Monday, September 8, 2008


What an odd few weeks.

1. I had my opinion about a beer dismissed by a fellow who puffed up his chest and identified himself as a certified beer judge. When I continued to politely proffer my differing opinion, he asked me whether I'm a beer judge. I said "No, but..." and he interrupted to explain that he's been
trained to taste beer. So it wasn't that our opinions differed, it was that only one of us had a right to one. I've been tasting and writing about beer for twenty five years, but I could see no positive result from getting into all that. So I shrugged and grinned.

2. I attended a salsa dance party that included a free lesson before the band started. The lesson, per usual, involved rotating partners after each step taught. One large, intense woman, who danced in huge cloddish steps bellowing "One two THREE, five six SEVEN" at the top of her lungs, yanked and shoved me through the moves as if I were a rag doll. Guys don't know how to dance, so they must be firmly showed the way. She also condescended to offer me helpful suggestions after each bout. I've been playing salsa music for most of my life.

3. I heard a saxophonist playing jazz in a small town, and while he was only ok, I thought he might have potential. I introduced myself mildly as a NYC professional, and invited him to jam sometime. He told me he doesn't leave his house for less than $400 (he's a fixture on the lucrative wedding/bar mitzvah circuit).

4. I found myself at a party where a corporate haircut guy was chatting weightily about mergers and acquisitions. I piped in meekly to comment about an experience I'd had during a merger (Chowhound/CNET, of course). He paused briefly, sized me up with a withering, incredulous smirk, and proceeded to completely ignore me. I didn't strike him as someone who'd been through any sort of serious corporate merger.

5. I queried the features editor of the Danbury News Times about doing a piece on some great finds up there that I'd been saving up. In case she didn't recognize my name, I included a modest short bio. Her flat reply invited me to send in writing samples (Newsweek, NY Times, Slate, Newsday, et al didn't ask for samples...).

All my life I've taken pains not to come off as anyone special. To my horror, I'm finding that it's worked spectacularly.

My preference would be to occupy some comfortable midpoint between "special" and "bug-like". But human relations are so binary that no middle ground seems possible. If you don't project superiority  - if you're not a pompous, boastful, stuck-up "Do You Know Who I Am?!?" prick, leading with your accomplishments, playing the part, and prepared to pee at least as hard and as far as any alphas in your midst, it's surprisingly tough to be taken the least bit seriously by anyone. 


rajeev joshi said...

i'd say thats 100% correct.

humans are funny. they tend to believe any assertion as long as its forceful enough. conversely, if you're not blaring opinions with the force of twenty trumpets, the assumption is that you must be a total idiot about the subject at hand.

its silly and sometimes disrespectful on a personal level, but vastly more dangerous on the national; we heedlessly believe anything from up on high.

for instance, over 40% of americans believe that saddam hussein directed 9/11. another example: a large number 'support the troops' by putting that charming slogan on their car bumpers, but who actually cares that theres a stop-loss enforced, that record numbers of vets are committing suicide, are homeless, have disgraceful access to medical facilities?

Jim Leff said...

Well, I don't really need people to believe my "assertions". I just don't have anything at stake. I'd just like to have a pleasant time chatting, drinking beer, dancing salsa, and writing for puny little newspapers from time to time.

But hmm...I guess the problem is that I do most things slightly unconventionally, so I must be either daft or inspired. And, since I'm unprepossessing, people tend to go with "daft". If I said and did the usual humdrum things, I wouldn't be cutting against the grain, forcing that assessment.

I totally agree with your second two paragraphs!

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