I was waiting patiently for the coffee counter to open at a hotel in Nashville last week when I remember life tilting to the left a little. Living a normal life in the age of COVID is like stumbling into a random, 1967 episode of the Batman TV series, sometimes. You remember those, the ones where Burt Ward as Robin and the always mesmerizing Adam West ‘playing it straight’ as Batman.
In the original Batman TV series, anytime the producers wanted to remind you that you were in a comic book fantasy world, they tilted the screen, added brighter than life colors. That’s what I was feeling inside now. Wondering if there was going to be a fight.
In Batman, when characters fought, you could see the sound of the punch or kick in a ‘sound bubble’ on the screen. The producers hid subtle social media messages about family values specifically aimed at kids (drinking milk, doing homework, telling the truth etc.) within each episode and whether they were playing it for fun or for real, it worked. I distinctly remember to this day watching the scenes of Adam and Burt buckling their seatbelts before driving away in the Batmobile. Adam West was a quirky adult in tights, but the show and its cavalcade of alluring villains was my go-to guilty pleasure well into adulthood.
I think the closest anyone could get to understanding how complex Adam West was in real life was by watching him develop the “Mayor West” character over the last few years of his life on Family Guy the animated television series. I actually got to meet Adam in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. He was there on a junket with a number of actors. I only had the time and clout to meet two. Adam West and Richard Boone. I didn’t like Boone in person. He had just finished The Shootist and I guess he was tired of answering interview questions about John Wayne. Wayne died in 1979 just 3 years after this, his final film. Boone, just two years later. Because Boone was surly and stand-offish, I focused the little time I had with deep-diving Adam West.
West was quirky. We connected through our mutual love for fly-fishing. In a moment of what I can only define as pure emotional transparency, he told me what it was like playing Bruce Warne / Batman. Adam said that early on he knew that the Batman role “was a square”, but that the only way to connect with the audience as an endearing square was “to play it straight”. He said that by playing both Bruce Wayne and Batman straight, accepting all their faults and idiosyncrasies as completely normal, the audience would understand the irony. He felt that the humor would come through and kids would accept Batman rather than laugh at ‘this stiff in a cowl and cape’.
I can only assume that Wayne used that same approach to his character on Family Guy. I was channeling my meeting with Richard Boone as I came back to reality wondering if my coffee encounter was going to turn into a brawl.
It was clear to me after the first few days at the hotel that the coffee / light breakfast folks were sticklers with their start time. 0630 meant a hard start time of 0630. The same female barista I had met there the last couple of morning showed at 0627 and started turning light on and generally opening up for business. She nodded to me, wearing her ‘cat’ face mask and said ‘hello’. I started walking towards the counter and answered her greeting.
That’s when it happened. A man who had just gotten off the elevator at the lobby level walked over towards the counter, hastily set down a golf bag and walked in front of me and started ordering his triple venti soy no foam Latte. There is no doubt he saw me waiting. Not only did he make eye contact but he had to cut in front of me to get to the counter, negotiating empty chairs and tables along the way. Three people in a hotel lobby at 0630 hours in Nashville. One working, one headed to work and golf-douchebag headed to play the links. Based on my human behavior assessment, I spoke up.
I said, ‘Morning. Perhaps you didn’t see me, but I’ve been waiting”. Golf douchebag never missed a beat. “I’m in a hurry” he says. “Looks like you are going to be a little late” I retorted. The barista waited patiently for the discussion to end. Douchey took a step back and I ordered my large black with a little ice. I moved to the area designated for ‘pickup’ and watched as the golf pro regave the barista his order.
Age of Entitlement.
You have to understand that I am a student of human behavior. I’m not pushy. I would have had no problem letting Golf douche go first if he would have just asked. I didn’t really care if he asked politely, but I felt that for civility’s sake, he had to ask. I completely empathize with being late. Not late for “play”, though. I have said for 40 years now (How time flies. Please remind me Brian, we have to change the numbers on the promotional material!) that People Teach You How to Treat Them. It’s what my instructors and friends call a ‘Gregism’. Understanding that you ‘get more flies with honey’ is an axiom that has been lost or abandoned over the past few decades.
So, apparently, is the imperative of truth. While sipping my coffee and waiting for my partner in crime and part-time chauffer, I saw an incident of untruthfulness unfold on the lobby television screen which was tuned in to the civil turmoil attacking a major city in our nation. I watched live footage as protesters were failing to disperse.
Amongst other things I witnessed protesters’ arms with rocks and stick throwing smoke and tear gas canisters back at the cops who were trying to restore order. Around the frustrated police, I saw marked police cars burning, as well as local businesses. Among this carnage, I witnessed a man walking towards the fray with a brick in hand. This was live news footage and obviously, the cameraman (like me) suspected where that brick was going to end up. All the while the talking heads reporting this incident were saying that we were watching “a peaceful protest”. Who changed the lexicon?
Speaking of the lexicon (remember, this is all happening in the lobby of a hotel in Nashville at 0630 in the damned morning), other humans were now stirring and jockeying for position at the coffee counter. I see a mom and her young male child approaching the breakfast to go area. I overhear mom engaging in what I call “non-versation”. She (knowingly or unknowingly) had ‘tuned out’ from the conversation with her son. I watched as the boy said, “Mom, they have parfait yogurt, can I get one”. Mom looks around and responds without ever looking at her son. “Oh, is that right?”.
Mom grabs the coffee she ordered from the counter and turns without leaving a tip. She never looks at the barista, yet she says, “Thank you so much” over her shoulder, atonally with zero emotion. She turns to go on her way and almost floors her son, bumping into him as he tries to unwrap his parfait yogurt. As if cued from offstage (Line please?) instead of apologizing, mom says in a robotic fashion, “You’re welcome, thank you, have a great day”. A Roomba shows more compassion and emotional intelligence than that kid got out of his Stepford mom.
You may ask yourself why. The answer is simple. Using social media, cell phone texting, and not engaging in face to face communication has allowed us to adapt to a social persona, an in-person void of communication has replaced compassion, empathy, and thoughtful conversation.
On the pulse of mourning.
I’m no Maya Angelou, but she had it going on. Long after I started spreading my “people teach you how to treat them” around for HBPR&A audiences, Maya used her phrase, “When people show you who they are, believe them”. It’s close, but no cigar. Apparently, during an exchange with Oprah Winfrey on her famous show a few years back, Oprah shared how a bad relationship had left her with some emotional baggage with Maya. Maya asked, ‘Why are you blaming the other person? He showed you who he was.’
Oprah thought long and hard on that one and then told her audience, “When a person says to you, ‘I’m selfish,’ or ‘I’m mean’ or ‘I am unkind,’ believe them, they know themselves much better than you do.” Oprah remembers that Maya said, “My dear, why must you be shown 29 times before you can see who they really are? Why can’t you get it the first time?” After that encounter, Oprah says, Maya amended her saying to, ‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time’.
Oprah thought Maya Angelou was talking about relationships only because Oprah was reeling from a bad relationship. The real lesson here is that you need to acknowledge the human behavior to understand the human better.
Treatment before tragedy
You never really know where someone is on the anxiety scale when you link up with them during the day. It’s important to be able to read their human behavior and determine where they are before you spout off.
Case in point, the douchebag going golfing. He was put together for going to a golf course, not frazzled or anxious, demonstrating no anger or aggressive cues. He was a man used to getting what he wanted because he was well dressed, good looking and entitled. I felt no fear putting him in his place because he fit the psychological profile of people I have dealt with in the past and he was alone – no audience.
Based on my observations and perceptions, I knew he would back down and allow me to get my coffee first like I was supposed to. I’m not stupid enough to believe I altered this man’s behavior for life – just for this encounter. When it comes to other encounters with higher stakes, you have to be more careful. “Reading” human behavior without training is tantamount to gambling with the potential outcomes.
I’ll give you a couple of examples…
Reading human behavior.
An amazing stage and screen actress from Gross Pointe, Michigan, Julie Harris, won five Tony Awards for her performances in stage plays alone. A memoir about her performance in the film ‘The Haunting’ (1963) says that Harris was “Depressed” on the set and often “would cry in her makeup chair prior to the day’s shoot”.
The Haunting was based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by author Shirley Jackson. This film and the storyline based on the novel has been done a dozen times in different forms. In this one, perhaps truest to the novel, Jackson’s Eleanor Lance (portrayed by Julie) is involved in drama, intrigue and the beginnings of a lesbian relationship with character ‘Theo’ portrayed by actress Claire Bloom. Oh, and Julie’s Eleanor “Nell” character is also slowly losing her mind inside this haunted house.
Now get this straight; you have a veteran experienced stage actor portraying the role of a desperate, despair-filled maybe-lesbian slowly losing her mind in a haunted mansion. How would YOU mentally prepare for that role? In the case of the amazing Julie Harris, she sat in her chair and allowed the emotions to overwhelm her ‘prior to the day’s shoot’.
The remainder of the cast thought that she was being distant or stand-offish, in fact, Julie was using the time to portray her on-screen role accurately. Had the cast been trained or even taken the time to ask Julie, they would have known it was merely a preparation tactic. Even Claire Bloom mentioned later in her own memoirs that she thought Julie Harris was a stuck-up ass until after the shoot when she found that the behavior, she witnessed was merely character acting and role preparation.
You can find another example hidden in the characterizations of a cartoon character created by Warner Brothers animator and producer-extraordinaire Isadore “Friz” Freleng. Friz was a creative genius. A true natural ‘Human behavior profiler’. One day in late 1934, Friz was watching Frank Capra’s multiple award-winning film It Happened One Night starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. Friz took the human behavior traits from Gable’s role as Peter Warne and jotted them down for a future project. Gable as Warne was holding carrots and eating them during the second third of the film.
Here ‘the King’ Clark Gable was munching away on fresh carrots just stolen from a farmer’s field, with the carrot tops or greens still attached! A prolific Hollywood actor talking fast while crunching away at his carrots.
Capra’s classic also had an iconic character called “Shapely” played by character actor Roscoe Karns. A fast-talking sort of con artist Karns’ was always working an angle. Friz took notes on Karns’ portrayal and jotted down what he thought was a funny name of a notional gangster that Clark Gable made up in the film in order to scare ‘Oscar Shapely’ back into being a gentleman. The fictitious name was Bugs Dooley.
In 1938 Friz put all of these human behavior characteristics into a novel cartoon rabbit that he called Bugs Bunny. In the first instance you saw clueless untrained fellow humans mistake Julie Harris’s manic state, in the second you saw a trained artist turn human behavior traits into a beloved animated character still popular with audiences some eighty-two years later.
You can be around human beings every day of your life and never fully understand how to ‘profile’ their behavior. To do takes preparation and training. You have to understand psychological stances, kinesics, how to read the context to determine relevance – all of these traits and many more will allow you to be able to de-escalate a situation or sense make a complicated, emotional mess.
Humans establish behavior patterns. They do this for a number of reasons, mostly chemistry-related. Simply stated, humans repeat behaviors because they are lazy. They don’t want to needlessly expend calories just in case a surprise survival situation presents itself.
The second part of Human Behavior Pattern Recognition and Analysis is, of course, the analysis. Determining the relevance of the behavior and whether it meets the standards of an MDCOA, most dangerous course of action.
I was able to navigate a situation of potential social unpleasantry by conducting a human behavior profile of a golfer in a hurry without his peeps, in a virtually empty lobby. I got my coffee and made my point without creating a scrum because of my human behavior training.
Adam West was able to create an iconic representation of Batman because he understood human behavior and knew how to make his character ‘sticky’ and vulnerable to audiences.
Julie Harris was able to channel her deep understanding of the human condition in order to create amazing characters, taking literary creations off the page and putting them on the stage or silver screen in a manner that put fellow actors and audiences in awe. So much so that they dimmed the lights on Broadway to commemorate her death.
Frank Capra was able to create such deep human characterizations that artist Friz Freleng sampled them to create a legendary comic persona (Bugs Bunny) who has sense created billions of dollars in revenue for Warner Brothers.
Human Behavior Pattern Recognition & Analysis can save the life of a cop on the streets, help triage a manic patient in an ER or help an HR professional psychologically de-escalate a potentially dangerous argument with an employee during a firing, and training changes behavior.
That’s all folks! (Forgive me, Warner Brothers, Friz and Mel!)
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