Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Seriously (don’t take me seriously)

Years ago a coworker told me that when she first encountered me at the hiring interview, she had the impression I was a mean, tough guy and would be against hiring her. I had actually told the hiring committee that I thought she would be a great fit for the office. She had taken me too seriously largely because, well, I guess I look very serious.
I have had a Van Dyke for about 20 years (long before it became fashionable, I might brag) and with fairly broad shoulders and short hair I guess I can see why people might think this. I do smile a lot, but because of that Van Dyke I don't think people can see it. It's probably more of a Mona Lisa half-smile.

However serious I may appear though, I am rarely serious.

It all began back at high school. I remember talking to my German teacher, Mrs. Mason, about my plans to go to college to become a Phys Ed teacher. I want to point out here that Mrs. Mason was a WWII concentration camp survivor. Although I knew she had lived in Germany and was Jewish, I didn't understand the number tattooed on her arm until I got to college. Yes, I probably was a little more naive in HS. Maybe I thought she had escaped before the war, I'm not sure why I didn't make the connection. I mention this about Mrs. Mason not just because she was my favorite teacher, but as a survivor she deserves to be talked about.
(Hilde Mason)
Anyway, Mrs. Mason expressed surprise about my career path. She thought I was more of the chess club type, not the type of guy who likes to work up a sweat or bang bodies on a playing field. Okay, maybe because I was such a quiet kid, she also thought I was the serious type too.
(Jay the serious soccer coach)
Oddly, I liked that she misread me. She stereotyped me based on certain behaviors and maybe looks (no Van Dyke back then). 
As I have blogged before people often stereotype others based on a lot of different factors. As time went by, I found myself purposely trying to get folks to misread me. It became a rather perverse habit to see different people's reaction.
My beard is a good example. I have almost always had at least a mustache, partly because I liked Magnum PI, but also as a GI it was the only facial hair allowed—but was frowned upon. So of course I had to push those military boundaries. Through the years I seldom had a beard though. Around November I would grow one and then slowly shave it off after the New Year. In other words, I would first just trim it back, then maybe the next week shave it down to a Van Dyke, then a Fu Manchu, then just back to the 'Stache. On one of those occasions that my facial hair was down to the Van Dyke, this female coworker told me I looked evil. That was when it became one of my permanent accouterments.  
(The Army 'Stache)
So I have been stereotyped over the years as gay because I was single, skinny (back then) and had a mustache;  a "player" because people would often see me with a different woman every time they'd encounter me (it was really because they didn't see me that often and I never seemed to have very long relationships); a partier because I used to hit the Austin nightlife five to six nights a week; or a right-wing fascist due to my previous military experience (I still don't get this last one, because if you look at those who served it seems more common for progressives to be in the military. I've always postulated that we enlisted were more likely to be Progs and officers were more likely NeoCons. Since people see officers talk more than enlisted on the news—even though there are more enlisted—well, everyone gets the wrong impression. But that is just a theory).

Besides my appearance and demeanor generating these false images of me, I also have a habit (some will say bad habit) of trying to get a reaction from people. It's a writer's responsibility to do this, of course, but I have it ingrained in my makeup to do this naturally.  So I will often take the opposite side of an argument just to see what the other person will say or do. Devil's advocate as they say.
The thing is that there really isn't a lot that I take so serious that I'd be willing to take it to the mat. And often people won't bother to ask if I am serious, even though they may know me. They'll just take me at face value. So when I wrote my notorious blog about women drivers, no one bothered to ask me if I was serious. In truth, I believe that everyone is a much worse driver than me (I am great), it's not just women. Yeah, I should probably take the bus more often, because I am always telling all those other drivers out there how rotten they are (and often while using a funny voice; wish they could hear it).

Likewise, in my dating/hunting tips blog a lot of females took it as something a predator might find useful rather than a snide commentary about how we Americans go about looking for dates. The main reason I had written the thing was really because I had overheard a woman telling her friend how disgusted she felt about a guy who dated a younger woman (it wasn't me). My thought on this is that first off it's none of her business who other people are attracted to, and second, since it is always the male who must make first contact, it is up to the male WHO that contact will be, not some uptight non-participant (I had asked her once before if she had ever gone up to a male she didn't know and strike up a conversation. Of course, she hadn't). So that blog wasn't meant to be taken serious, it was more of me just making a snide remark.

Yes, I specialize in sarcasm.

Although a lot of what I write is satire/humor, I do often write serious stuff. In the 90s I wrote about police brutality (since it is a huge topic these days, I like to think I was on the leading edge). Plus, I have written several books that include mystery/detective (Tax Break) and action/adventure (Wings of Honor). Okay, my last book was humor/satire (and I think it was obvious that it is not serious) yet people see the title and seem to run.

Even though I do write some serious stuff, I seriously don't think you should always take me so serious. So the next time you read one of these blogs on The Thurber Brigade and it ruffles your feathers, you might first just take a deep breath and relax, but then you might write a snarky comment to me in response.

If nothing else, you should write/shout "are you f.....g SERIOUS!"
(I wonder if James Thurber was always taken seriously?)


  1. As a kid, I was tiny, cute, and quiet, so people assumed I was "sweet." This certainly worked in my favor. I wan't mean or anything, but probably too self-centered to really be considered sweet.

    As an adult, I think I look like a studious librarian type, which is pretty close to the truth, so I don't mind. I've never tried to change my appearance to give a different impression--I've no idea any impression I'd prefer to give.

    I do have a friend who enjoyed looking scarier after he shaved his head. Particularly at theatres. Some kid would be kicking his seat and he would just turn around and lift one eyebrow. End of problem.

    I am often serious but not humorless. Which is why I am not a professional tech writer. I could not write completely serious/boring manuals, though I did try to make them completely true and (perhaps overly) thorough. No one would let me publish meeting minutes without letting someone edit out the fun stuff and the stuff that made our policies look bad.

    As far as driving goes, I think I'm worse than most drivers, not just men, because I'm not that great. At least I know I suck, so I try to make up for it by paying close attention and planning out my route ahead of time.

  2. Hey Debbie, thanks for commenting. It sometimes seems like the Brigade is out in the desert somewhere. You know, if you added a bit of a goth look, you could call yourself "The Evil Librarian." That would be a great moniker. I think your employers should have published your notes, I'm sure everyone else would have preferred them. There could be the "theatrical release" notes and then your "director's cut" notes. Just like the movies. The director's cut is always much more interesting.

    1. I kind of like mohawks. Maybe a blue mohawk to match my glasses with the librarian-looking glasses chain.

      Heh, director's-cut meeting minutes. I like it.