I am thirty-two years old as I write this. I’ve lived in New Jersey, Florida, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. I have driven across the country four times and traveled the East Coast from head to toe six times. I’ve spent significant amounts of time in New York City, Boston, San Diego, and Las Vegas. I’ve visited Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, London, Florence, and Rome. I’ve read more pages of history, from the cradle of civilization to the current crisis in Libya, than I can possibly count. And while I am far from an expert, I consider myself educated about genetic and evolutionary science. After all that, I have glommed onto one unassailable observation that I have yet to see proven beyond a reasonable doubt: people are stupid. But the following true story stands with a turd-like shine as an example of just how stupid we as a species can be.
Years ago, when I still worked in film production, I was hired as a production assistant on a commercial to be shot in Center City, Philadelphia. On the day – as they say in “The Industry” – shooting was rolling along smoothly as can be expected in any barely controlled state of bedlam. I can’t remember precisely what time of the day it was, how many shots we had in the can, or what I was doing at the time; but at some point the Assistant Director approached the other PA’s and me. He calmly and respectfully – a rarity amongst AD’s – said that one of us needed to run to the convenience store down the street and buy some batteries. Being that it was a perfect opportunity for me to buy more cigarettes, I volunteered.
I walked into the store, quickly found the batteries, and brought them to the counter. Standing behind said counter was a young dunderhead of indeterminate Eurasian origin. His unevenly trimmed five o’ clock shadow smartly matched his wrinkled, oversized powder-blue shirt. Spittle threatened to seep over his lazily hanging lower lip, and his brown bovine eyes sparkled with witless aplomb.
I greeted the mouth-breather with a casual but pleasant, “Hi. How ya doin’?”
He returned my greeting with a brief glaring clown-smile of teeth and oversized gums. The disconcerting grill of civility appeared suddenly, magically replacing the slack-jawed flytrap of a look for less than half of a second, then disappeared just as suddenly; as if he had accidentally brushed a switch to his facial muscles, noticed his mistake, then quickly toggled it back to its default setting.
He scanned the batteries I had presented to him and deposited them into a bag. I then said, “And can I have a pack of Marlboro Lights?”
At this the poor dumb bastard froze like a deer in the headlights of an alien mothership. His eyes locked onto the register, then shot up at me. “Wait – what?” he asked.
“A pack of Marlboro Lights please.”
The rube’s troubled eyes narrowed as his lower lip edged closer to the ground. He spun his head toward the wall of cigarettes behind him, then back to the register, then back to the cigarettes. I was watching a man experience the defining moment of his life, the moment that would secure his legacy and set the stage for the rest of his existence. This was the Twelfth Peril of Hercules. This was Einstein’s arrival at General Relativity. I would have been entranced had I not been thoroughly confused. What could possibly be the stumbling block in this equation? I thought.
I took pity on the tragic simpleton, pointed to the Marlboro Lights behind him, and patiently explained, “The gold and white ones right there in the middle.”
I don’t know what prompted his synapses to finally turn over, but after looking at me, then at the cigarettes, then the register; some electrical wave of wisdom invaded his cerebral cortex. The fear in his face was quickly, almost violently, dispelled by sudden epiphanous comprehension. His eyes widened and the corners of his mouth turned upward gleefully. He had figured it out.
He looked me in the eye and said, “Oh! You want to buy them!”
That, my friends, is STOOPID.