How To Be Alone and Get Away With It


The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.

                        - Robert Frost

I am always up to no good. Of course, there is a higher purpose. But nevertheless, it is a time-consuming, not to mention risky, process trying to explain it. So when people ask questions, I turn to deceit. To avoid suspicion, I’ve learned to take advantage of what I call stop phrases. These are certain phrases so familiar in mainstream conversation they cannot stimulate any thought whatsoever, hence, the term stop phrases, because they make people stop thinking. It’s like buying someone a Bud Light, and then pouring it directly on their brain. Or it’s like buying someone a Bud Light.


So now it’s time for lunch and my co-workers will soon be flocking to the nearest grease-a-burger where they’ll choose today’s special, burger. But the thought of spending my entire lunch break draped in a quilt of pointless pointlessness. I’d rather be buried alive, on a Sunday, in rain. But today I will not tell them this. Instead, I’ll tell them I “brought my lunch from home.” That I’m “trying to save money” and “you know that dollar a day sure adds up.” And with this explanation the group will be quite satisfied. Moreover, I am now the guy who is trying to save money, which is by definition less interesting than the guy who is too good for us. Now they are less likely to think about me, to suspect I am different.

“When the monkey trainer was handing out acorns, he said, ‘You get three in the morning and four at night,’ This made all the monkeys furious. ‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘you get four in the morning and three at night.’ The monkeys were all delighted.”

Now Albert's coming back, make yourself a bit smart.

But then, like the serial killer who’s not so much addicted to killing as to leaving those extra little clues, I’ll throw in, “Yeah, it’s that hundred dollars a month on lattes.” Now this phrase has high stop value in tapping the whole “aren’t we all addicted to coffee” as well as the “us consumers gotta stick together” thing. But wait, there’s more. It also does two more things. First, it directly contradicts my earlier pap about saving money, thus pitting two stop phrases against each other in the same mind. Bonk. Bonk. Bonk. Second, it drops a potential clue that I might be ‘weird’ after all. I mean, what am I doing sitting there drinking all those lattes? And how do we even know this is in a Starbucks?

And so stop phrases are one hundred percent effective in limited encounters. But when you must deal with people for any length of time (which is too long I might point out), you're going to be found out. Eventually, they'll come to realize you are actually a unique person, who, like everybody else, has a rare skin condition.

He'll want to know what you done with that money he gave you

Which brings us to my next point. Although stop phrases can be 100% effective in limited encounters, when you are forced to deal with the same people for any length of time (which is too long I might point out), you’re going to be found out. Eventually, they’ll come to realize you are actually a unique person, who, like everybody else, has a rare skin condition about which you are doing not much.

And so now the goal shifts from actual escape to something more along the lines of having some fun with it at least. To have the most fun, you must remember only one thing. They are not allowed to think you are weird until you give them direct evidence. Even when their brainstem has caught on, the rest of them remains paralyzed by their own rule of law. You must use this against them during the glorious ‘final delay.’ Ask them if they saw the last episode of Friends and could they recount it for you in full, because your Tivo is on the fritz. Then just when they get to the part about Chandler and Joey involved in some hilarious homosexual innuendo, that’s when you non-chalantly dangle a little sardine in front of your face and swallow it whole. Make quick reference to John Cleese and then, as if nothing has happened, ask them ‘So, how’d the Nasdaq do yesterday?’ Imagine their first twitches of pain. Betrayed by the very phrases they had trusted. Their pain. Your joy. They’ll try to say they suspected it all along. More joy.

What you get married for if you don't want children?

“Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu, ‘I have a big tree named ailanthus. Its trunk is too gnarled and bumpy to apply a measuring line to, its branches too bent and twisty to match up to a compass or square. You could stand it by the road and no carpenter would look at it twice…axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?’”

Shantih          Shantih          Shantih

Yes, what a freak you are. And don’t think you can change either. So you might as well learn the phrases. If not for the love of the game, then at least to buy yourself more space, more time, more no good. Honesty is not a solution (to anything), and will only shorten your freedom. Of course, when you do use stop phrases, you’ll just do it and not even think about all the hard work that went into this guide. But some day, a fellow stop phrase will say, “Hey, I can’t remember how we figured out to do this.” Then you won’t remember either, but you’ll remember the URL and scribble it down for them on a scrap of paper, which they will shove in their pants with great fanfare. And then they will lose the scrap of paper by throwing it into the trash. When you ask, they’ll say they lost it. Oh, I lost your number. Oh, I wasn’t at home when you called. Oh, I tried to buy it but the bookstore didn’t have it. Oh, it’s not you, I’m just having a really bad day. All this and more. Awaits you. [2001]