Generalizing From Ourselves
If there is one error that almost 100% of us make, it’s generalizing from ourselves. Stated as succinctly as I can, this means that we assume that others make decisions, are motivated by, have the same values, goals, and beliefs, and care about the same things we do. And if they don’t, they should.
Further, it makes no difference what those beliefs, values, goals, etc., are, the projection of these onto others infects us all. And when our expectations are thwarted? Anger, frustration, anxiety and depression may not be far behind.
Or the fast, short-term, solace readily available in the bottle of your choice.
While we all do this, with maturity we may get better at recognizing it and compensating for it. But first we need to recognize that we still tend to do it and it leads to invalid assumptions.
Examples? At the very lowest levels of maturation, the con artists, predators, 13th Steppers, and others of their ilk truly believe that everyone lives in their Darwinian world of predators and prey. They cannot even conceive of any other basis for living. To them, everything is a scam.
Slightly higher up the developmental level, conformists, who make up the bulk of successful AA adherents, also believe that we’re all the same, that what works for them is what works, and that if the rest of us would just stop being “in denial” and “get with the program” everything would be great. Of course that also means that suggestions to the contrary threaten the bejesus out of them and they react very harshly.
Those who mature normally still have problems with assuming that everyone else agrees with them or would if shown the error of their ways. Stereotypes still take the place of thinking and individuation. Women are still from Venus and men from Mars even though there really are more differences within the genders than between them.
All of this is by way of saying, since you, our readers, self-selected by virtue of having subscribed, and therefore more mature than average, may still suffer from the confusion that this generalizing from ourselves creates. And many of us, frustrated beyond our carrying capacity, drink to get some respite from others’ immaturity, ignorance, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and a host of other maladies.
But alcohol isn’t the only relief available. And the other possibilities are a lot less destructive and a lot more fun.
Want to discuss those options? A phone call will get you started discovering that.
Though nearly fifteen years have elapsed since that bright fall afternoon, the scene remains as vivid now as then. Down by the post office, a hulking derelict forces his way through the dogs and the children. He doesn’t have to try. His hickory cane has a nail in the end and anyone who gets in the way gets nailed – literally. From my house, on a slope overlooking the village, I have been keeping track of Rampart’s residents all fifty or so – since my arrival a year ago, but I have never spotted this monumental ruin before. I wander down to the post office, collect my share of bills and junk mail, and retreat to my porch to consider safe ways of inquiring about him.
Two days later, when the next mail plane comes from Fairbanks, I find an opportunity. Closing up my office in the one-room school I operate for the State (though the stationary still reads “Territory of Alaska”), I head down to the post office. Harry, the town magistrate, is there collecting his mail and looking for a cigarette. One answer per cigarette seems like a fair trade,
“Say, who was that distinguished looking individual I saw here on Tuesday?”
“You stay away from him,” snaps Harry. “That was Old Frank, and if there’s trouble around, Old Frank’ll make it happen to you!”
I may have arrived too late for the gold rush, but I could still hang around with some of the aging and ancient stampeders who were still in Rampart. Harry, the “Hollywood Kid” (‘kid because he was the youngest miner when he arrived, and ‘Hollywood’ because he knew all of the latest dances from Hollywood), was the youngest, having arrived in 1933. Charles, quietly reading Homer in the original and playing his violin on the porch of his cabin, was, at ninety-five, the oldest. Most of them were retired to a degree, living on their social security, pioneer’s benefits, and trickles of long-hoarded gold.
Old Frank had come to Rampart in 1904, as part of the original rush to nearby Minook Creek. He was fourteen at the time, and Rampart had mushroomed to a town of 2,500 with half as many more on the surrounding creeks. He’d never left until his semi-retirement a few years back. Not that he’d gone soft like some of the other old Alaskans. It’s true that he spent vacations in Arizona, like a number of his contemporaries, but Frank was a little different. He spent the summer there. Frank did appear to be a man who liked his weather straight.
After I spotted Frank it took me another year to find out where he lived. By talking to my students and neighbors, I learned that his tiny cabin, maybe six feet by ten feet, was perched on a hogback some sixteen miles outside of town – the suburbs. One might suspect he’d get a touch lonely up there, but he’d seen to that. Seven Chihuahuas kept him company. Nice number – always enough for a party but not too many big mouths to feed.
Old Frank lived on a diet that didn’t allow for persnickitiness: prunes, stewed moose, and Copenhagen snuff. The prunes and snuff arrived with Frank in the fall, maybe by plane or riverboat, or on the helicopter he occasionally chartered to deliver him to his hill top. Watching him disappear into the hills with cases of these delicacies made me suspect that just possibly he was only 25 years old and his appearance was a reflection of his diet.
Menu item number 3, a moose suitable for stewing, required a little planning. Frank was not the sort to go chasing off into the bushes looking for a moose and then have to carry it home. He had more important work to do. Besides, packing a moose uphill isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time. So, when October arrived with temperatures cold enough to keep the meat from spoiling, Frank would hulk down the trail from his cabin to the timberline and hang a snare made of half-inch steel cable from a favored tree. A piece of light wire ran from the noose back to a bell in his cabin. Eventually the bell would announce the arrival of winters dinners or an errant snowmobiler.
In late November I had a little time and decided to I’d visit Frank on his own ground. I tossed together a sack of goodies: bacon, eggs, coffee, and a quart of Jack Daniels that I figured the dogs at least would enjoy. With the bag strapped to the back of my snow-go, I headed out, warned by neighbors to watch out for snares and for the open mine shafts that surrounded Franks place.
There was at least a faint trail most of the way and Frank’s snowshoe tracks beyond that. The wind had drifted the snow completely over his cabin, but finally I noticed a drift with a chimney. Pushing aside a flap of canvas, I entered the porch area, which had a hole four feet square in the center of it.
Pounding on the door brought a chorus from the dogs, but no Frank. The chimney was smoking and there weren’t any fresh tracks outside, so it didn’t seem likely that he was either dead or away from home. Carefully peering over the edge of the hole, I thought I could hear the distant scurrying of some beast or other, so I sat down to wait. Old Frank had a reputation for not liking surprises so I didn’t wait quietly. That notion went back to around 1918 when a U.S. Deputy Marshall arrived from Seattle to surprise Frank for ignoring his draft notice. Frank was surprised enough that he allowed as it seemed silly to go all the way to France to shoot some skunk when he could shoot one off his porch a lot cheaper. The Deputy, recognizing a firm resolve when he saw it, tactfully retreated to Seattle to report that Frank appeared to have done died in the woods some time back. Not much interested in leaving for Seattle, I whistled and stomped and kept the dogs excited.
Eventually the sounds in the shaft got louder. A tiny gleam from a carbide lamp moved up the ladder toward me, and Frank’s form began to emerge from the murk. In a few minutes he clambered over the edge, nearing a neck yoke from which hung two five- gallon cans of mud. He didn’t look too pleased.
“Who the hell are you?” he inquired, in a voice a fire-and-brimstone preacher would have coveted.
That’s a tough question to answer, if you have any kind of opinion of yourself, when it’s asked by someone who considers you a tourist if you haven’t been around for at, least fifty years. I mumbled one excuse or another for my existence and sidetracked him with my sack of offerings. I think he was genuinely pleased, especially with the quart of whiskey. It didn’t hurt that I was the first visitor he’d had in years, either. He dumped the mud and led the way into his tiny cabin.
Allow your senses to consider the experience of stepping into a sauna occupied by a man and seven dogs, all living on boiled moose, prunes and snuff. I think I can safely say that the atmosphere would have gagged a buzzard.
The cabin had some shelves and a bunk and a small wood stove. A couple of five-gallon cans sat on the stove, containers of snow being melted. Frank offered me a seat on an old gas box – one of those crates that hold two cans of gasoline during their trip north and that have become stools, shelves and cabinets throughout the bush – and opened the bottle.
“So, young feller, what you doing up here?”
“Well, I’d heard about you some and saw you once or twice and thought I’d wander up and check.”
“Heard about me, eh? That a polite way a sayin’ they all told ya I was nuts?”
“Oh, that’s okay. Folks been sayin’ that for 60 years. Course most of them’s too dead to say anything more,” he chuckled.
As the afternoon progressed, I did get some picture of Frank’s daily life, though the term “daily” is somewhat inaccurate; Frank didn’t own or need a clock or a calendar, and even the dim light of winter couldn’t penetrate his home. He would melt snow and put the water on to boil, get the stove going and go to sleep. When the water was heated the temperature in the cabin would wake him and he’d put a pot of meat on to simmer.
Then, with two cans of hot water attached to his neck yoke, he’d clamber down his shaft and scurry through one of the drifts to his current digging stop. Dumping the hot water on the frozen ground, he would then retreat to his cabin and fix a meal for himself and the dogs. Dinner over, he’d return to the drift head and shovel the thawed mud into his buckets and haul it to the surface. Two or three trips later he’d be down to the frost again and ready to melt more snow.
All this effort is producing not a single grain of gold. Frank isn’t interested in gold. It’s true he looked for it in the past, as well as doing everything else there is to do in the woods. He’d cut cord for the stern wheelers until the diesels replaced them in the ‘fifties. He trapped over the whole country and left more than four dozen cabins to mark his passing. He burrowed, honeycombing the cliffs around Rampart with shafts dug into the permafrost for use as refrigerators and freezers. He planted gardens and built greenhouses.
Now, however, he is up to something else. Frank is tracking a meteorite. Forty years ago he saw it hit this hill top, and for twenty years he has labored to trap that bit of rock and present it to the Smithsonian. Now he almost has it cornered.
The verbs I’m using aren’t mine, they’re his. I know that when a meteorite hits, it stops, right there. Frank will tell you that he is on the track of the sneakiest one that ever landed. It’s eluded him until now, but he about has it surrounded. Five thousand feet of shaft and drift dissect the hill top, and Frank roams the tunnels with his hand-crafted magnometer, slowly closing in on the iron gopher that will still the jeers that haunt him.
* Old Frank was published in Stories Magazine, Boston, Mass.