The More You Know

(Originally published July 26, 2010)

I WENT OUT with a girl last night to a bar in Los Feliz to play bingo.

The Bingo was free and the prizes were donated by drunks – a typical “prize pack” included a can of green beans and a thong – so it wasn’t as much about winning as it was about the atmosphere and the conversation.

First, the atmosphere:

The bartender had mutton chop sideburns and wore a Boy Scout uniform with a shoulder patch that read “666.” For the Antichrist, he was surprisingly inattentive about serving alcohol. “How do we get the Boy Scout to notice us?” my lady friend asked. “You sound like a typical scoutmaster,” I said. (This was a subtle wisecrack about child molestation.)

A heavyset guy sat beside us wearing a light blue t-shirt with two unicorns fucking under a rainbow. He had a box with him, half the size of a shoebox, made of metal and covered with technical writing. It looked like something you’d insert a pair of keys into to launch a nuclear strike. He told the Boy Scout he wasn’t interested in playing Bingo yet ten minutes later he had not one but two cards in front of him. No one else had more than one.

The unicorn pornographer must have been a very dangerous man.

The guy calling Bingo had clearly gone to Bingo vocational school – at least a masters program – and would say things like, “Quack, Quack, one little duck, B2” (because the numeral “2” looks like a duck) or “A pair of sssssssliterhing snakes, N55” (the numeral “5” looks like a snake). Then of course there was “1” (“That’s a nice, hard cock, B1”) and “7” (“Ouch, that hard cock just got slammed in a door, B7”).

Not really, about the cocks. But he called a great game.

A good game.

Fair.

He was terrible. But we missed him dearly after a second Bingo caller relieved him and read the numbers like an auctioneer (“I27-I27-over-here-B3-B9-072-072-go-Go-GO!”), too fast to understand, which is not the point of Bingo.

Between rounds, my lady friend and I chatted. Last time we got together, we talked mostly about her, and this time she wanted to know about me.

She got her wish, let me tell you.

I revealed myself with a candor typically reserved for children. There are certain things I tell people on a case-by-case basis, things maybe only three or four people know about me, and rarely the same three or four people. Somehow this girl got me to spill my guts about aspects of my personal history I hadn’t expected to reveal under waterboarding.

Here are three (true) stories about me:

1. In ninth grade I became interested in hypnosis. My mom, who loves stuff like that, heard that the owner of a local record shop, “Johnny’s,” was not only a hypnotist but something of a suburban shaman. I went to his house after school one day for a lesson and we started talking about Joseph Campbell and how to avoid getting trapped in a spirit realm (imagine a cord leading back to the entrance and trace it back; or consult your spirit animal). “Johnny” then had me lie down on his divan while he recited a hypnotic induction script: “Imagine you’re on a beach. You see an old man drawing in the sand. He draws the number ’10’ and the waves wash it away and you feel the water on your toes, your heels, your feet, your ankles. You feel complete relaxation…” My muscles began to relax and I became warm. Then I feel asleep. Several naps later, “Johnny” gave up.

2. In early middle school I was forced to take dancing and etiquette classes. I allude to this casually in my infamous “Captain Ahab” routine, but only casually; the fact is, I spent a good 2+ years at it. Aside from table manners and how to treat a lady – all things I’ve since forgotten – I learned to swing dance (to The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies and Brian Setzer Orchestra), mambo (to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”), and do God-knows-what to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. I think the old ladies who ran it, at a huge white mansion that was our town’s community center, wanted to be “down with the kids,” so the playlist every week came straight from Now That’s What I Call Music! It may have sparked my future interest in altered states, such as hypnosis, as I would have loved to move my consciousness out of my body to spend my Thursday nights anyplace else.

3. The fact that I was baptized Catholic but never practiced left a void in my life for paganistic ritual and dogma, so I’ve had more than a few dalliances with Eastern religions and gypsy fortune telling. A year and a half back I bought a pack of Tarot cards and a beginner’s manual. To practice, I drew a card every day to predict the upcoming day. It was surprisingly accurate. Noteworthy examples: III of Swords – “disappointment, plans disrupted” – when a car crashed into a telephone pole next to my apartment and knocked out power for days; The Empress – “motherhood, nurturing” – when my then-girlfriend’s nice was born; The Tower – “disorientation, a humbling revelation” – when I was on my way to pick someone up from the airport and found my car had been towed. I quit using them daily months ago, because whether or not you’re going to have a good day it’s hard to get off on the right foot staring at an image of a man lying face down with ten swords in his back.

I found myself revealing these and other things to a girl I’ve only known briefly, and I don’t know why. Every time some shocking piece of self-disclosure spilled out, I’d gesture to my drink as justification (“it’s the booze talking”) even though I’m 6’2” and only had a pair of cocktails. I’m a lightweight, but there’s a limit.

Less revealing, we also shared our favorite movies. I got a kick out of her affinity for late ‘90s Nicholas Cage and most films where the whole world blows up, and was therefore shocked to learn she didn’t like Independence Day, a favorite of mine. I was so shocked I drew a blank when pressed for my other favorites.

(I only remember the weird stuff about me. See above.)

After the night was over, I realized I forgot to mention Raging Bull, which has to be up there. I can really identify with DeNiro’s character’s foul mouth, love of food, and small hands. As a matter of fact, Raging Bull was the film I chose as the subject of a college essay in response to the following prompt:

“In pieces of work inspired by historical or biographical fact, to what degree should an artist try to remain objective and factually-accurate?”

Raging Bull is based on the story of real-life boxer Jake LaMotta, but Martin Scorcese took extensive liberties with it. He changed the order of certain events, added or removed important characters (Joe Pesci’s role was a combination of two people: LaMotta’s brother and his best friend), and altered space, time, and even sound in the ring; listen when DeNiro’s glove makes contact with an opponent’s face and you’ll hear everything from donkeys braying to shattering glass and a watermelon hitting a sidewalk.

I made the case in my essay that getting the facts right is secondary to telling “the truth.” All the creative liberties taken painted a picture of the real Jake LaMotta that was more accurate than if they’d painstakingly reconstructed every last detail. I argued for why you should always figure out the truth first, then make up a couple facts if the real facts don’t fit. Anyone who creates propaganda for a living would love my essay; it got me an “A-“.

What does this have to do with a meandering conversation between Bingo rounds at a bar in Los Felix?

I need a Scorcese to edit me down to only the most relevant details, because my full story doesn’t make sense. Hypnosis? Dancing and etiquette class? Tarot cards? The more you know about me, the more confusing I become. At this rate my funeral will feature a string of eulogies that go, “Let’s see now… Mike was a… he was a… uh…”

And my headstone inscription will simply read, “Your Guess Is As Good As Mine.”

Malcolm Gladwell had a great essay in his last book, What the Dog Saw, called “Connecting the Dots.” In it, he explains the problem of intelligence-gathering for today’s military. The problem is not acquiring the information — that part is easy, because information is plentiful — the problem is having too much information and becoming overwhelmed and confounded by it. It’s the same problem one encounters when trying to get to know me through small talk.

But I like it like that. My lady friend? We’ll see.

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