First Impressions: Cauliflower Ears, Tom Waits, Bukowski, Camus, Military, and Atheism

redfrogAposematism is the use of warning coloration (e.g. RED) by animals to signal that they are not to be messed with. A red frog is telling the world: if you eat me, you will probably die. So, when I meet a red frog in the forest, I usually don’t put in my mouth. At the same time, it is very true, that if a beautiful princess was a frog that only needed to be kissed to realize her true form, she would probably be a red frog.

Color is just one of many qualities that animals use to make first impressions. Most such qualities they can’t control, except indirectly through the frustratingly slow process of evolution. Us humans on the other hand can make first impressions by things we learn to do with our face and more specifically: with our mouth (aka talking).

I’ve long ago learned that the person I believe to be is not always the person I appear to be on first meeting or even to friends of many years. I am, like everyone else, one giant misunderstanding. Philip Roth in American Pastoral puts it most beautifully:

“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”

And yet, despite all that complexity, over the years, I have develop certain positive prejudices. I will immediately make a connection with a person without knowing anything else about them if one of the following is true. In other words, I will have a drink with you and likely enjoy the conversation, if:

  • You have cauliflower ears. This means you wrestled or grappled. Anyone who has trained long enough to get cauliflower, has likely been taken to the limit of their physical and mental capacity, and in that process was humbled. A humble man is often a wise man.
  • You have competed extensively in a combat sport like wrestling, judo, MMA, jiu jitsu, etc. Or better yet, you’ve been in a lot of street fights. This is basically the same as the first point. You’ve been through some shit, and so much of the useless stupidity of ego is out of your system. You are not pretending to be something you are not. Anyone who’s been pushed to the limit, usually doesn’t see any value to pretend to be anything.
  • You saw combat (war) AND are an atheist (secular, agnostic, all the same). Some of the most real people I know are former Israeli military who don’t give a moment’s time to bullshit of any kind . Sometimes, if you are religious, the kind of brutal lessons you might take away from war are clouded by a kind of mystic relationship with a supernatural being. Soldiers, in my experience, are almost always good people, more real than most. But I’m a man of cold rationality and religion can often spoil a perfectly honest conversation.
  • You are a blue collar worker. A man who does manual labor is a man who doesn’t have his head in the clouds. The conversation is real and so is the drinking.
  • You like Tom Waits or Charles Bukowski. This means you live on the edge of normal, sticking to the outskirts of the room at a party.
  • You read more than one novel of Albert Camus or Fyodor Dostoevsky (and their ilk). This means you have a mind that is prone to bouts of existential dread. Prolonged thoughts over big life questions make for an interesting brain.

These are some “human colorations” that I have discovered for my own self. Everyone is different, and many of my friends (including my best friend) do no have any of the above qualities. Still, if you do, I’ll buy you a drink, and talk for a while.

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