Saturday, July 31, 2021

Coleman Cox Hates You and Other Observations

At a recent trip to a thrift store, I came across Straight Talk from Coleman Cox, a 1928 collection of the "witty sayings" of a Coolidge era sales manager.




Though advertising itself as containing "more than nine hundred thoughts," it really just contains nine hundred variations on "You deserve to be poor" and "get back in the kitchen, woman!" 


I'm exaggerating a bit.  Some of his thoughts are just basic observations that he thinks are funny for some unfathomable reason.  Consider the very first entry in the book:




 A lot of jokes don't age well because the references become obscure, or sensibilities change, but this joke fails wholly on its merits, and the scope of that failure is undiminished over nearly a century.  It also fails as a useful, or even interesting, observation.  Some business partners don't get along!  

I want to provide a full unedited page to give you a good sense of how little this man has to say, and how proud he seems to be of saying it.





My first inclination would be to describe Cox as the poor man's H. L. Mencken, but Cox hates the poor.

His firm belief that wordplay makes wisdom is so unshakeable, that he doesn't even try to make sense half the time.  When he says "Traffic officers and not employers are the ones who caution young men against speeding up and trying to go ahead of every one," who is he complaining about?  Is he reprimanding the employers?  Does he think the young men should behave this way in business?  And what the hell is his problem in the last entry on the page?  Is he complaining about employees being busy?  Does he distrust the phrase "busy as a bee?"  I really can't suss out what he's trying to convey here. If you're wondering how this got past an editor, you might be shocked to find out there wasn't one.


Coleman's success as a writer came though self-publishing small booklets that he would sell to business owners, who would then distribute them to their employees.  As the blurb on the back of the hardcover puts it "Great executives have distributed millions of Mr. Cox's booklets of advice because they realized these friendly suggestions would help their employees work better and live better."







Fun stuff!

If you're wondering, does Coleman Cox have anecdotes that only a man completely lacking in imagination could find profound, then you're in luck!




I've found that people who greatly overestimate their own intelligence or perceptiveness tend to drastically underestimate the same qualities in others.  Does he believe that the meaning is so cleverly conveyed that the reader must go back to grasp it?  Does he believe repeating this common idea about perseverance will so rock his audience that they must pause and read it again once the shock has worn off?  Perhaps I'm being mean here.  After all, he's acknowledging that people who get thrown down can come back stronger, so maybe that's a sign of empathy?



Well, fuck you too, Coleman.  And in case anyone noticing the dialect in the above was wondering, yes, there are racist entries, but they're gross in a way that's not funny or interesting, so I'm not excerpting them here.  His misogyny gets personally revealing though.




The first question that comes to my mind is why is Cox going to these cabarets he finds so murder-inducing.  I'm also not sure who he's planning on murdering in this scenario.



There's something fascinating in a person who is so lacking in self-awareness and empathy.  Everything bad that happens to people is their own damn fault, and how dare my employees cause me to lose money.  


This book is, at its heart, marginalia from the side of the roaring twenties generally omitted when discussing American literature.  When we talk about the 1920s, the focus is almost exclusively on the authors of Lost Generation, Algonquin Round Table, or of those who shared similar cultural values.  But the flipside of the jazz and luxury was the gross exploitation that succeeded the Progressive Era, and the broad adoption of social darwinism and laissez faire by industry and government in this decade.  It's likely that the number of Americans who read Coleman Cox in 1928 is significantly larger than of those who read Ernest Hemingway or Dorothy Parker, despite his now complete obscurity.

Well, he has no one to blame but himself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Tom Cantor Seems Like a Loser and a Moron

Earlier today, I received in the mail an unsolicited autobiography by Tom Cantor titled Changed, which is a recounting of Cantor's decision to accept Jesus (though he insists he's still a Jew and not a Christian).  There have been plenty of articles about people offended by receiving the book, but none that have really gone into depth about the content.  So, using examples from the book itself, I hope to prove three things. 






1. Tom Cantor is a loser.


As far back as Saint Augustine, the Christian redemption narrative has featured a recitation of the convert's depravity before finding Jesus.  This trend continues today.  Ben Carson tried to stab someone and Mike Lindell was a crack addict.  According to the synopsis on the back cover, Cantor was "expelled from schools" and "broke through the boundaries of morality and plunged into sexual defilement."  Sounds saucy.  Let's start with the expulsions.  Cantor was expelled from a private military school at the age of eight.  What did he do?  Well, he was told not to touch the fire alarm, and frequently did so anyway.  One time he accidentally set it off, and his fellow students quickly gave him up. By his own account, he only intended to touch the fire alarm, and setting it off was an accident.  This is enough for him to caption a picture of his seven year old self as "Trouble Maker in Disguise" and cite this incident as proof of his underlying perversity.  "Accidentally pulling a fire alarm" is the least bad thing someone could do to get expelled. If Saint Augustine stole pears he didn't need, Tom Cantor touched a pear at the supermarket and accidentally knocked it to the floor.  This is the first of five bad things Tom Cantor does in his life.  Or rather, the ones he treats as bad things.  See section 2 for the actually shitty things he does, but never seems to acknowledge are awful.  The next horrible, sinful act he perpetrates is when he gets caught shoplifting records at the age of 15.  Yes, despite describing himself as a died-in-the-wool terror, there's a seven year gap until the next thing he finds worthy of mention.  The result of this arrest?  Daddy sends him to a boarding school in Switzerland.  The third bad thing happens on the boat there.  He was "so loud and annoying to the other passengers that the Swiss Police...picked me up by the ear and told me that I was a guest in their country."  How does this rebel without a spine react?  He behaves himself for the rest of the trip.  He was loud, and was told to quiet down, and did.  This is proof of his "rebellious nature."  

His fourth bad thing is probably the worst. After being in Switzerland for a couple months, he got caught being drunk and getting into a fight, which leads to expulsion and finding a new boarding school.  Is this good?  No.  Is this shocking for a teenager sent halfway around the world (or who has friends with a parent out of town)?  Also no.  We're talking about a man who, as a senior citizen, recounts accidentally pulling a fire alarm when eight years old as one of the worst things he's ever done.  This is not a rebel or a trouble maker.  This is a loser who is desperate to think of himself as having a bad streak, and briefly being loud on a boat hits his top five bad boy moments.  This is someone who desperately wants a cool redemption arc, despite being Milhouse's lamer older brother.

But hey, maybe the fifth moment is a doozy.  We still haven't come to the "sexual defilement" and whatever can be found on the other side of "the boundaries of morality."  It's 1960s Switzerland, who knows what freaky stuff he could get into. Maybe BDSM, prostitution, orgies, consensual sex with women who weren't truly in love with him ah shit it's consensual sex with women who weren't truly in love with him isn't it?  Here, in its entirety, is the sexual defilement of Tom Cantor:

        "During those trips my sexuality woke up. I hoped that sexual intimacy would fill my emptiness and bring me peace and happiness.  I turned to women looking for comfort and love.  But, the women I turned to were not looking for love, they were were only looking for a new passing excitement.  Those sexual encounters not only left me feeling emptier, but, worse, they made me feel filthy inside. I FELT DIRTY INSIDE!"

Tom Cantor managed to hook up with a random girl and was shocked, shocked I tell you, that she wasn't in love with him.  Him, the bad boy who tried and failed to steal motown records from a supermarket!  The dashing bandit who briefly bothered some transatlantic passengers, and would have kept doing so had he not been asked to stop! But the unnamed, undescribed, totally real European girls didn't fall for his dangerous allure, or his inflated ego, or his almost certainly clammy hands (even though they once accidentally pulled a fire alarm). 

After this, he feels so dirty that he takes a hot shower!  with soap!  for two hours!  But this doesn't cure his terminal case of feeling icky! 

2. Tom Cantor is a terrible partner

Tom Cantor moves back to the US to go to college at Miami University in Ohio.  After trying a shower once didn't cure his sense of defilement, he decided that he needed a "girl that was wholesome and pure" to "cleanse" him.  So he goes to the library to "hunt for that serious student."  He discovers that the study rooms each "had a square window that I could look into." He describes his reaction to this discovery as blurting out "Pefect! Window shopping!"  This alone is worse than any of the things Tom Cantor has actually felt bad about.  He sees a girl he likes, and then proceeds to lie to her, first claiming there are no other rooms available.  He presents her as believing this to be true.  "Appearing to be sorry that there were no booths available, she agreed."  He then finds out she's studying French, offers to evaluate her accent, then has the clever idea of negging and lying to her again.  "Seeing an opportunity to spend time with her I told her that her accent was terrible and that I could help her with her accent even though I knew I had a terrible Swiss accent."  He doesn't present this as a bad thing he did that he now regrets.  He just lied to this woman he didn't know with the hope of seducing her so she could cleanse him of sin.

After coming back to college after visiting family for the summer, he proposes to Cheryl, who tells him that she had been raped and was now pregnant.  This is terrible news.  For Tom.  Yes, Cheryl has PTSD and nightmares and sinks into depression.  But that's not the most important thing here. 

 "Impure, she was no longer better than I. No longer could she rescue me from my  own impurity.  What was worse [sic] about the rape of Cheryl and the pregnancy was that it forced me to be reminded of my own sexual defilement.  Her pregnancy was a glaring reminder of my own acts and defilements." (emphasis added)

To be clear, according to this man, the worst thing about the woman he loves being raped and impregnated, was it reminded him of the time he had emotionally unfulfilling consensual sex as a teenager.  Fuck this guy, right?  This is sociopathic.  This is worse than pulling a fire alarm on purpose!  But of course Tom Cantor doesn't see it this way.  The rape of the woman he claims to love is a tragedy, but mostly because it makes him feel bad. 

Even if we put aside how morally atrocious this is, how much of a moron do you have to be to actually put this in a book about your come to Jesus moment?


3. Tom Cantor is a moron.

Ostensibly, the purpose of sending this book to random Jews is to convert Jews.  And yet, in an 85 page book, he feels he needs to stop and explain what a moyle is.  Yes, he spelled mohel "moyle."  He also needs to explain what Yom Kippur is, what Baruch Atah Adonai means, etc.  He also does not seem to understand anything about how the world or any religion works.  If you're wondering how someone can accept Jesus as their personal lord and savior, but still consider themselves to not be a Christian, Tom Cantor explains his reasoning. 

"I had always been taught that people who were not Jewish were either Christians or Moslems...  I knew my three co-workers were not Moslems, they must be Christians... Right in the middle of them talking about their extra-marital relationships, I announced, "You fellows need Jesus Christ."... I was trying to find out if being Christian meant having Jesus Christ... From their response, I learned that a person could be a Christian and not have Jesus Christ or, expressed differently, I learned that a person could have Jesus Christ and not be called a Christian." 

Completely putting aside religious faith, this is quite possibly the dumbest thing I've ever heard.  This is grown man from a major city in the twenty-first century, and his entire argument is predicated on only three religions existing.   Even if we agreed with his conclusion that his coworkers were Christian and didn't have Jesus (after all, they're not Muslim or Jewish, so there is literally no other option), the reverse isn't automatically true.  Everyone who isn't a doctor is a lawyer or an accountant.  My acquaintances aren't lawyers or accountants so I will assume they're doctors.  I asked them if they have residency at a hospital.  They said no.  Therefore, a doctor does not need to have residency at a hospital or, expressed differently, a person can have residency at a hospital without being a doctor.

Q.E.D.

Look, I grew up in a pretty Jewish area.  I'm not super well-versed in the New Testament.  But Tom Cantor is either bafflingly ignorant or hamming it up for effect.  

"The first book in the "New" section was a book called "Matthew." What became obvious to me was that this was a book about Jesus.  This book was all about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus... As I came to the end of the book of Matthew, I was shocked to read of how Jesus was hated, betrayed and tortured to die a slow, agonizing death on the cross.  I felt so disappointed that the person I hoped could help me was now destroyed."

According to Tom Canter, he, as an adult, began reading the new testament and was surprised to find out that it was about Jesus Christ.  We were all impressed when people went months without spoiling Infinity War, but Tom Cantor managed to go about 20 years without finding out about Jesus being crucified or resurrected!

Obviously, this is a lie.  It's a very stupid lie that serves no purpose.  He mentions travelling around Europe; was he confused by all the buildings that had a big letter "t" with a dude nailed to it?  Did his Christian girlfriend who happened to be carrying a bible with her when they met just never mention it?   When people tell obvious lies and expect to be believed, they either think their audience is dumb or foolishly think they themselves are exceptionally clever.  Tom Cantor is the latter.  That's the reason I'm treating this as evidence that Tom Cantor is a moron.  It fits a pattern we see in the book, where he acts real self-satisfied about convincing people of obvious lies.  His entire story of meeting his wife is just a series of lies that he recites as if it were proof of what a clever wooer he is.  He has no sense of his own limitations.  The purpose of this book is to convert Jews, but show me one of us who doesn't know that the New Testament is about Jesus.  Show me one who hasn't heard that Jesus gets crucified and [spoiler alert!] resurrected.  Not only is this a dumb lie, it directly hinders his goal.

Based on this book, Tom Cantor doesn't seem to understand Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the fact that those aren't the only options, syllogisms, how lying works, how empathy works, the fact that your girlfriend being raped isn't all about you, that Dennis the Menace isn't history's greatest villain, the definition of "defilement," or that an 85 page book shouldn't have 31 chapters. 

Tom Cantor is a loser, a terrible partner, and a moron.



Q.E.D.