Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Regrettable Night at the Boston View Motel

Over the past few years or so I have shared many fascinating stories via blogging...stories of how I once made out with a woman almost old enough to be my grandmother and stories of how I once urinated dark-red blood and thought I was going to die...and stories of how I once barged in on a grown man dropping heat in a Starbucks bathroom (he failed to say 'I'm in here!' when I knocked)...and stories of how I was once convinced I had gonorrhea for a hellish period of three months but never did. Wait a minute...I never wrote about that latter story. Forget I ever said anything about that. It never happened. Well, yes it did, but I never got an STD test in the ER that involved getting a long Q-tip-type device jammed down my snake eye. All right, that happened as well, but I never got a thorough butt exam immediately after getting the STD exam for a reason I'm still trying to figure out, as it had nothing to do with the symptoms I was experiencing. I'm also trying to figure out why the "doctor" who did it wasn't dressed like a doctor. Come to think of it, he was dressed more like a custodian, and his name tag said "Chester"....

By the way, I'm clean.

Anyway, after the events of this past weekend, I have another story to add to the list: how I got drunk at a dive bar and ended up at the forty-dollar-per-night motel next door with a forty-year-old crippled woman desperate for sex. Yes, this is a good one, so pull up a seat and enjoy.

It was Saturday night and I started the evening off with a forty-ounce bottle of Mickey's, which is a Malt Liquor that has the tendency to mess me up something nasty. I met up with some friends in the "man-den", which is a term for my friend Russ' bachelor-pad basement that has everything from a beer fridge to four different video game consuls (PS2, Xbox, Nintendo 64 and Nintendo Game Cube). We drank, we laughed, I played a little PS2, and - after an hour or so - we headed out to the local dive bar: a place called Clyde's.

Clyde's is a claustrophobic little joint that usually gets uncomfortably crowded, but is a good place to go if you're looking for a mean between the "clubby scene" (i.e. hambone tool-bags and dance floors with dry humping), and the young professional scene (i.e. "classy" girls who you never have a chance with because they're looking for Johnny Professional who makes a secure living in the financial district, those friggin' skanks). Yes, at Clyde's you can get a beer, smoke a cigarette, not be judged, listen to some non-clubby tunes and maybe talk to a cute girl or two who isn't looking for the next Johnny Wall Street, those friggin' skanks.

Anyway, I arrived at Clyde's with two of my friends (Russ and Andy), already with a good, solid buzz in my system due to the Mickey's. I then proceeded to buy a beer. And another beer. And then another beer. Pretty soon, I was feeling mighty fine. And it was at around this point that a lady hobbled into the bar with a cane and - for some reason - immediately gravitated towards me.

"You look like you know how to party."

"You know it," I said, kidding around, and also incredibly stewed.

The lady wore a Patriots shirt and had whitish hair, palish skin, very red lipstick and smelled like a cheap deodorizer - kind of like what you would find in Kitty Litter - and it made my nose itch a bit. To be truthful, there could have been a urine-type scent mixed in there as well (maybe cat pee), but I don't want to elaborate on that too much, because I'm trying to be nice to this poor crippled woman.

"I have three hundred dollars and I'm looking to party," she said.

"What do you mean? You want drugs?"

"Well...drugs...and something else...."

I immediately told her that I couldn't help her out with the drugs, because I thought she may have been a cop or working for the cops or something along those lines (not to mention the fact that I don't do drugs and don't know where to get anything drug-related). She then proceeded to tell me how she used to be a mason and fell three stories off a building and has had several surgeries and is in an incredible amount of pain and needs something strong to take the edge off. I suggested she try extra-strength Tylenol or something like Advil with an anti-inflammatory, but she said she tried all that shit and it doesn't help her in the least.

My memory of our conversation from this point forward is a little hazy, what with the alcohol and everything. I know that more words were exchanged and more beers were sipped and she may have rubbed up against me a few times and then, at some point, she started telling me how her husband had died four years ago and that I reminded her of him and that "it's been so long" [since she's gotten laid].

"I'm staying at the motel next door. I have two condoms," she whispered to me.

Now, of course, if I was sober, my brain would have immediately registered the fact that this was an incredibly bad idea (well, I'm pretty sure it would have). But I wasn't sober. I was rather trashed and pretty much part-retarded. Drinking not only gives me the most amazing pair of beer goggles in the history of beer goggles, but it also makes me incredibly horny. Like, REALLY horny. Unnaturally horny. Probably no less horny than a man on Meth (from what I understand, Meth makes you want to hump anything in your path and take no prisoners).

So, instead of saying "I'm not interested" to this lonely woman whose husband allegedly died four years ago, I said...

"Um...I don't know...."

"Come on, it's been so long," she pleaded with me.

To be truthful, I'm not really sure what kind of thoughts were going through my mind. On one hand, I felt bad for this woman and wanted to do a Good-Samaritan-type-thing, go back to her motel, give her some company and try to make her less lonely. But, to be truthful, I think I was seriously contemplating having sex with her. Again, I was drunk, and when I'm drunk, my brain is located between my legs.

"I'm with my friends," I said.

"Well, bring them over. I have a box of wine and we can all party."

'OK, no harm in that', I figured to myself. 'Sure, we'll go over and party and hopefully give this poor woman a good time. And as far as anything sex-related goes, maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. I'm not gonna say it will. I'm not gonna say it won't.'

So, to make a long story short...I ended up going back to the motel with her, even though my friends advised strongly against me doing so. In fact, they had absolutely no desire to go over there for a drink. They wanted no part of this charade. So I told them to chill at the bar and I'd be back in a couple minutes. And, again, I'm not really sure what was going through my head. Maybe I DID want to have sex with her. Or maybe I simply just felt bad for her and wanted to give her some company...for a short while. Maybe a combination of the two.

Whatever it was, I know I definitely ended up in the "Boston View Motel" a few minutes later, which charges forty dollars a night for a room that smells like about thirty years worth of stale cigarette smoke and rotten sex. The motel derived its name from the fact that - on a clear day - you can see the tips of the Hancock and Prudential building in the far distance, as it is located on somewhat of a high hill. Not really much of a "Boston View", but technically, the name doesn't lie.

The crippled woman's room was accessible from the back of the motel, which was probably a good thing, just in case anybody I knew saw me walk into a place notorious for cheap prostitution and shady drug deals. With my kind of luck, one of my neighbors or aunts or uncles or grandmothers would randomly decide to go for a midnight stroll in their car, pass the Boston View, and catch a glimpse of me escorting a crippled woman into her motel room. That wouldn't have looked good at all. No way.

Before we entered her room, I helped the cripple hold her cane while she put her cigarette out on the pavement, intending to save the rest for later. She then took her keys out of her pocket and unlocked the door, which - she informed me - was directly across the hall from a family (with kids) who were paying $250 a week to live at the motel indefinitely. Maybe their house had been foreclosed and they were homeless. Such a thought depressed me. Crazy economy we're living in. Insane times.

The cripple creaked the door to her room open and the first thing I noticed as I walked into the place was that the television was already on and that there were a shitload of pain-killers everywhere I looked, especially on the night stand beside the bed. There were also cardboard boxes filled with clothes, a Pringles potato chip canister or two, and what looked like a brace for her leg. This poor woman had certainly seen better days.

"Make yourself at home," said the cripple. "I need to go to the bathroom."


I sat at the foot of the bed while the cripple went to the bathroom and I pretended to watch the TV, but I don't remember a damn thing of what I was watching because my mind was racing with all sorts of thoughts. Whether this was all a big set up. Whether there was a boyfriend in the bathroom ready to jack my ass. Or a cop ready to arrest my ass (for no valid reason, but he'd probably come up with one). Whether I should actually have sex with this woman. Whether she was tainted with STDs. Whether I could catch crabs from just being inside the Boston View Motel. Whether I would get the cripple pregnant and have to explain the situation to my parents. Whether I should just run out of there as fast as I could.

But, then, my phone rang.

"Dude, bail!"

It was my friend Russ.

"This is not a good idea at all."

'Maybe he was right,' I thought, and for a quick moment I thought about leaving right then and there while the cripple was in the bathroom.

"I'll leave in a second," I said and then I hung up the phone.

At this point, the cripple came out of the bathroom, sat in a chair across from me and then proceeded to take her pants off.

"Is this OK?" she asked.


She removed her pants, only to reveal a really bruised set of legs and a bunch of scars from where she had her surgeries.

"See...look at this. And then here..."

She showed me each and every one of her scars, maybe to get sympathy, but it really just resulted in turning me off from her completely.

At this point, my phone rang again. I answered it while the cripple hopped out of her chair and scooted back into the bathroom.

"Dude what the HELL are you doing?!"

It was my friend Andy.

"Get the fuck out of there!"

"All right, I'll be out in a second," I assured him, not knowing whether I was actually telling the truth. I'm not sure why I wanted to stay. Maybe because, if I left, I knew the woman would feel like shit. The best thing to do, I figured, was to wait for her to come back out of the bathroom and then I would politely tell her that I had to go. 'Yes, that's the best way to handle this.'

So the cripple came back out of the bathroom and I stood up from the bed, took a deep breath and began to tell her I had to split...but before the words could come out, she handed me a box of (what turned out to be) Durex-brand condoms!

"It's been so long," she reiterated.

I analyzed the box and noticed that the condoms had 'vibrating rings', which is a feature I've never been privileged enough to experience. I also noticed that it was a five-pack with only two left inside. 'Where did the other three go?' I wondered. Either she was lying to me about not having sex for four years or she's had the condoms since her husband died, which - I believe - would mean they had expired long ago. Suddenly, I really wasn't feeling so good about the situation I was in.

The cripple hopped into the bed - still wearing just her underwear with a long, black T-shirt - and slid beneath the sheets. All I can remember doing is standing at the foot of the bed, staring at the box of condoms, feeling part-retarded and not really knowing what to do.

But, then, my phone rang again.

"Dude! What the fuck!"

"Who is it?" asked the cripple, who could hear the shouts coming out of the phone.

"It's...uh...um...my friends. They want me to go now."

"Let me talk to him!"

She snatched the phone out of my hand, asked who she was talking to, said she "was the owner of the household!" - whatever that meant, said something else, and maybe another thing...but the next thing I remember happening is hearing a really loud BANG! BANG! BANG! on the door.

"Jesus!" said the cripple and went to answer the door.

She opened the door and there was Andy.

"He's coming with us," he said, pointing at me.

"No, he's staying right here."

"No, he's coming with us."

"Get out of my home!" yelled the cripple and proceeded to slam the door shut, but Andy stuck his foot in the door to prevent her from doing so.

"I'm calling the cops!" she yelled.

"Yeah right you're gonna call the cops. You probably got all sorts of drugs in here."

It was at this point that I knew the situation was going very sideways and that it was only going to get uglier if I stayed. I basically meant well by "hanging out" with the cripple, but now I needed to go.

"All right, I better go," I told the cripple. "I'm very, very sorry about this. It was very nice meeting you."

More words were exchanged between Andy and the cripple, and they weren't friendly ones. All I remember are the last three things that were said:

"Next time I see you I'm going to stab you," said Andy.

"I know people who will have you killed!" yelled the cripple.

"Bring it!!!"

And that was that. We left the motel and went to get late-night bagel sandwiches at Dunkin' Donuts.

But, yes, what a disaster the evening turned out to be, and all because I was drunk and basically part-retarded. I probably never should have gone back to the motel, even to be nice. Everything turned to shit, and that woman's life is probably more miserable now after my attempt to make it less miserable. I don't feel very good about myself.

The bottom line, I think, is that you can't win with booze. You really can't. Alcohol turns me into a person I don't like and feel ashamed about when I wake up the next day. It brings out a Hyde-like personality, not that I get belligerent, but - in many ways - I get very sloppy and make bad decisions that end up doing harm to either myself or others.

In fact, it was only a few weeks ago that a woman said she "heard stories about me" and that "you're a pig, Matt Burns!" I think the "stories" she heard mainly involved an innocent make-out session with some girl in an atypical place, but let me tell you something: I never thought the words 'pig' and 'Matt Burns' would ever be used in the same sentence together. Being called a 'pig' by that woman flabbergasted the hell out of me, because I always saw myself (and was perceived by others as) a 'good' man. I mean, I did well in school and went to a decent college and took CCD classes to learn about Jesus and volunteered at a Mental Hospital and all that shit. Deep down I'm really NOT a pig (I think), but I guess, when I drink, I do display piggish behavior...often. So I can see why I could be labeled as such.

And, on some level, I guess I actually enjoyed being considered a pig...because for most of my life I've been 'good' all the time (i.e. what society considers good), whether it be in school or on a moral level, and I've always been kind of turned off by that. But, at the same time, I think I've gone too far towards the opposite extreme - become too 'bad' - and I have to maybe find some sort of a mean now. Yes, indeed. A mean.

Anyway, as far as the cripple goes...if you're reading this...I'm sorry for giving you a bad night. All I ever wanted to do was give you a good time. I never meant to hurt you in any way. Sorry. Honestly, I am. And I hope things get better for you.

As for me and drinking...it will most likely continue.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Personality Tests: Survival of the Phoniest

Having recently finished a novel I've been meaning to get written and now finding myself in need of more money to supplement my shoddy income as a videographer, I have been sending applications out to various places in hope of getting some retail work for the holiday season. Make more money. Comfort myself with more financial security. Contract some H1N1.

One thing I noticed during the application process was that several retail places no longer administrated their own hiring process. For efficiency's sake, they have outsourced the tedious task to a third-party "workforce management" company called Kronos (see Kronos.com). The Kronos company, according to their website, specializes in giving companies "the tools they need to help them control labor costs, minimize compliance risk, and improve workforce productivity". More importantly, it ensures that organizations "hire the best people and make smarter decisions".

One of the ways Kronos has gone about finding "the best" workers for their client companies is by developing an electronic employee application that includes something called a Unicru personality test (Unicru was the company that initially developed the test, but was bought out by Kronos in 2006). Many of you out there are probably familiar with this test, as it is reportedly used by nearly 16% of all retail organizations in the United States. The test consists of a series of statements and you are supposed to respond to each statement with whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. For example, there will be a vague statement like, "Any trouble you have is your own fault" or "You are careful not to offend people" or "Your moods are steady from day to day" and you're supposed to choose whether you agree with what is said.

Upon completion, the tests are "graded" by Kronos with three colors: green, yellow or red. Green means the applicant passed the test with flying colors. Yellow means they did so-so. And red means they failed. This color-coding system is used with the intention of making the hiring process easier for the employer. Instead of sifting through an enormous pile of applications and looking over each applicant's work experience and education background and references etc., all the employer has to do is look through a Unicru report, see who the "greens" are and then call those people for an interview, for it's the greens that (according to the test) are the best candidates for employment.

Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what is wrong with this kind of shallow, oversimplified means of hiring employees. In the words of one flustered personality test-taker quoted in a recent Wall Street Journal news article, the test is "just a way for companies to hire robots. A lot of people who scored green just figured out a way to cheat the system, or are just the 'yes' people, and I don't believe it makes them more capable than anybody else."

With statements like "You agree with people more often than you argue", "You are careful not offend people", "You avoid arguments as much as possible", "You finish your work no matter what", and "You are somewhat of a thrill-seeker", it's clear that the intention of the Unicru test is to weed out the people who are most likely to be 'insubordinate', get in the way of productivity and, in turn, decrease company profits. In other words, the test ends up favoring those who never argue, upset others, disobey orders, offend people, seek thrills...in short, those who are the least human. Kronos apparently believes that the most dehumanized individual will make a company run at its most productive level, like an ever-predictable mechanism within a large machine.

But its favoring of dehumanized individuals isn't all that's wrong with the Unicru test. As I personally took the 99-question test - determining whether I agreed with the various statements - I found myself inwardly conflicted when coming up with my responses. On one hand, I knew what my honest responses were to the various statements...but I also knew that my honest responses were not what the Kronos people were looking for.

For example, when I was faced with statements like "Many people cannot be trusted", "People do a lot of annoying things", "People do a lot of things that make you angry", and "There are some people you really can't stand", my first inclination was to "strongly agree" with all of the above. I mean, yes, a lot of people out there really bother me and do a lot of annoying things that make me angry, and I'm sure the majority of people out there share this sentiment. But I knew that "strongly agreeing" with those statements would only make me look like a negative malcontent and wouldn't test well with Kronos. So I essentially found myself forced to choose a phony response that I knew would ensure my chances of passing the test. I knew that the 'right' answer was to "strongly disagree".

In other words, I came to the realization that lying was the only way I was going to get the job. And I'm sure I wasn't alone in feeling this way. I'm sure most people who take these tests find themselves responding dishonestly for the same reasons, especially in the midst of today's horrible economy where people have never been so desperate to get the job. People will do whatever it takes to get an interview, even if it means lying and bullshitting their foot in the door.

So, in effect, what the Unicru personality test really ends up doing (intentionally or not) is it weeds out people who tell the truth and rewards those who lie. Where the test's intention is to act as a kind of Darwinian means of selecting 'the best' to work for a company, what it really does is ensure that the liars and bullshitters and phonies thrive in our society while the honest people get left to rot in the gutter. It's a selection of the phoniest, not the fittest.

Now, it's very possible I'm looking too far into all this...but I don't think I am. Look at the gravity of the situation on a greater scale: I guy gets a job because he is dishonest on his personality test. He leads a dishonest life as a dishonest employee. He is never truthful. He never says what he really means. He never argues. Never offends. He acts the way his employer wants him to act, not the way he wants to act. He makes a dishonest living at this dishonest job and starts a dishonest family, and teaches his children to be dishonest so they, too, can get a dishonest job and make a dishonest living and start another dishonest family. One dishonest generation after another is born. Over time, the world turns into a completely dishonest place where nobody exists as their true self; they exist according to how others (in this case, their employers) want them to exist.

Of course, things haven't gotten this extreme...yet. Only 16% of retail companies have subcontracted their hiring process to Kronos Corp., which is a high percentage, but it could be much worse. And although personality testing is reportedly a $450 million industry (and expanding by 10% every year), not everybody's using the tests; in fact, a lot of companies (Whole Foods, Spencer Gifts, among others) have come to realize how flawed the test really is.

However, with the economy in the condition it is - a condition that will more than likely get worse before it gets better - companies are becoming more and more desperate to find the "best" employees, which means more and more of these companies are going to use personality tests that, they think, will make it easier for them to do this. And, with people becoming more and more desperate to find a job, people will do whatever they need to do to survive, submit to the test, even if it means lying and being a phony.

It hasn't quite happened yet, but our culture is undoubtedly headed in a direction where it will become its phoniest ever. In today's job market, 'truth' has become an inconvenience, something that only gets in the way of our financial survival. But 'truth' is, always has been and always will be the most important thing to preserve, even if it makes life a tad more financially insecure. In the words of Martin Luther, "Peace if possible, truth at all costs."

To see the complete Unicru personality test I took, click here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflections on the Meaning of Life

I just finished another interesting book called MANY LIVES, MANY MASTERS by a psychiatrist named Brian L. Weiss. Maybe it was serendipity that I discovered this book now (it was written about 25 gears ago), especially at a time when I've been pondering the meaning of my life and the point of humankind on earth in general. This book begins to shed some light on these issues.

In 1982, Weiss took on a client named Catherine who was having all sorts of personal problems. She suffered from extreme phobias (everything from fear of water to closed spaces to swallowing pills) and also experienced anxiety attacks on a daily basis. Something was clearly wrong with her, so she was referred by her physician to Dr. Weiss to see if his psychiatric practices could shed any light on the situation.

Initially, Weiss attempted basic psychoanalysis to try and get at the root of Catherine's problems, hoping to pinpoint childhood traumas that would explain her phobias. But with the exception of a few minor improvements, Catherine's phobias persisted.

Weiss then took things a step further and tried regression therapy, hoping this would tap into Catherine's subconscious and reveal a repressed trauma or other incident that would explain the phobias. But something unexpected occurred when he did this. Instead of accessing Catherine's subconscious, he accessed something else: what he refers to as her "super-conscious".

While under hypnosis, Catherine started experiencing strange memories that didn't pertain to her current life in any way. She remembered being a girl in Ancient Egypt who embalmed the dead, and then being a little boy in the Ukraine whose father was wrongfully executed in prison, and then being a prostitute in Spain, and even being a Nazi German soldier who died in WWII. Weiss eventually concluded that these memories were of past lives - what he eventually determined to be a whopping 86 lives in total!

But what was even more interesting about the regression sessions was that Catherine would remember the time in between her many lives: that is, she would re-experience floating out of her body after a death, going into a bright light, becoming a spirit in the spirit world and evaluating her life from beginning to end - what she learned, what she did right...and where she went wrong.

And that's not it: to make things even more amazing, Catherine found herself able to convey super-intelligent spirit messages to Dr. Weiss during these "in-between-life" experiences - messages dictated to her from highly evolved spirits (what Weiss refers to as being "the masters"). In other words, she acted as a medium, helping Dr. Weiss communicate with the spirit world. The messages to Weiss were spoken poetically, and they described a spirit world comprised of seven levels, where the lowest levels were for poorly evolved spirits and the highest levels were for the highest evolved spirits. Life, the masters explained, is about learning, and each soul comes to earth to learn a particular lesson that can only be learned in human form. We choose when we want to live and what kind of life we are going to live and what we need to learn during that particular life. The overall meaning of our lives on earth is to obtain as much wisdom and knowledge as we can, so as to become as "God-like" as possible. Each soul grows during each life, and - eventually - everybody reaches the highest spirit levels in the spirit world, as long as we learn what we need to during our various human incarnations.

After several of her regressions, Catherine ultimately freed herself from her fears, phobias, and anxieties. Weiss determined that her dramatic improvements were due to a combination of pinpointing certain past-life traumas and also becoming more spiritually aware through the process of her regression. She came to realize that our souls live forever, and that there is nothing to be afraid of in life, because we never die. There is a greater purpose to our existence: to evolve to the highest level possible.

All in all, Many Lives, Many Masters is an incredibly intriguing book, even if you're skeptical of whether it's all true. One particularly interesting discovery Weiss makes during his time with Catherine is that souls "hang out" in groups and manifest themselves as human beings at similar points in time. This means that people we know in our present life most likely played a role in a past life, but not necessarily the same role. In Catherine's case, her lover in her present life (a man named Stuart) was a father in one of her past lives, and in another past life he was actually her murderer. Yes, it seems strange that a murderer in one life would be a father in another life, but Weiss learns from "the masters" that this occurs because a soul becomes indebted to people they are unjust to in another life. Catherine's murderer, in other words, wanted to repay her for his injustice, so he appeared as a more nurturing father in another one of Catherine's lives.

This all seems very far out, but one can't help but wonder if there is any truth to Weiss' discoveries. After all, why is it that we seem to gravitate towards certain people in our lives? What makes us choose our friends? Lovers? Colleagues? Is it because we know them from another life? Or from several other lives? Do we keep on befriending the same people over and over again? Are we all a part of a greater spiritual journey where we're trying to help each other evolve spiritually?

Overall, MANY LIVES, MANY MASTERS is an incredibly interesting book. It sheds a brighter light on the human identity and the meaning of life in general. According to Weiss' discoveries, we are placed on earth in several different incarnations to learn several different lessons, and we learn these through trials, tribulations and - most importantly - a lot of pain. In a culture where we are supposed to be happy all the time, where we're conditioned by happy-ending Hollywood movies and books like The Secret that teach us to ignore negativity and "think positive", Weiss' book suggests the complete opposite: that it's our PURPOSE on earth to experience hardship and painful times, as it's through these difficulties that our spirits grow and evolve. Only through pain do we become more highly evolved spirits, and, thus, closer to God. What a radical way to look at life.