My Life as a Jerk

 By Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.

A few years ago, I wrote a misbegotten book of third-rate humor that fortunately hardly anyone read and is better off forgotten. But, still, it had some pieces that before the book perishes along with me perhaps deserve to make one last appearance in this blog. So I've rescued a few of them from perdition and hope that at least some of them will occasion a smile, if not a guffaw. So, dear reader, saddle up: You are about to encounter Gimpel the Fool.

Embarrassing Moments

When I was a young professor back in the Antediluvian period, before the invention of computers and other devices to further the art of plagiarism, I used to teach large classes in social psychology in banked lecture halls where the seats rose steeply seemingly into the stratosphere. With my poor vision, I couldn't even make out if the top rows were full of students paying close attention or whether they were masturbating to relieve their boredom.

Anyway, in those days, professors were accustomed to distribute course syllabi on the first day of class, and for my large classes, I simply asked students in the front row of the aisle to distribute them for me.

When I approached a young man sitting in the first row on the left side of the auditorium to do this favor, he refused.

I blinked with surprise and said, "What's the matter? Are you blind?"

Guess.

*******

One day, a student came into my office during office hours when my door was open and said, "Professor Ring, may I s-s-s speak to you?"

He had a strange grin on his face, so I thought he was putting me on.

"Certainly, I said. Please s-s-s sit down."

He wasn't.

*******

When I was a teenager, I fell in love with classical music and listened to it obsessively. I even kept a little brown spiral notebook in which I listed every piece of classical music that I had heard over the radio. During my high school years, I arranged to become an usher at the performances of the San Francisco Symphony where I could hear the performances for free. Even in those days, but it is worse now, I confess, I prided myself on my knowledge of the classical repertoire.

One night the orchestra was playing a piece by the Hungarian composer, Zoltán Kodály, called The Hary Janos Suite. At its conclusion, I initiated the applause, but was surprised that only a smattering of applause followed.

Then the music continued.

I spent the rest of the concert under my seat and to this day, more than a half century later, I am never the first to clap even if I've heard the work fifty times.

*******

Memorable Encounters

In graduate school for a while I dated a girl with the rather unfortunate name of Bonnie McBane. She was not alluring either, but in those days before my life as a lothario began, I took what I could get.

One evening, I took Bonnie to a concert. Opening the playbill, we found that a Mozart symphony was on the program. I think it was "The Haffner," one of his best.

Bonnie sniffed, "I don't like Mozart."

"You don't like Mozart?" I spluttered incredulously.

She confirmed that I had heard correctly, and indeed during the performance of the symphony Bonnie looked bored.

Of course, that put the kybosh on my relationship with Bonnie, the girl who didn't like Mozart.

Afterward, I thought I would write a short story about her. After all, I already had a title for it. But I never did.

Though I think I just I have.

Very short. 

*******

During the years I taught psychology at the University of Connecticut, I offered a course on perspectives on human behavior that began with psychoanalytic theory, moved on to existential psychology and next ventured into the then new field of transpersonal psychology before ending with a sampling of Zen Buddhist thought.

For this class, I asked students to maintain a course journal in which they were to write their comments on the assigned books, the lectures and on anything in their personal lives that they felt connected with the themes of the course.

One year, I had a particularly intelligent and thoughtful student who would come into see me during my office hours to discuss the topics of the course and his reaction to them.

Although I always offered students the option of submitting their journals to me for evaluation during the course, I often did not see them until the end of the semester. However, I was puzzled to find that my splendid student had not turned in any journal at all.

I managed to track him down at his dorm and ask him to come in to see me.

He came bearing a box, a large box.

I was puzzled by the box, but first I asked him about his journal and why he hadn't yet submitted it.

It turned out there was a good reason for that. He had never bothered to keep one. Instead, he had spent his time constructing this box, the one that now lay on my desk. He explained that he felt the box had somehow expressed what he had learned from the course, and better than words could ever do.

He invited me to look into the box through an aperture I hadn't noticed.

When I did, I saw that he had constructed it with a complex of internal mirrors that seemed to reflect infinity, the incomprehensible, a universe of light.

I was impressed, but how was I to grade him?

"Are you willing to destroy this?" I asked in a moment of inspiration.

He looked at me for a moment in shock, and then he picked up the box and heaved it with full strength onto the floor where the shards shattered seemingly into a thousand pieces of glass. It made a terrible noise and since my door was open, nearby professors rushed into my office to find out what had made such a clatter.

The student was shaking.

I gave him an A--.

Because he had hesitated for a moment.

Very Zen, no?

*******

How I Became a Pyromaniac

On May 21, 2012, I received an intriguing email from a trio of authors in Colorado, which contained a rare compliment: they were planning to write a book modeled after one of mine dealing with near-death experiences, Lessons from the Light, and wanted to advise me of their intent to make sure it was okay with me. They also asked if I might be willing to confer with them about their undertaking, if I wished.

I had not heard of these authors, but apparently many others had. I learned that they -- a husband and wife, and the brother of the husband -- specialized in giving retreats on spirituality and healing, that they had done so in about 60 countries, and had already written some twenty-two books, which collectively had sold over a million copies. These were certainly well established and successful authors, so I quickly assented, and with delight, to their overture.

This was the beginning of what has become a deep and loving friendship with the Linns -- Denny and Sheila, Denny's brother Matt, and John, Denny and Sheila's teenage son. 

After many delightful email exchanges, they suggested that, inasmuch as I was planning to visit one of my daughters in Colorado, I might want to spend some time with them during which I could actively collaborate with them on their book over a period of several days. I accepted with alacrity.

Once my visit to my daughter was over with, a friend of the Linns drove me to their house in the Colorado mountains. There were forty-five steps up a seemingly small mountain to their front door -- for a moment, I thought I was back in Amsterdam! But the Linns were very welcoming and we all had a wonderful and warm conversation over the dinner that Sheila had gone to a great deal of trouble to prepare.

But trouble of another kind was soon to come.

In the morning, after taking a shower, I nearly burned down their house.

When the shower was over, I turned on the switch that controlled the heat lamp in their downstairs bathroom. Or I had innocently assumed that it did. I was wrong.

It actually controlled the sauna in the adjacent room.

That sauna was rarely used, however, and had been used mostly for storage.

Soon smoke began to billow out, the smoke alarms went off, and all hell broke loose!

Matt, who had been sleeping in the room next to mine, jumped out into the hallway, the other Linns, who had been sleeping upstairs, leapt out of their beds and came charging downstairs (Denny injuring his leg in the process) and we all began furiously trying to beat out the fire before it spread any further.

It was touch and go for several minutes, but finally it was quelled.

I felt like killing myself.

By now, the fire brigade had arrived, the paramedics, ambulances, the works. We all had to clear out for a time.

When we were allowed back it, the house reeked of smoke, although the actual structural damage was confined mostly to the sauna.

The rest of the day was devoted to various officials coming by, insurance inspectors, cleaning people, etc.

The house would be uninhabitable for several days. (Fortunately, there was an attached house that was empty that we could use in the meantime.)

So much for our book collaboration!

By now, I had learned that though the Linns had insurance, their deductible was still $5000. I wanted to pay them before killing myself.

And you know what? They wouldn't hear of it! I insisted, they resisted. I persisted. Finally, Sheila told me in so many words that she would horsewhip me if I dared even mention the subject again.

I won't continue with everything that took place over the next few days except to say that all the Linns did was to offer me love, support, kisses, and promises of their enduring friendship. We had the best time together -- despite everything -- and shared many intimate personal stories together. We even managed to get quite a lot of work done on their book.

This is how I really came to know and love the Linns. That's the kind of people they are. And though it all, we have remained in touch ever since as loving friends.

I have also learned to take showers in dim light, if necessary. And I have promised them they will never have to put me up as a houseguest again. God willing, my days as an inadvertent pyromaniac are over.

*******

Two Political Satires

Some of you may have read this before, but even if so, you might enjoy doing so again. Or you can skip it. I'll never know. In any case, it's just a little spoof I wrote up a few years ago that perhaps I should have entitled "A Change of Heart," but I just called it 

Metamorphosis

One morning, two days after his heart transplant operation, Dick Cheney awoke from a pleasant dream feeling distinctly odd. For one thing, he was smiling.

His daughter, Mary, also noticed that there was something strange about her father.

She calls it to the attention of her mother.

"Mom, there is something distinctly odd about dad this morning."

"What do you mean," Lynne asks, looking puzzled.

"Well, for one thing, you know how dad always looks dour in the morning, as if life is a pain and why does he have to bother being pleasant."

"Well, that's just your father, darling."

"I know that, mom. But this is different. Dad looked positively radiant this morning."

"Hmm, that is distinctly odd," Lynne agrees.

"But that's not all," Mary continues. "What really was strange was what he was saying."

"Mary, I'm in a hurry this morning. You know how angry your father gets when I don't have his eggs ready for him. Please get to the point."

"OK, mom, it was about Obama."

"So?"

"He likes him now."

"What!"

"He likes him. He thinks he's been wrong about him all this time."

"Mary, I have no time for jokes. Now, really, I have to get to the kitchen."

"I'm not kidding, mom. If you don't believe me, ask him yourself."

*******

"Dick, how are you feeling this morning, dear?"

"Couldn't be better." (Beaming) "I'm a new man!"

"You look well, dear. I even notice that snarl -- er, I mean, that little mouth tic of yours is absent today. Ah, Dick, I was wondering -- Mary said you were talking about Obama this morning."

"Yes, I've been thinking a lot about him lately. You know, Lynne, I really think I've misjudged the man. I mean, he's not such a bad fellow. And, you know something else, Biden was right. For a black man, he is very clean and uncommonly articulate. You gotta give him that."

"Dick, what are you saying!"

"I dunno, Lynne, it's just something that I feel. I think when I'm up and about we should invite him and Michelle over for dinner. Maybe we can make amends."

"Dick, I'm calling your cardiologist. I think the drugs that they've given you to prevent rejection must be making you delusional. I'm worried about you, honey. You're not yourself."

"Balderdash, Lynne, I haven't felt this well and this clear-headed in years. It's like I've just woken up from a bad dream -- except my dreams this morning were very pleasant."

Mrs. Cheney looks ashen-faced.

"And another thing," Cheney says. "This thing about Mary, you know, her..."

"Please don't bring that up, Dick."

"No, really, Lynne. I'm proud she's gay, and I've also been thinking she's right about same-sex marriage. I don't know what I was thinking before. I must have been bamboozled by all those right-wing nuts and those Tea Party crazies."

"Dick, those are your people. How could you be talking this way!"

Cheney continues to beam. His mind is elsewhere, a beatific smile of satisfaction on his face.

*******

"Doctor, I need to talk with you." Mrs. Cheney is talking on the phone, which she cannot hold steadily. Her hand is shaking too much.

"Of course, it's about Dick. Doctor, he is talking gibberish this morning. I mean, he is actually talking like a Democrat!"

"You don't think it's the drugs? But what else could it be?"

Mrs. Cheney pauses, and then she has an idea.

"Doctor, I know we are not supposed to know the identity of Dick's donor, but do you think...."

There is a long pause.

 "I know it is against the rules, but doctor, this is the Vice-President we are talking about, and he is a very sick man, and I don't mean just physically!"

"All right, I'll wait...."

A few minutes pass.  Mrs. Cheney is very agitated.

The doctor comes back on the phone.

Mrs. Cheney listens with stupefaction.

Then she faints.

Mary, hearing a noise, rushes in, sees that her mother has now staggered to her feet and is sitting, dazed, in a chair, her eyes glassy.

She picks up the phone.

"A teen-aged black boy. From Chicago?

********

What is Trump?

We should have seen this at the outset, but our eyes were blind to the truth. Besides, no one would have found it credible. Indeed, it would have seemed absurd.

But the signs were already there.

Do you remember when he said "I alone can fix this"?

And recall that not long ago, in making that call to the President of Ukraine, Trump asserted, many times, that his call was "perfect." Have you ever in your life heard anyone describe a telephone call as "perfect?" That should have told you something.

And then, well into his Presidency, when he asserted that he had the authority to do everything -- anything he wanted? That all the power rested with him.

And if a reporter were ever to have the temerity to ask him whether he was immune from criticism or that he ever made a mistake, that person would effectively be cursed by the President and his guards would quickly escort the miscreant from the room from which he would then henceforth be banned. Such blasphemy would not be tolerated.

Instead of asking "horrid" questions, reporters were urged, nay, commanded, to ask only "nice" questions. Otherwise, he would smite them.

Early in his presidency, with cameras rolling, he assembled his cabinet and asked each member to tell him how they felt about him and his presidency. Needless to say, each officer responded with lavish praise and promised his (or her) unstinting fealty.

Likewise, the Republican members of Congress soon showed themselves to be Trump’s spineless lackeys, trembling at the thought of incurring the wrath of Trump and risking eternal banishment from his presence. Instead, he demands worshipful devotion and absolute loyalty.

From all this and many other signs and portents, it is now possible to understand how it was that Trump could exert his omnipotence.

Obviously, Trump is God. How could we have missed this?

I have noticed two things about Trump that most political pundits have failed to comment on that also reveal his identity as Deity.

Have you ever known Trump to be sick? No. His health is perfect, even as his telephone calls are perfect.

The second thing is Trump never laughs. Oh, he can grin. He can smile, even though his smile often curls into a smirk. And in ogling women, he can certainly leer. But you never see him laugh.

Who is the only other person who is reputed never to have laughed?

Right. Jesus. Doesn’t that tell you something?

And then, in addition to his divine omnipotence, there is also another sign of his Godliness -- his omniscience.

Is there anything this man/God doesn’t know?

He often reminds us, for example, that he knows more than the scientists.

For example, he knows that the things that many scientists believe are indisputably true, such as global warming, are hoaxes. They are duped; he alone knows.

And having heard of an arm and remembering vague references to the tibia, he allows that he could well have been a physician, had he chosen that path.

Lately, it is clear that no matter what the public health officials say, only Trump knows when the country can safely go back to work. The virus will be banished by his divine fiat -- just wait and see.

But the clincher, what really establishes the truth about Trump’s identity, is of course that he is incapable of telling a lie. Men may deceive and dissemble, but God can be trusted never to lie. To do so would clearly be contrary to God’s nature.

God is a truth teller; the rest is fake news.

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