IQ AND ME


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When I was twelve, I took an IQ test and scored a 75. The nun who administered it took me aside and sadly informed me that I was borderline retarded and should not attempt going to a college preparatory high school. She said I would be better off pursuing vocational training, like small engine or shoe repair.

Turned out she was right. A few years ago I took the MENSA test and passed, so I guess I got smarter in the interim. She was right about the vocational training suggestion, though. In the long run, I would have done better learning how to do something practical, and might have prospered if there had been an established need for my services.

Instead I tried to enter the world of college teaching and never secured a full-time position that would lead to tenure. I took social security early and live on a pension that would not permit me to live as anything but a charity case in America. Today, I live in Thailand, where my social security pension is enough to live without having to eat my lunches along with my homeless neighbors in church basements.

The reason I scored so low on the IQ test I took when I was twelve is because I was very angry. I had been repeatedly humiliated and stifled by schooling and it was all I could do not to leap out the window like young Jim Thorpe and run off into the woods. I could read better than any of the other students in my class, but reading facility wasn’t something the nuns measured. We were learning to diagram sentences, a grammar game I could never get the hang of because I saw no point in it.

To this day, I am very sensitive about the notion of IQ. Testing and schooling are not high on my lists of activities. From my time in academia, I never met a college professor I thought was especially intelligent. I met many people who knew how to follow rules, play the game, and kiss ass, but I met very few brilliant people.

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Ah, yes!


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There’s nothing wrong with me that a brain operation couldn’t cure. Well, that and a methamphetamine injection. Actually, I always preferred Dexedrine, but it’s hard to get a hold of nowadays, so I’ll take whatever pharmaceutical stimulant I can get, but I don’t want home-made drugs. A man of my stature and status deserves only the best.

True, there was a time when I would ingest anything offered without questioning its provenance. Pieces of blotter paper with cartoon characters crudely inked, pills in various colors that somebody thought might be something-or-other but nobody was really sure. Down the hatch it went.

Sure, I had some rough times back then. It’s a wonder I survived, much less am not today warehoused in a decrepit mental health facility out on the prairie. I saw the best minds of my generation end up talking to little men who weren’t there. Many a callow youth became transformed into a hollow-eyed skinny person with peculiar muscular tics.

I admit that I have aged, but in most cases I am yet recognizable as the somewhat attractive person I was forty years ago. Less hair, more wrinkles. My once resonant speaking voice is now on the raspy side. I can often be found standing in a doorway looking lost and confused, having forgotten my purpose in moving about. I have learned to cope by feigning the professor’s “ah yes!” moment, and then moving decisively as if I had suddenly recalled my original intention, when in fact, nothing even resembling that has occurred.

Call Me Wheezer


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Call me Wheezer. I’m the asthmatic kid who couldn’t be counted on to do much more than react, slumped in the corner, watching with bemused interest. Or call me Lumpy, Wally’s overweight friend, the one without Wally’s good looks or Eddie Haskell’s sharp wit. I am Jeff’s Porky, and Sergent Joe Friday’s partner who kept changing every few years due to contractual disputes, ill health, or general lack of personality. I am Durward Kirby to Garry Moore. In all possible ways, I am Regis Philbin.

 

 

WINNERS KEEP ON WINNING


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Losers rarely climb out of the hole they find themselves in. Often this is because they haven’t finished digging. The longer we stay stuck, the harder it is to see what’s holding us back. The more we keep winning, the harder it is to understand why we’re enjoying such good luck.

In most cases, there are forces at work which we undervalue. Looks, race, hair color, eye color, straight teeth, pleasant speaking voice, good personality, all matter more than high intelligence or moral character. Look at our politicians for examples.

Definite turn-offs. A hint of desperation. The glimmer of mental illness around the eyes. Bad nerves, jitters, bouncing leg under the table. Forced enthusiasm.

Going to a prestige school matters more than what you learned there. Who you know matters more than anything. You meet people at a prestige school who will go on to be very successful. You can reconnect with them after graduation and let them know you’re “available.” But by all means, don’t act desperate.

When I was a child my father was out of work for a long time, and during that period I happened to watch a televised version of the drama “Death of a Salesman.” The excellent Lee J. Cobb played Willie Loman. It was, as was intended, heartbreaking, but held special resonance for me. The scene where goes to one of his son’s friends and begs for a job almost made me swoon with nausea.

Better to not risk too much too late in life. What seems adventurous and fun-loving in a twenty-year old seems reckless and foolish for a forty-year old. For a sixty-year old, the scope of acceptable behavior narrows dramatically. By seventy, people begin to suspect dementia.

Stupid And Proud Of It


 

 

The first time I was exposed to the idea of “alternative news” was the Police Gazette magazine in our local barbershop. This was in the nineteen-fifties, a time when World War II was not that distant a memory. Every month the headline would concern Hitler found alive in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay. Flying Saucers were also big on their list, and scantily-clad women in high heels attended secret parties in remote locations visited only by the super-rich.

About ten years later, when I was in college I discovered the National Enquirer, and its deranged cousin the Weekly World News. By this time, I had traveled to Mexico and realized that they had long proudly hosted a national press that catered to the functionally illiterate. You could buy comic books for adults, and books of photographed dramatic scenes that were the printed equivalent of soap operas. All these publications reflected a reality that America had largely bypassed and now downplayed, the division of our populace into varying classes based on education and literacy.

During the 1960’s,  children we would watch Three Stooges films played on television, and there was one episode where Moe played Hitler, and they showed a map of the world. They held on this map for minutes, giving the audience time to read all the funny place names. It took me seconds to read them, but back in the 1940’s, the average Three Stooges viewer needed more time. A lot more time.

Today we have Trump Supporters, the Deplorables, a group of proud anti-intellectuals who ape the Fascist leanings of their Orange leader, the modern-day Mussolini. They sneer at higher education and liberal values,  making 1970’s TV’s Archie Bunker look like Noam Chomsky. They laugh at “snowflakes” and those who expect our nation to be kind to the weak and dispense justice to the poor. The only interest one can be proud to claim is enlightened self-interest. Dick Cheney had it and look at him, now he’s a billionaire!

This will not end well. The deliberate embrace of the stupid, the transparently false, the celebration of belief over fact, the whole-hearted crassness that allows us to treat our allies and enemies alike as inconsequential suckers will turn on us. We will pay for our arrogance and stupidity. Or I suppose I should say, “we will pay for their arrogance and stupidity.” Because we already are.

 

 

here’s is a five-minute recording of the author reading this essay

THE SEDUCTION OF EVIL


 

 

All the absurdity and stupidity displayed every day on the news, then amplified and echoed on social media, has the ability to distract us from developments more worthy of our attention. Yes, our government is corrupt, surely everyone is aware of this. We could consider the present state of affairs a crisis, or we could simply acknowledge that there are problems for which we will need to find solutions and move on.  To allow ourselves to be absorbed by horror and anxiety serves no one. Maybe this permanent state of emergency is the plan the tyrants had all along. We can immunize ourselves by directing our attention at things that empower us.

 

I’m not talking about limiting ourselves to “happy news.” Being absorbed by the news in general, just like being too rabid a fan of any entertainment, is a large step on the path to powerlessness. What did people do with their free time before the Internet? Lots of different things that are still available to us now, if we can only look away from the fascinating horror that tempts us online.

 

 

 

 

Catholic or Buddhist?


 

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I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.