated this way before!”

So, I guess, in his universe, I was required to submit to any and all forms of inquiry, and if I declined politely, I was just a jerk. Nice job, Mr. Wilson.

Next it was off to Royal Baby, where Walmart had offered the best prices and most promising trade-in range. However, Walmart wasn’t working, so I figured I was on my own. I didn’t think that mattered much; surely they would price competitively, and if it was the best deal, we’d seriously consider it. That began with getting a firm trade-in value, and they didn’t give us too much grief about that. Their offer was very respectable, and we retired to Taco Time to eat lunch and consult. Over lunch, we decided to go back to Royal Baby and take the next step. Little did we know how much we were about to learn about the retail auto sales business, and that if we’d thought Mr. Wilson was a bag of foreskins, we hadn’t seen anything yet.

We sat down with a young salesman whom let’s call Julio, and began to talk about what we wanted–we had pretty well chosen one of the three original possibilities. Immediately another salesman let’s call Insurance Beard, supposedly a sales manager, sat down with him. The desk was by the front window, so I promptly turned my chair to put my back against that window. I looked askance at him: “Do you also have a role in this transaction?” Insurance Beard said something vague, which I interpreted to mean: ‘This is Julio’s first day and he doesn’t know beer from urine.’ We explained what we wanted and asked for a quotation. Julio and Insurance Beard left and came back with the list price minus the trade-in–which was much lower than the earlier value given, $1000 lower, in fact.

I kid you not.

I explained that I was very, very surprised, and that I’d expected a competitive quote. I gather that this caused them to think of Walmart, whom I hadn’t mentioned (why should I?). That set off some sort of alarm in Insurance Beard’s mind. He went in the back and dug through some emails, then came out with a look of patient disapproval on his face. “Did you get some quotations from Walmart?” Yes, I had, I said, but I figured he wasn’t here, so I had to start over. Insurance Beard went back, then came out with a hardcase let’s call Elijah. Elijah remonstrated with us for not telling them about Walmart in the first place. He talked over me, and I could tell he was mad as hell. Elijah began to lecture me about how Internet sales and floor sales were totally separate things, that good floor guys sold maybe twelve cars a month, but good Internet guys sold forty.

(As an aside: think about the implications of that. That means that they get a ton of online inquiries, and that those people get much better prices. Salespeople are evaluated on the profit they earn for the firm. That tells you that if you walk into the lot cold, you are getting the very worst pricing. The only way to buy new cars for a decent price is to contact them online, where you can keep a boundary between yourself and the ick.)

Next, Elijah accused me of trying to pit the departments against each other. When I tried to explain that I had no idea how his sales department worked, and didn’t care, he kept talking over me. He finished by presenting Wal-Mart’s original offer plus a couple hundred in movement on the trade–a very good offer, and one we would have accepted if presented by a non-jerk. “This offer is good right now only. If you want to do business, fine. If not, it’s been nice meeting you,” he said, in a tone that contradicted his words.

I wasn’t going to be bullied; I said we’d have to reconsider. I reached to take the paper with the offer. “You don’t get to keep that. That’s my property!” he snarled. At that point, Deb had had enough. My beautiful bride stood up and walked out, instructing Elijah to fuck himself. Brimming with marital pride, I followed her, commenting to Julio (who seemed very disappointed) that I’d never dealt with such an asshole before in my life, and that I was sorry he had to work for someone like that. We’d been told by locals that Royal Baby was a dump, and now we know just how truly awful it was. As we drove away, we marveled at the sort of stupidity that had a sale and destroyed it with bad attitude.

We also now had to think on our next move. While we’d made people uncomfortable at two dealerships, about which I felt zero guilt, we didn’t yet have forward movement on a purchase. I’m a believer that better people should get the business. I’m also a believer that once one identifies the better people, when it comes down to the firm process of making a deal, being forthright can get you places. Thus, I got on the phone to Samira. I explained that we’d just come out of two other dealerships and that we wanted to scrub ourselves off with brillo. I told her we’d like to stop by, if she’d still be there, even though she was a bit higher than the lowest competition. How much? asked she. I do poorly talking or calculating on cell phones while riding in the passenger seat, so I guessed at a gap of $1800 including trade-in, making very clear that it was just a guess. I suggested that if she could meet us in the middle, that would work. She called me back in a few minutes and told me she could come down $500, so that we wouldn’t be surprised when we got there. We still decided to proceed.

When we came in, I did the math in front of Samira. I labeled one column Samira and one Jerk, then put down honest figures as they stood at the moment. That got a laugh out of her. My estimate had been wide of the mark: they were $1261 apart, not $1800. “Samira, half the difference is $630, discounting the buck. Meet me there, and we’ll have a deal.” She checked, and did, as I was pretty sure she would. It was too late to go to the bank for a cashier’s check, so we picked out the specific vehicle and arranged to handle the transaction the next day.

Could we have beaten her up a little more on price? Perhaps, but I gave consideration to Samira’s overall presentation. She was the only one who had done only what we requested and neither pushed for more nor asked unwanted questions. She had done the best job by far. In fact, she was the only one who had done an acceptable job.

How’d we do on pricing? Per KBB, the fair market price is $25,916 out the door. We paid, let’s see: about $23,500. Not bad. However, if we’d been able to time it better, we could have improved that. It surely would have improved in another month. Unfortunately, greater considerations impacted us. I think we didn’t do too badly.

We learned a lot, though, especially about the difference between pre-shopping online and just bombulating into the front door. Let’s distill what we learned:

  1. If you just walk in the front door, you are a sheep awaiting shearing.
  2. Advance research and price comparison are crucial.
  3. Expect a good percentage of the dealerships you contact online to ignore everything you asked them, and to ‘follow up’ with you or put you on spam lists.
  4. They really do hate when you keep control of the sale, which is primarily accomplished by refusing to let them put you into their patented sales process.
  5. If they don’t get their way, they get borderline loutish. They may believe they are entitled to demand answers of you.
  6. They expect to hold all the information cards, and for you to hold and play none. When you play one, that’s cheating. When they play one, that’s smart business.
  7. You can’t trust Yelp or other online site reviews of any business. There are ‘reputation management’ companies out there busily creating spurious reviews loaded with bologna. In fact, my experience is you should go the opposite direction. Any business with massive amounts of loving reviews, especially with the same ‘customer service manager’ graciously returning all the oral sex in the comments, has quite probably bought them to swamp glaring deficiencies or simply render negative reviews harder to find.
  8. If you get a variety of offers online, you can use the best one to beat up (that’s sales jargon for negotiating aggressively) the floor salespeople anywhere but the dealership that gave you the online quote. Just don’t go to that same dealership’s floor people, that’s all.
  9. Trade-ins can vary widely–our lowest and highest offers were $2900 and $4500. You should learn in advance what is the acceptable range.
  10. Trade-ins are a shell game, and a silly one. Who cares whether they knock $1000 off the price, or give you $1000 more for the trade? It’s all the same unless sales tax is involved (which in Oregon it is not).
  11. Even if you don’t plan to trade your car in, you can still have them evaluate it, and see how they respond to your insistence that they do no more than that, and ask you no further questions.

It’s still as slimy a business as it has ever been. It has not gotten better at all. The more the dealership brags about how ‘different’ it is than the others, the more you should guard your wallet. You are still dealing with a fundamentally deceptive, dishonest business, and as such, you do not owe it honesty or candor unless someone earns these of you. And after studying Russell’s advice–which fortified us greatly, and in gratitude for which we can’t wait to buy him a decent dinner if life ever brings him our direction–I suggest that when shopping for cars, you consider the words of Anton LaVey (the carny who became a Satanist to shock people, then decided he liked it). I think he cribbed it from an Eastern proverb:

Lie to a liar for lies are his coin;

Steal from a thief, ’tis easy you’ll find;

Trick a trickster and win the first time —

But beware of the man who has no axe to grind.

Never as true as when dealing with auto dealerships.

Painful lessons, which cost me a grotesque sum to learn, about selling a home

It’s bad enough to undertake a major project, and then learn–too late to remedy matters–that you did it all wrong. If you didn’t take away any lessons from the experience, it was all for nothing. But if you learned anything, why not share?

Okay. Time for the after-action report.

My wife and I recently sold a home in Kennewick, Washington. We got far less for it than we had expected. It was a painful, miserable experience I wouldn’t recommend to anyone I liked. We did a lot of things wrong, assumed things that weren’t correct, avoided remedies we could have obtained. This was a hot mess, costly and painful. Was it all our fault? No–but blaming others for one’s own bad decisions is a losing game. I include bad trust decisions in that.

Mistake #1: selling a vacant home.

Why it’s a mistake: you will still have to pay the utilities and all the other maintenance costs. Buyers will like it less, so it will be harder to sell, and you will get less money for it when you do. Once they figure out that they won’t get caught, kids will vandalize it. The police won’t protect it, as protection is a non-revenue activity, and they are too busy raising money through traffic tickets. It will cost double to insure it, the insurance will be less comprehensive, and if you think you can get away with just not telling the insurance company it’s vacant, you’d better rethink that misguided notion. You must pay to have it mowed, watered, weeded. It will be an open cash hemorrhage seeping arterial money all year round (guess how we gained perspective on that).

Better: either stay in it until it goes into contract, hire a home caretaker service, or even let your nephew live there rent-free. Work out whatever you must in order to make sure it isn’t vacant, so that someone at least mows the lawn, notices sprinkler damage, spots pipe leaks, flushes the toilets, and runs the water. That way, if a contractor turns off your heat in winter, and doesn’t turn it back on again, someone will notice, and that someone probably will not be a buyer’s real estate agent.

Mistake #2: selling a home from out of town.

Why it’s a mistake: because you are out of sight to a listing realtor, you are out of mind, and unless it’s a huge property with a massive commission, you may be irrelevant to his world. The closing process will be more cumbersome due to the distance. You will have to pay someone else to perform minor repairs that would be within your capacity if you were present. And if you decide to spruce something up to improve the appeal, you will not be there to supervise the contractors’ work. Since you are out of mind to your realtor, he will not check on their work. That’s their cue to do a shabby job, leave a mess, overcharge you, and when you find out, try to blame someone else. They won’t even understand how you could object to that. It’s just what is done.

Oh, and if you have to Fed Ex the closing documents, do check the tracking number on the tag vs. the register slip that you get at a Fed Ex Office with a tracking number on it. Otherwise, for example, you may see to your horror the next day that your closing documents evidently went to Fort Worth, Texas rather than Kennewick, Washington. You will be relieved when the title company informs you that they actually got the right documents, but I don’t recommend those fifteen minutes of tachycardia to anyone. This would not have happened if we had not tried to sell a home from out of town.

Better: don’t leave town until you’ve got the proceeds. That way, none of the above is a problem.

Obviously, the combination of selling a vacant home from out of town is worse than the sum of those two miserable parts. Brilliant, weren’t we?

Mistake #3: hoping to sell it without having to repaint the crazy cat lady wall colors and replace the scuzzy-looking carpet.

Why it’s a mistake: because people are stupid. People take one look at the weird colors, or grungy carpet, and their impression of the property is formed. They don’t say: $3000 and that’s fixed. I’ll offer that much less. I figured this out watching those idiotic house hunter shows, in which someone takes one step inside, doesn’t like the carpet or the paint job, and forms a negative impression. The buyer doesn’t care that you already priced in that $3000–she will price it in again.

Better: spruce it up yourself before you list it. If you can do it yourself, great; you won’t have to deal with contractors. But if you can’t do it yourself, you can at least keep an eye on the contractors, and they will grudgingly do it right because otherwise, you can prove that they did not.

Mistake #4: believing assurances that a realtor will keep an eye on your property, even if he claims to have a relative who does that.

Why it’s a mistake: because the realtor won’t. That’s just something they say to make you feel better, because you can’t verify it. And if you actually fall for it, the realtor now knows that you are a moron: someone too dumb to know the difference between truth and fiction, good service and bad. An easy mark, an unquestioning client, a supreme fool. There is now no need for the realtor to pay your listing any attention whatsoever; if it sells itself, wonderful, if not, it’ll sit there and fall apart. Not his problem.

Better: make your own arrangements to see that the property remains in good condition. Keep living there, or get someone else to do so. Rely on your agent for nothing related to the matter.

Mistake #5: listing it too high at start. While I believe that a lot of people do this, hoping someone will fall in love with it, people’s love levels are limited by a sense of good value.

Why it’s a mistake: because your best chance to sell it is probably when it just hits the market, and everyone is interested in showing it (and it’s not stale on the market). If it’s too spendy at that time, you miss that timeframe and can never get it back.

Better: spruce it up, list it reasonably at the outset, and hope for the sale to come from that early attention.

Mistake #6: choosing a listing agent because he was the protégé of one you knew and respected.

Why it’s a mistake: because it’s quite possible for a terrible agent to make a pretty fair living off a retired agent’s old customer base. You can’t assume that the standards were passed down. And just because someone is a good buyer’s agent does not mean he will be a good listing agent.

Better: interview at least three agents. Do so at the property. If possible, choose your candidates by referrals, but have them over. Ask them what they would list it for. Ask them how they would market it. Ask them point blank if there is anything about the property that would make it a low priority for them to sell, and do so in such a way as to invite candor without recrimination. You don’t want an agent who, deep down, doesn’t even want the listing.

Mistake #7: adhering to a listing agreement with a failed agent.

Why it’s a mistake: because you can often act to rescind a listing agreement prior to its expiration. Never continue to deal with an agent who is not bothering, or whom you have come to despise, or whom you suspect has deceived you. In what universe should a lousy agent collect a big commission after an extended period of frustration, during which you hated him a little more every day of your life?

Better: read the agreement carefully, call his managing broker, and ask to rescind the agreement. The typical requirement is that if you re-list it, you list it with another agent within the same regional association. The main purpose of listing agreements is to make sure that you don’t cut the agent out–that if a sale results from his marketing, that he is not deprived of his fair compensation. Expect a stipulation that you either remove the property from the market for an unacceptable length of time, or re-list it so that someone else gets paid. I’m not here to help anyone screw an agent who did a good job, but it is stupid, stupid, stupid to pay an agent who did a lousy job. And turn a deaf ear to the managing broker’s entreaties to choose a different agent from that firm; that’s a terrible idea. The spurned agent will fill the new one’s ears with venom about you. For this deal, at least, you and that firm are done.

Mistake #8: renewing a listing agreement with a failed agent while/because the home is in contract.

Why it’s a mistake: wait, if he has it sold, is it really a failure? Perhaps, if you aren’t happy with the deal and were desperate, and didn’t just rescind the agreement. But the deal may fall through, especially because a failed agent may not properly qualify a buyer or represent your interests in proper fashion. Note that this doesn’t mean you should attempt to evade paying the commission due; if it resulted from a failed agent’s marketing, and you had a valid agreement, that’s his sale. You’d best make your peace with it, because to do otherwise would likely be actionable. It would also make you a failed seller.

Better: want to make sure an agent strives to complete the deal? If the agreement is expiring while the home is in contract, and you hate the agent, don’t renew the agreement. Then he knows that he either gets this one done or loses it. You don’t owe him an explanation. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. You don’t have to renew it. If the deal completes, you have to pay him. If it does not, you’re looking for a better agent.

Mistake #9: choosing to list with a ‘top producer.’

Why it’s a mistake: because a top producer is by no means necessarily the most competent agent. He could just be milking someone else’s old book of business. He will have less time to devote to your property. He doesn’t have to care. We were warned against this by competent guidance, and failed to heed the guidance, which is stupid in capital letters. Oh, and if you think that talking to the managing broker will solve anything, think again. Top producers bring in the most money. Your satisfaction is less important than the firm’s revenue stream. Sorry. He brings in piles of money, and the price is a few PR casualties. He was making an omelet, and you were just one of the broken eggs. If you imagine that the managing broker would discipline a top producer just because you told a tale of outrage, you are Linus, the manager is Lucy, and your innocence is the football.

Should it be this way? No, but ‘should’ is useless. Many impotent wails in history have included the word ‘should.’ What ‘should be’ has no bearing. What a noun is or is not, can or cannot, will or will not, does or does not, is reality. In reality, in the world of sales, high producers are like star athletes at SEC schools: the rules and law are different for them. Don’t be surprised if the MB tries to take over the conversation and tell you why you are wrong, why the agent is fantastic, and why you’re just a whiny-butt. My advice: interrupt him the minute that starts. Tell him that you were treated abominably, and that if he wants to hear how, you’re willing to tell him, but if he’s just here to invalidate your experience, the conversation can end.

Better: ask your candidates how much business they do. Go to the finalist’s office. If the I Love Me wall includes a dozen Top Producer awards, forget it. You want someone who does a fair amount of business, but not so much that yours won’t matter. And you want someone who has something to fear from a managing broker.

Mistake #10: dropping the price because your agent is useless and you’re desperate.

Why it’s a mistake: because if your agent sucks, you should be rescinding the listing agreement instead, or not renewing it. The reason to drop the price is because you have decided that your price is above market and that no one will pay you that much for it, not in desperation because you think it’s your only way to influence the situation. I’d rather not say precisely why, but if you do that, you will walk away with lasting resentment and a feeling of having been cheated, when deep down you will realize that it was your own inexperience that caused you to cheat yourself.

Better: obviously, sack your agent and find one who isn’t useless. Have no soul nor remorse.

Mistake #11: assuming that once you are in contract, everyone will do what they’re supposed to.

Why it’s a mistake: because people are, pardon me, fuckups. Even when it’s counter to their interests. Buyers dawdle with loan documentation. Lenders piddle about assembling it, then demand more on short notice. Agents dawdle informing you of everything. Buyers decide they want to modify the contract even after everyone has signed, and expect you to swallow the modifications without demur. Title companies tell you one thing, then do another. Inspectors miss glaring things, yet come up with stupid things, and buyers want them dealt with. Drywall contractors cut into water pipes by mistake. Yard maintenance people and nephews break sprinkler heads. Neighborhood kids break windows. No one just does it right. People are fuckups.

Better: expect a steady stream of unforced errors, egregious blunders, sloppy omissions, lazy functionaries, arrogant demands, and deceptive statements. Odds are good that if you perform precisely as the contract requires and good business practice would suggest, you’ll be all alone on your little island of virtue, waving across the water to fleets of ships of fools. Be pleasantly surprised by the one or two people in the transaction who seem to take their duties seriously.

Mistake #12: reading this and deciding that there aren’t any good people in real estate and mortgages. Not one we made, but one to warn you about.

Why it would be a mistake: because, how do you think I learned all this, and figured out what we ought to have done? From one of the good ones, albeit not one in a position to participate in this transaction due to geography, who gave generously of time and wisdom without any expectation of compensation, and volunteered to do more if asked.

Better: take this away from this post. It’s not that there are not good ones. I have proof that there are. It is that you must learn to identify the good and the bad, and be ready to jettison the bad and work with the good.

Because everything useful you have learned here was influenced by the good. And the good deserve to be paid. This costs too much to pay the bad.

Hospitality tricks and thoughts

I’m happy to say that a lot of people who visited us have said embarrassingly nice things about Deb and I as host and hostess. That’s quite an honor; not sure what to say. A greater one is that people keep coming back from Europe, the Caribbean, Russia and nearer points in order to pay us a visit. What the hell do you say to a Swede who has already visited you twice, and now can’t wait to bring his new wife back your direction, other than välkommen? For someone to visit you from afar once is a compliment, but also a satisfaction of curiosity and an extension of trust. If they come back, well…how do you thank them for such a profound compliment to your house? Nothing is adequate.

In that situation, I just try not to screw up.

But I guess I’ve picked up a few bits here and there, things that seem to play in, and if you’d like to make your guests happy (who would not?), maybe they’re worth sharing.

Ask about animals and allergies. I myself am fairly dog-phobic, for example. While I can endure dogs when I go to visit, and I must (it is the dogs’ home, not mine), I have special respect for those who make an effort not to allow Rover to charge me, investigate me, or put three coats of saliva (plus primer underneath) on me. That is a profound kindness and one I never forget, so I always ask people if they like dogs or not, and if they do not, they will not be subjected to them. Allergies likewise; I have a cousin who is literally deathly allergic to peanuts in any form. If he visits, we will go Full Peanut Nazi. Some people are terribly sensitive to gluten. Some are vegan. Will we prepare all-vegan meals for everyone so that the vegan can be happy? No, because that’s not fair to the rest of us. But we would no sooner serve her something she despised than we would serve barbecued pork to observant Jewish or Muslim guests.

Overload the bathrooms, especially the guest bathroom, with extra toilet paper. Seriously. Stuff the whole cabinet with it. Everyone’s afraid of ending up camping on the can a lot, no one wants to have to ask for more of the stuff. Just cram every spare storage space with it. It’s one thing to forget to put shampoo in the guest bathroom; it’s another to run out of TP.

Give them the freedom of your kitchen, pantry and booze cabinet. Guests are often uncertain what they may eat or drink. I tell people: “There are no waiters here. If it’s food or drink, and you are hungry or thirsty, do not ask permission. Just go get it. If we are running out, let me know and we’ll get some more. Be at ease. Everything we have to eat or drink is meant to be shared.” What, they might drink your single-malt? Don’t worry about it. They probably won’t, but if they did, then they took you at your word, which is honorable. I find that people behave very kindly and with restraint when treated this way. I also find that a lot of guests decide they themselves would like to cook something, and that many actually bring things to share. Let them! Everyone wins. Guests feel better when they feel like participants, invited not simply to sleep and eat in your house, but to be members of it. You watch. You don’t have to wait on anyone. When they go to the refrigerator for another beer, they’ll ask if anyone else wants one, you included.

Try out your guest bedroom and bathroom. Yeah, spend a night there yourself per season. Use them. You’ll find out very quickly what’s missing, and what the room needs in what seasons. It’s a sauna in summer? Fans, fans, fans. It’s a Frigidaire in Janury? Quilts, quilts, quilts.

Don’t wait for people to ask you about laundry. Offer it. People don’t really want you to handle their laundry, so make up some crap. Explain that you are doing laundry today, and it would be no trouble to fit them into the process. Everyone wants bags full of clean clothes. Have them bring it and stuff it in, fill up the extra space with towels if need be, and run it. Have them come down and switch it to the dryer when it’s time–they do the switching, you handle the controls. When it’s done, just tell them. They can get out their own laundry; they don’t need help.

Don’t hesitate to ask them to help with minor stuff. Every guest worth a damn would like to contribute some form of participatory help with anything that’s needed. No, you aren’t going to ask them to dig trenches or log a forest, but if there’s a piece of furniture that you suddenly have all the hands on deck to move, ask them.

Comfort over fancy and ostentatious, every time. Don’t buy a flashy guest bed; go ahead and use the old one, but put memory foam or something on it. Load it up with excessive pillows (any more than four per person is a little extreme). Fancy coverings? Faaaaaa. Use one of the quilts Grandma made, the ones that are a little worn and real and crafted. Put some bath salts in the guest bathroom and pointedly suggest that if they want to take a salted bath, they should do so. Expensive snacks and drinks? Nah, just a good selection: dairy, fruit, soda, libations. None of it has to be spendy. It is better that it be plentiful, so that they feel un-self-conscious about having all they want.

Welcome them into your regular life. Too many hosts work too hard at making every moment special. I have had guests who had just come from busy people-filled weekends and were eager to chill, relax, recharge. They didn’t have any great yearning to do anything. No problem! Adults don’t want to be baby-sat and squired around. As long as they know what the options are for activities, that’s good enough. One of the best visits I had back home to the ranch in Kansas occurred in the middle of the grape harvest. Deb was surprised to find us all getting ready to pick grapes. I explained that this was Kansas agriculture, as played with live ammunition: when it’s time to get the crop in, the crop will not wait. And we had a blast. We were part of the ranch’s regular life, and when we had absolutely amazing beef brisket that night, we felt great about gorging on our share. Whatever’s going on, let your friends play their roles in it. There is a subtle dynamic in which people enjoy good things more if they feel they have earned them. No need to manufacture it, but if it happens naturally, don’t fight it.

I don’t give a shit if your home is tiny or gigantic, nor should you. Whether you live in an Airstream or a mansion doesn’t matter. The best you can do is the best you can do, and if you do it, that shows your pride in your home. I have stayed in mansions and I’ve stayed in trailers. I’d rather stay in a relaxed trailer than in a mansion where I felt like I had to maintain a steel rod up my posterior. I think most would say the same. There is no home that cannot be made kind and welcoming and hospitable.

The embarrassed guest whose embarrassment is treated with tact and silence will never forget you for it. People get sick during travel; stuff happens. Find a way to make them as comfortable as possible, however they are feeling. Want to make a friend for life? Clean up their puke, without complaint, and never mention it again.

Ask no one into your home, and allow no one into your home, whom you are not prepared to trust. You cannot do trust halfway in your home. Either you believe your guests would not pick up and pocket a loose penny, much less a $100 bill, or they don’t belong. Trust your guests, or do not let them in. Don’t do it halfway. I have in-laws who can never, never, ever return to my home again. No, they did not steal. They did something infinitely more loutish. Which leads to…

The unpardonable sin is to impair the hospitality of your home for others. The drunk who becomes scary and violent, the taunter who cruelly hurts others, anyone who ruins all that is good and welcoming about your home–fuck them. Yes, I mean kick them out. Don’t ever let them back in. Most often they are family, long accustomed to being pardoned for bad behavior toward better men and women than themselves, taking the approach: “I am a complete asshole. I am permitted to be a complete asshole, and no one may object. If they object, I would Be Angry. I expect people to put my feelings above those of others, even though I deserve the least consideration, and I in fact deserve to be kicked in the testicles. This is how I go through life: being a Class B Dick, based upon the implied threat of escalation to Class A Dick.”

Nope. Think of everyone else, think of the honor of your home, and throw them out. Advise them never to return. Never, never, never sacrifice the good guys to make the bad guys happy. This is your home. Defend it. Take out the trash.

And treat the good guys and gals like they belong. If I can summarize it in one sentence, I guess that’s it.

Children in the museum

Today Deb and I decided to go Boise museuming. This is easy when there are three museums in one cluster, just across from the main library (which is itself quite nice). We were disappointed to find the Idaho Black History Museum closed on weekdays, but the Boise Art Museum was definitely open. I think both of us had hoped for more paintings and less sculpture, but it is a nice, genteel, sedate place with many exhibits and sights to take in.

I’m congenitally weak in the area of visual art, and I know it. Most of the time, I have not the faintest notion of what I’m supposed to be grasping from what I see. Doesn’t matter. To me what’s important is that we have an art museum to visit, because I believe the arts provide valuable social comment and food for thought. Whether or not I ‘get it’ means nothing; I just like that we have one, evidently thriving, and what it says about our community.

Then we went to the Idaho Historical Museum, which only had about twenty kids but they sounded like fifty. They ran around, squealed, played with the playable exhibits, and generally acted like the first-graders I believe they were.

My reaction? Hurrah.

Yes, hurrah. Yes, me who normally has scant patience for children (or childish adults).


Here is the logic: I love museums. I have always loved museums. Like many history majors, I also think long-term. The desired end result is that the children associate museums with fun and happiness, because that will tend to grow into lifelong affection and support for museums. A museum already teaches them some things even at young, attention-span-impaired ages, and later it will teach them more.

When I look at the girl intrepidly trying to balance the load of her Lewis & Clark canoe, I don’t see a child. I see an archaeologist in her forties who will dream of locating and excavating Tell Akkad, and who will be well equipped to do so because she happens to read Akkadian cuneiform. And it probably all began in a museum, where she went home happy because she liked it, and kept returning as she grew to adulthood, deepening her appreciation each time, causing her to continue asking if the family could stop at museums in its travels.

When I look at the boy playing cowboy on the McClellan saddle, I don’t see a child. I see a distinguished professor of American Literature teaching undergrads to appreciate Faulkner and Twain, wearing his eccentric bow tie and engaging his class with hilarious dry wit. It began in museums, where he came to love knowledge and to value the past, and always went home feeling that it had been great fun, and can we go to more museums?

I look at the shy girl gazing upon the mining display, and I don’t see a child. I see a rangy thirtysomething geologist in jeans, developing a better way than fracking to get access to mineral resources. It all started in a museum, where she looked upon the mineral samples and wanted to know what was in them, in between playing with the stuff that’s put there for kids to play with. And went home happy, loving all museums and asking Daddy when they could go again, and could they also try some gold panning? What’s in that rock, Daddy?

All hinges upon the result obtained in youth: the museum was fun, the museum was happy, the museum was interesting. It could all be blighted away by one grouchy stare or admonition from an adult who ought to be acting more like the adult. Museums’ survival depends upon raising children to love museums, and anyone incapable of seeing that–or who thinks his or her tranquility is more important than that fundamental purpose of a museum–has missed the entire point of the exercise. Museums are not restaurants, where people spend $30-90 and have a right to expect that people either parent their children or not bring them, unless they’re prepared to pay for the meals of everyone whose experiences their kids disrupted. Museums are places where children’s dreams begin. If you love history and revere its study, a covey of children enjoying the museum is sweet music.

Hurrah for children in museums. Send some more. I hope that every time I visit one, I hear children’s joy.

Making the chile

While I’ve never been much of a cook, I’ve long believed that even non-cooks need to know how to make a few things well. The ideal specialties are low-effort, high-flavor, high leftover, and inoculated against fails due to temperature issues or cooking time.

Deb always made good chile, but her recipe really took off when I suggested we put chorizo in it. She is more the type to substitute than I, and when she couldn’t find chorizo one time, she threw in sausage and it wasn’t the same. I prefer fascist measuring, precise ingredients and an exact recipe that will produce the same thing every time. Once it’s good, one doesn’t need to mess with it. I am going into unusual levels of detail here to help non-cooks best handle the annoying little details. Experienced cooks can rewrite this without the complete sentences and extra details that they already know to do.

Hardware you need:

  • A big wide pot (16″ wide x 5″ deep will work) with lid
  • A smaller wimp pot with lid (size depends on how many wimps you are feeding)
  • The usual utensils: skillet, knives, cutting board
  • Plastic bag to stick garbage in as you get it (don’t slob up the kitchen)


  • 1# hamburger (get the low fat kind)
  • 1# chorizo (beef is best)
  • 2 qts spicy tomato vegetable juice
  • 4 oz. chile seasoning (watch the packets, some brands are less than an ounce per packet)
  • 4 16 oz. cans chile beans
  • 1 onion (your choice which kind and size)
  • Cayenne
  • Fritos
  • Grated cheddar (shredded is better)
  • Sour cream (optional)


  • Wash your damn hands. Fascism in kitchen cleanliness is a virtue.
  • Don’t heckle the wimps, and don’t tell them the wimp pot is called the wimp pot. Their deficiency of taste is its own penalty, and in the end, you want everyone to have an excellent meal that they enjoy. If they are around, hide this recipe paper so they don’t see it.
  • Put on a big apron. As cook it is your right and privilege to wear this emblem of status. Plus, it’ll keep chile from splucking onto your shirt when you do a sloppy job of mixing it around.
  • Dice the onion in this way: put on goggles. Cut off the ends, without going overboard. Set on the flattest end, and split it in half right down the vertical center. Peel both halves. Turn one half on its side and start cutting it downward from the wide middle to the end, without cutting all the way through. Rotate 90° and cut downward again from one side, and this time go all the way through. Repeat for the other half. Fish out any skin pieces, especially at what were the ends. Dump in pot.
  • Dump the chile seasoning and beans in the pot. Yes, including the bean juice. Everything but the empty cans and packet paper.
  • Fry the hamburger and chorizo in skillet on wide burner on 5 until all the hamburger is brown. Make sure it gets well mixed up. But happily, even if there’s a spot you missed, relax. The later process will cook all those. Turn the wide burner down to 2. Dump meat in pot.
  • Put pot on wide burner on 2. Pour in spicy veg juice. Should just about fill the pot to 1″ from top. Mix it up real well, cover. Keep shoveling the chile around every so often with a spatula because on 2, some of it will stick to the bottom now and then.
  • After an hour on 2, turn the wide burner to simmer (1). Turn on a small burner, also set on simmer.
  • Ladle enough chile into the wimp pot (hold it over the main pot to avoid mess) to feed the wimps generously. Put the wimp pot on the smaller burner.
  • If you like it medium hot, put 1 tsp cayenne in the main pot. If you like it a lot hotter, knock yourself out. Cover both and let simmer for 3-4 hours, mixing them around now and then.
  • Everyone gets to set theirs up how they like it, but to make it really delicious, top the bowl with grated cheese and then a bunch of fritos. Sour cream is also good to add, either for taste or those terminally averse to even mild spiciness. The end result is sort of like liquid tamale.
  • Serves two hardworking, hungry, big, strong Canadians plus one hungry adult male, and still produces a bunch of leftovers. Leftovers make excellent topping on nachos.