“Pearl” and the Autistic Experience By Hayden S.

This is a first. Hayden wrote this lovely, lovely piece on Pearl. And since I just covered how I saw myself in a character, it’s my honor to share the same. So it is with great pleasure I open the floor.

So I saw Ti West’s “X” back when it came out and loved it. The grungy aesthetic and performances made some old tropes feel fresh to me. It had sympathy for most, if not all, of its characters, which was refreshing in a lot of the misanthropy I’m admittedly used to in the horror genre. When a stealth prequel was announced, I would classify myself as cautiously optimistic. Soon after, I saw the trailer and was hooked. Femme fatale movies are a drug of choice and I went into the movie extremely hyped. Little did I expect that this movie would impact me in the profound way that it did. Whether intentional or not, “Pearl” felt so authentic to my experience on the autistic spectrum. 

Before I officially begin, I should preface that every autistic individual is different and this is merely to express why I personally got something out of the film. Furthermore, I feel I should also clarify that when I say the film’s protagonist is relatable, that does not mean that I endorse any of her murderous actions, nor would I replicate them. 

If you haven’t seen the film, “Pearl” is about a lonely woman living in Middle of Nowhere, Texas. Her husband is away fighting in World War I and she’s forced to look after her incapacitated father with her domineering mother. Pearl has big aspirations and an even bigger ego. This ultimately leads to her full transformation into the woman we see in “X.” So why do I think the character of Pearl exemplifies autism? 

First off, Pearl is outright stated to have issues with commonly understood social cues. She also seems to have a special interest in movies/dancing as a way to cope. It goes without saying that these are some of the most well known symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder. But I feel it goes even deeper. 

One aspect of the movie that I find notable is the use of face masks. The movie is set in 1918 around the time of the influenza pandemic which was a smart way to get around COVID restrictions at the time of feeling but it greatly serves my thesis as well. 

For the uninitiated, “masking” is a term widely used in the autistic community that refers to learning neurotypical behaviors and replicating them when talking to other people. It’s a survival strategy to avoid ridicule and shame in a society that often doesn’t understand us. It is also deeply draining because you are constantly withholding aspects of yourself. 

Keeping this in mind, Pearl seems to utilize masking throughout the film. It is stated that she hides her true self from her husband and other people in an extended monologue delivered beautifully in one take by star and co-writer Mia Goth. I don’t know how tuned in Goth and West are to autistic terminologies but it is certainly an intriguing coincidence.   

Early on in the film, Pearl meets a handsome projectionist who takes an interest in her and the feeling is mutual. He proclaims that with everybody wearing masks “it’s hard to know who anyone is nowadays.” 

At one point, our protagonist tells the farm animals “y’all see me for who I really am.” While in context this reflects her ego in thinking she’s a future star, I think it simultaneously establishes she only feels free to be herself around the animals who look on her with neutral faces. Indeed, this mask fully slips when she brings the unnamed Projectionist to her farm and shows him the animals. 

His reaction is one that a lot of us on the spectrum know very well. It’s a look of discomfort very common when we forget to mask for a single second. He begins backing away from Pearl (admittedly not entirely without reason). When she asks him what she did wrong, he assures her that she did nothing but she knows otherwise. “I feel things very deeply,” Pearl responds. It should be stated that while we often don’t have a full handle on commonly accepted social cues, this can manifest as a hypersensitivity to peoples’ reactions. We are not entirely oblivious. Whether internalized or not, there can be an intuition when you’ve accidentally said something awkward or uncouth. And my heart shattered at this point because I have been there. 

In the aforementioned monologue, Pearl says to her sister-in-law Mitsy that “there’s something missing in [her] that the rest of the world has.” This ultimately cuts to the autistic experience more succinctly than this thinkpiece. I’m grateful that I have a lot of the resources that she does not. I have a support system and we know so much more now about ASD than she did in 1918. 

Some people might feel that films about mental illness/neurodivergence leading to a path of destruction are inherently ableist but to me, they can be immensely cathartic. When I feel like my brain’s anxiety is taking control, I can watch a movie to live out a nightmare scenario in a healthy way. A vessel for the messy thoughts that we’re all capable of to some capacity. And I think the beauty of art is that it often reflects the imperfections of those both creating and watching it. 

Why Smile Hurt Me

I need to put some very serious trigger warnings right up front. This piece will discuss suicide at length as well as panic attacks from a firsthand perspective and depression. If you’re not in a head space to experience such matters then I would advise you go elsewhere. I’m putting this warning up front because I want this piece to serve as one. I also spoil the full film.

This is a piece I didn’t think I’d ever write.

I’ve gone to movies for my entire life. I live and breathe the art. I find peace and renewal in cinema. And I’ve experienced brutal films. I’ve seen United 93, The Passion of The Christ, and The Exorcist all in theaters. And as rough as those were, I left them shaken but enlivened by the art. (Look I wouldn’t be as nice on The Passion now but it at least had cinematography to admire.)

It was the middle of the day after I saw Smile that I realized an unfortunate first had been crossed. I had seen something that genuinely upset me. And not in a way that was redeemed by anything. This was a movie that hurt me on a very deep level. And I didn’t want to talk about it but I had to.

On a base level, Smile is probably about as middle of the road as horror movies get. Nice photography. Solid acting. A decent concept in theory. On an artistic level though it has a flaw. It’s unrelenting in its seriousness. There’s no humor at all to be found. And that’s a problem because it is one of the most aggressively unpleasant films I’ve ever seen.

I’m going to pause here to note that what I’m about to say is not something I’m hearing a lot of. In fact, I’ve heard the opposite and from critics I admire. The fantastic Matthew Buck really makes a fine case for the film. In fact the cases I’ve heard are so strong that I debated if I would in fact discuss the film because surely the fault lies in me. I had to be the wrong person to see it. In fact, keep mind as I go forward that most of the people I saw this with were literal mental health workers and very good ones! So it had to just be me.

But this movie has clawed at my brain in a way that bothers me. And I mean it bothers me on a deep level I find painful to discuss. I don’t get to write that off. I had a very angry negative reaction to this film and I need to deal with it. So fine, Smile triggered me. I don’t care if that’s absurd. This low budget October release intended for streaming genuinely bothered me.

I think I knew it would too. Before I saw it I admitted I didn’t want to see it. I went with friends to be clear. And I brushed it off as it wasn’t my taste. But I’ve seen movies this way I’ve loved. Mama is fantastic for example. And had it been that it wasn’t for me alone this wouldn’t exist. The Possession doesn’t have a long essay from me but I saw that.

But I knew the film was dealing with mental health and I’ve been wrestling with a severe crisis for months. I knew I wasn’t in the mood. You don’t tell someone that though. You suck it up after all. You don’t want to be rude. I wanted to be social.

It wasn’t worth it.

I’m going to be blunt. This movie is dangerous for people in my position and I’m utterly at a loss as to how this qualifies as entertainment. It’s a movie that’s a nonstop minefield of triggers for anyone wrestling with severe depression. And I genuinely felt hurt by it.

The simplest thing to note is the film plays suicide as entertainment. Which is utterly monstrous to do. In fact I’m shocked that that hasn’t gotten a worse outcry. The movie does so in a brutal way too. It’s not the near farce of The Happening, which I actually found triggering too. The movie plays suicide as a shocking thing to linger on the gore of.

That’s unforgivable and the movie loses me there. But there are ideas that it plays with that go deeper. And a key one is trauma. So let me say right up front that this subject is not off limits in horror. The Babadook did it. The classic Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet dealt with a man recovering from a nervous breakdown and I consider it a marvel of the subject. You can get the highest art out of the subject.

This one is again genuinely dangerous in what it says about trauma. Because the movie is unambiguous. You cannot survive it. You have no hope. No matter what you do, it will destroy you and others. And it’s not like the movie hides this idea. The thin veil is that it’s a demon (great design) who is doing this but it’s barely a metaphor. We know what it means. And I’m left to ask if writer/director Parker Finn knows what message was sent.

Trauma isn’t unsurvivable. In fact the point of both of the works I cited above is that the characters overcome their issues. Happy Death Day depicts a character killed repeatedly and she comes out better for it. You can use this metaphor but to decide to go nihilistic with it is to genuinely hurt anyone struggling with this condition. Yes, trauma often does destroy people. But I’m going to be blunt: A silly little bit of fluff like this isn’t the place to go full Lars Von Trier!

And then there’s how the film treats the rest of the things it deals with. Yes, mental illness is horrifying and you feel like everything is hopeless and scary. The movie depicts that well. But that’s kind of the problem. It only depicts it. What does it say? Only that it’s scary and ugly? I know that! I’m struggling with it. What catharsis am I supposed to get from this film?

What really floors me is the depiction of mental health workers. I’ve never liked the way the industry is depicted on film. It’s either overly friendly or how it’s shown here which is icy and cold. The doctors are shown only trying to get their patients to shut up. They don’t want to help them. It adds to the idea that if you wrestle with things like this, you’re doomed. Nobody will help you.

But does it matter?

I’m going after a film that has no artistic pretensions. I’m an atomic bomb on a fly really. It should be easy for me to not write this and move on because frankly the film can’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s the old high art/low art debate. And this is the latter.

The thing is, this movie hurt me. It genuinely made me feel upset. It triggered me. We overuse that phrase but this legitimately triggered me and was on my mind as I had a panic attack so severe I had seizures the next day. I am not okay with having seen this film and it’ll take several weeks to flush it from my system.

I’m writing this because it’s necessary to write about how we interact with art. Great art can inspire us to feel overwhelming joy. As I’ve struggled, one of the films I watched was E.T., which I found a profound work of optimism and hope. E.T. is the kind of movie that makes me feel like cinema can truly improve our lives.

So to see something like this is to wrestle with the fact that art that expresses toxicity can harm us. I genuinely feel this film could set someone off who is struggling with suicidal ideation. In fact I think the odds of that are unnervingly high. Something like this isn’t ok in my eyes.

I’m not a prude. I’m not anti-horror. Three years earlier on that exact date that I saw Smile, I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street in a theater. That film deals with weighty themes. And had I seen it on Saturday, I would have honestly been in a great mood afterwards because even the film about the child predator had a point. It had catharsis.

That’s maybe why I’m so angry. Horror, which I profoundly love to the point that basically every long piece I do here is on one, is about catharsis. If it’s not, it’s useless. The Exorcist may not be a happy film but it has the catharsis that it’s about the idea that man is powerless and that we must accept that. It’s a film that counters this with genuine depictions of good. I’ve seen it in a theater. It’s a masterpiece. Again, had I seen it Saturday, would have walked out eager to talk.

This is nothing but unrelenting ugliness and cruelty that mocks anyone struggling with mental health. I have rarely hated a movie like I hate this one. Utterly unforgivable trash.

The Joy of Writing Just to Write

There’s a trend I’m seeing a lot right now that bothers me. It’s the idea of monetizing your hobby. Whatever you enjoy doing, the theory goes, you should earn money while doing it. Do you like to work on crafts? Do it for Etsy. Do you like talking with your friends? Do a podcast and make money. And so on.

That idea has always been extra insidious in the arts. If you like creating art, then the real purpose should be to sell it. And as I’ve noted before, that will destroy your love of doing so. I wrote that three years ago and I confirm in the three years since I have not written a full script and never will again. Why? Because instead of it being fun, all I could think about was writing something commercial instead of following my muses. I nearly got an anthology going but it ran out of gas for that reason.

But I’ve thought a lot about that idea lately. What brought this on was this. I did a silly little blog entry on 4 random months in a random year. There was no purpose but my own amusement. 5 people clicked on it. It will do me no good ultimately. I even started it saying this:

You know what rules about having your own blogs? You can write literally anything you want to! Nobody is demanding a long piece where I analyze every single bad movie released between January 1 and April 30, 1994 (ok and the few good ones.) But I’m here doing it anyway.

The thing is, I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I stopped and wrote for me. It was simply something that made me laugh. I liked exploring this stuff.

And that’s basically all I’ve done lately. I wrote a book on the films of 1997 just for me. I’m almost done assembling all my music entries into an ebook for no other reason than I can. I’m going to do a book on 2003 because I can. In the distance is a full book on the comics that defined me. First though I’m answering the 1994 entry with one on a great time in film. I’m not seeing a cent on these.

What I realize is this. The books existing is the reward. I get to look myself in the eye and know I created something. I’m building a canon of writing. It’s messy, unedited, flawed. But it’s enough that I spent my time on weird things I loved. I don’t get that time back.

I’m having a great time right now with my hobby. I don’t need anything more.

Two Weeks Later, I’m OK

Two weeks ago, my depression bottomed out and I had the worst attack in living memory. It’s time to check in.

You don’t get sick and leave the illness untreated. If you do, it gets worse. So what do you do? You go to the doctor. You take your medicine. You engage in behaviors that make you healthier. That’s what I did in the last two weeks.

I saw my therapist twice. That was nice. I didn’t do much more than vent. But I needed it. I’m glad I’m in therapy. It’s there so I can survive all of this simply by knowing I talked to a professional. And I’m on my med too.

But the behaviors are everything. I’m avoiding the triggers. That means I’m not shopping like I have been. Oh I still had one instance I’ll get to. But I’m not impulsively going to stores during the peak of my feelings. If I’m heated, it’ll only make things worse. So I don’t go unless I need to.

I’ve stayed home more. I’m comforted at home. There’s a Lola, an Amanda, and kitties. I can use my computer. I’m safe.

I’ve built 10 ebooks of web transcripts of shows I’ve loved. That was cool.

I finished my book. You’ll see it soon.

I’ve talked to y’all. That helped.

And I’ve indulged. I went to Rocket Fizz. I’ve listed to some Hercule Poirot mysteries. I’ve taken long drives. I’ve let myself be happy.

I’m ok.

A Complete Update of How I’m Feeling Today

I’m writing this for a reason. I have emotions in me that are not good. They’re ugly and bad and nasty. And they’re poisoning me. I’m angry a lot right now and I’m taking it out in being mean to people around me. I can’t do that. So I’m here. I’m saying everything on my mind.

I am in a bad mood. That’s not shocking. Who isn’t in a bad mood? But that’s my point. I’m in an utterly horrible mood. What am I mad at?

I have to concede a shocking amount of my anger is at the civil rights situation in America. I’m seeing a campaign on trans people that sickens me. I know I don’t have any skin in that game. But I do. Some of my closest, and I mean truly my closest, friends are trans. I’m seeing people I love threatened with public erasure. I hate it.

I hate the fact that the mood in my peer group is apocalyptic. It makes it almost impossible to even have an escape. I know I’m no beacon of joy. But I hate that I’m so inundated with constant negative stimuli. And I could leave social media but then I’m lonely. I want friends. And face it, my brain is going to scream anyway.

Speaking of apocalyptic, there’s the heat. We are in one of the worst summers I will ever live through, I hope. I am heat sensitive. I am in hell because of this heat, literally. The heat is keeping me from homeostasis. I can’t get comfortable. My house can’t get to lower than 80 degrees in the afternoon. I hate it. I’m queasy. I’m tired. I’m sick.

The heat also makes it impossible for me to do anything. Can’t walk. Can’t get out. Even drives are out. I’m forced to sit at home which is making me miserable.

Then again where would I go? It’s not like I have a social life. I don’t have friends here. I’m lonely. Now I love my wife and daughter. Of course I do. But I still need friends. And that’s missing in my life.

So I have to pay for any fun. Which means I have to break a big social taboo and talk about money.

I’m not the first to point out how terrible the high gas prices are. I’m not the first to point out the inflation. But I have to talk honestly about it. And money is eating me alive. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I’m trying to. But I’m barely doing so and that hurts.

I look at money in America and I hate it! Literally everything requires payment. Especially health care. Today I had a meltdown and in order to just get someone vaguely decent to talk to I have to pay.

I look at the inflation situation and it triggers my injustice issue. It’s not fair. I’m only making a bit more than I was two years ago and I’m paying more for virtually everything. When Goodwill institutes 100% price hikes you know it’s bad. Oh and Kroger’s incessant price hikes might be the most evil thing I’ve seen. Isn’t it supposed to be cheaper to eat at home?

Ultimately that’s the core of my anger right now. The social contract. I’m going to be fought with on this but this is the truth. My generation was told if we went to school, got our degree, and got a decent job we would thrive. And it’s a lie. Everything is terrible and bad and it makes me sad. And I feel lied to. I feel like I want an apology.

All of this seeps into everything else. Nothing I eat tastes good. I’m at a point I’ve lost the joy of french fries. I’m unable to enjoy reading comics. I don’t like playing games. The movies I watch don’t make me as happy except as I watch them then they’re done. I like playing with Lola and Amanda. I liked going to the mountains. My job is fun. But I have lost happiness.

I know many of you will read this and tell me to buck up. I wish I could. You’ll ask about my meds. Still on them but need to increase the dose. You won’t like me. But right now this is where I am. All I can hope is that by writing this you understand why I’m where I am. Maybe by airing all of this I’ll be a bit better off. Because I’m sinking right now.

Thoughts on a Sunday morning

I regret so much.

I regret all the ways I’ve acted this month. Who could want to be near me. I’ve been impossible to be near. Hateful. Whiny. Sad. I hate being me. They have to be around me.

I wish my therapist had just one time responded to one of my pleas for help. That’s the state of mental health care in this society. You can’t get help from anyone unless you pay. It’s really soured me on the enterprise.

I hate asking for help. But I really hate that that’s all I do. I feel so pathetic.

I hate capitalism. As always. It’s funny. You’d think working at a business that’s thriving and also not abusive would change that. No I hate it because there’s so much abuse.

I wish there was new cider out. It feels like the same old same old. I’m burnt out. And nothing else is sparking.

I want comixology back.

I want to be a better dad. Lola has been a lot. I wish I was better to her. I love her.

I hate how hateful the world is.

I’m still sad.

Through the Cruelest Month

Oh April, how I’ve hated you.

April has been a month where I have not only spent basically every moment in a blind panic but even when I’m asleep I’ve ground my teeth out of anxiety. I’m not in a good place. I worry about money nonstop. I have no money if I’m honest. I barely have the ability to live. I’ve started skipping meals just to get by. I’m tired. I don’t do anything for myself. I’m on edge. I’m not really functioning.

But other than that I’m ok.

I laugh but what’s going on is the inevitable reaction to a moment of relative quiet after a long period of chaos. Everything is ok for now aside from rapid inflation making everything expensive. But it’s ok. Just ok. And that’s still hard.

I’ve tried to self care. Yesterday I took a window to go see a movie. It was good. That helped. I try to enjoy small treats here and there like Flaming Hot Mountain Dew. I’ve got therapy Tuesday. I’m on my meds. I’m really enjoying the library. I’m not going light on this.

But I’m on edge a lot and I hate it. I’m very sensitive right now. The slightest things are locking me up. And I think that’s because I’ve lived with so much that’s hurt me. It’s put me in defense mode. And that’s not unreal. I should be in fight or flight mode when I know I’ll be at the hospital sooner or later based on the last three years.

And I can’t act as if I’m not absorbing the grief in the world right now. My trans friends are in pain. There are evil people suffering no consequences for their evil. It feels as if there’s not much hope for good right now.

April has been a long painful month. May it pass soon.

Review: DuckTales 2017: Season 3: 11-Finale

We are here. We are truly here at the end of the DuckTales reviews. This is putting an end to one of the longest periods of my life. It’s encompassed my granddad’s 90th birthday, his funeral, FOUR hospital stays, and COVID. There’s been a lot going on and it’s taken a long time. I apologize for the delay. But it’s here. I’ll look at the entire series after I look at these episodes. But if you’re impatient I LOVED this show.

Let’s Get Dangerous!: Oh I wish we were getting the show this sets up. This is a fantastic relaunch of Darkwing Duck. It honors so much of the show’s history. Stephanie Beatriz is a great Gosalyn, starting her run at Disney with strength. And weirdly it doesn’t derail the arc of the show. It actually strengthens it and you can’t miss it.

Escape From the ImpossiBin!: I love the FOWL arc. I have to stress how well done it is. FOWL makes for a great threat and this underlines it. It’s tense. It’s funny. It’s a genuinely good suspense story. This is well built work.

The Split Sword of Swanstantine!: Here’s why FOWL is great. They’re a set of great villains that have accrued over the show. Here, the fun of the group really pays off as the characters fight. We get Huey unleashed and crazy. Violet and Lena show up to kick ass. This is a fun episode. And my that cliffhanger…

New Gods on the Block!: For this set’s clunker, this is pretty good. The problem it has is we know none of the kids will be anointed a god so we’re just waiting for the obvious ending. However it’s still fun. A nice wrap up to Storkules’ plot. There’s laughs here. Not a bad run.

The First Adventure!: A prequel that sets up the entire show. And yeah this is a perfect episode zero. How I loved getting into this story. This is a ripping old school Carl Barks story. We get a lot of setup for what’s to come. And my how great Buzzard is here. Marc Evan Jackson is a legend who deserves so much more love. He’s great in everything and a stellar villain.

The Fight For Castle McDuck!: I still don’t really get this show’s take on the Phantom Blot. This is much more the classic take. I love that his partner is Amy Sedaris because I love her. This is a fun look at the family and really stresses that this family is a mess. Michelle Gomez gets a rare genre turn not as a dangerous threat but as a lovably goofy dork. Laughed hard here.

How Santa Stole Christmas!: A classic Christmas story. Sweet. Funny. Santa Claus is a warm bear voiced by Hugh Bonneville, Mr. Brown from Paddington. This is a minor episode that restates that Scrooge is a jerk. Look, we get the point. But it’s nice.

Beaks in the Shell!: A last Mark Beaks story and it’s genius. Especially as it references the metaverse long before it could have. It’s a last major story for Gizmoduck too and I still don’t know how the show had Lin-Manuel Miranda this much. He’s great here. This is a hoot.

The Lost Cargo of Kit Cloudkicker!: An adult Kit Cloudkicker factors into this reference to both TaleSpin and The Wuzzles. It’s kind of a “ok we need to cross these off” episode but that’s fine. It’s fun. It’s a very good adventure story. The way it handles the Wuzzle riff is gold.

The Life and Crimes of Scrooge McDuck!: OK, one more set of things crossed off. We get some closure with Doofus, Ma Beagle, Glomgold, and Magica since they’re not (really) in the finale. It’s good. They’re all acknowledged as awful. We even get an impossibly bleak explanation of Magica’s raven. It’s a good episode.

The Last Adventure!: And that’s it. And it’s a perfect finale. It ties up every thread. We get some shocking answers. Basically every major character shows up at some point. We get a true last taste of the show. It’s as strong an exit as a start. There’s some great humor. It made me miss the show even as it ended. I can’t say enough good.

Before I address the great, I’ll cop to things I didn’t think worked. I think Beakley never gelled for me as a character. She was too harsh and mean for someone meant to be nice. I got really tired of Scrooge constantly relearning not to be a jerk. And I think ultimately Della should have been the arc of the show with Magica the grand villain. Della was a fun character but as soon as she came back the air was gone until the FOWL plot built up. Magica was the great villain, and not just because Catherine Tate is the best.

But all that said, this is how you reboot a show. It’s still definitely the old show. It’s got the same spirit. But it knocks the dust off the show’s creakier parts. All of the characters are actually characters. The animation is fantastic. Ther voice work is stronger. And most importantly it builds a lore.

I love that this really is an update of the entire Disney Afternoon era. Everything Disney made in this time got some reference, even Bonkers. It’s a love letter to the entire era that feels like it was made by people who loved it but also knew it had to move forward. This feels like a high definition reboot of it all really. And you’ll break your back spotting every reference.

But even beyond the past, this is a tremendous show. It’s very funny on its own terms. I can’t say enough good about Bobby Moynihan’s Louie, one of the great conmen of kids tv. He’s a great character. I loved the satire of the modern plutocrat in Mark Beaks. And oh how funny Glomgold was.

This was a show that understood that modern cartoons get dark. The action here is genuinely thrilling. There are stakes. At the end, villains even “die”. It deals too with trauma. The characters go through hell. Poor Lena, whose redemption mattered.

I admire that the show had an almost constant a-list voice cast but that it used them right. David Tennant was invisible as Scrooge as was Beck Bennett as Launchpad. People like Tate and Moynihan were perfect because they were actually the actors to sell it. But you also had talented voice actors like April Winchell and Chris Diamantopoulos adding to the show in key ways. It’s a marvel.

DuckTales 2017 is, ultimately, everything I could have asked for in a second run at this material. It honors it. It fixes it. It gets it right. I could not be happier.

How To Fall For A Pyramid Scheme

“If you think you’re too smart to fall something, you’re a prime target for a scam.”

We’ve all heard this before. People who think they’re above a scam march right into one. It’s absolutely true. Frank Abagnale writes frequently in his books about being taken advantage of and he’s truly the expert on cons. But he still gets taken in. It happens because the phrase con is short for confidence and the people on both sides have it.

I am extremely well versed on pyramid schemes. I’ve studied them for years. And last year I damned near joined one. It was a minor episode so if you’re looking for a lengthy study on the experience, check out. But that I got to the first interview and got to be tempted to join, that merits discussion. Because I know better. And I still got played a bit and I only avoided more by a quirk of fate.

Let me start by explaining how I got there because I think this is very indicative of how a person is vulnerable to a con. I’m not saying you need to be in a bad place to get into a scam, in fact arrogance often goes before a downfall judging by NFTs. But weakness is a good trait for a pyramid scheme. I lost my job under humiliating circumstances. I was desperate for any opportunity I could get so I was applying blindly to every job. Let me tell you, I often did not hear back after bad interviews and at least once was mocked by a potential employer for applying out of desperation. Can you imagine me as a debt collector or car salesman? I interviewed for both jobs even though I would have been atrocious.

It’s really important to stress that humiliation I felt too. Not only did I need money for my family, I needed redemption. And when some jackass at Pep Boys thinks it’s funny you applied there, you’re really outrunning something. Keep in mind I had tried to leave my old job repeatedly and only gotten a few nibbles. I thought the workforce was violently against me. So I’m in an environment I know is hostile and my own brain hates me. I was a target.

Eventually, I got an interview with a marketing company. I actually had two that weekend. The other was with a flag store. And the difference between the two is very instructive. Because in theory, both were good opportunities that would use my skills. Yet one I realize was a fraud and the other is a legendary company in the region everyone loves.

Let me first lay out the interview with the first in the plainest language I can, then I’ll double back and analyze it. Read this scenario with the mindset that you are miserable, scared, and desperate. Imagine how it feels.

I get up early on a Friday morning. I get dressed in nice clothes. I go downtown. The company is in a giant skyscraper. I know a few highly reputable businesses here. I ascend to a high floor. I fill out paperwork. I take my seat and I wait for the interview. I will wait for at least two hours. I keep checking my phone and waiting and waiting.

After the wait, I have an interview with an attractive, bubbly manager. She lays out the job. It’s vague. Apparently I’m showing people how to get the most out of the products they own. It’ll be a lot of travel to do in-store demos. The key is it’s a job with room for advancement. In no time, I’ll have my own team underneath me.

What’s really exciting to them is me. They play up my resume. They’re obviously impressed by it. I get constant positive feedback. I’m even told that usually they’ll wait a few days before deciding on a candidate but I’m immediately going on to round two. I leave the parking garage on a high. I call all my friends boasting that it went great.

Let me break a hard truth: It absolutely did not. Literally everything aside from the paperwork was a psychological tactic to get me to join. In fact, it’s pathetically obvious how much they were playing me.

Before I go further, I’m going to cover my ass. I can’t confirm that this is a con. Look, I didn’t stay past that second round and I’ll get to it. But I tried to research them and it’s a funny thing. I couldn’t find much and what I did find was very repetitive. Like it was obvious there was the company trying to manage the reviews. I did find some honest feedback and it suggests success at the company is only possible through aggressive sales with no benefits and they track your personal phone. I can safely say based on what I’ve seen that in my opinion, it’s a scheme. But I can’t confirm it.

So let’s rewind to the very start. The location. It’s very important that this was in a downtown skyscraper and not in say an office park on the edge of town. You buy in that this must be a real company this way. Like I said, I knew other businesses there. My bank was there. It had to be real. Even though office space there is actually incredibly cheap because they’ve got a lot of space to fill.

It was also important this was a job interview. Not a phone interview but an in person interview. We have an image of pyramid schemes as all “hey hon” messages. No, they can seem legitimate. And the work of getting dressed, showered, and looking my best meant I did the psychological work of prepping myself.

But here’s where it gets fun. Dissecting what happened when I got there. Notice I mentioned the wait. 2 hours. That seems absurd. I think it’s a brilliant tactic. Because it weeds out the people who won’t buy in. If you’re waiting that long, you’re saying you’ll invest all in on this. You are committed. And you start to commit yourself to it. Nobody wants to go home and say they wasted two hours on a job interview that was useless. So you buy it. And it makes every nice part of the interview that much stronger.

On that nice part. You might recognize the treatment I got. It’s good old love bombing. Cults love it. Scams love it. Legitimate businesses do if they like you. But I got it hard. I was treated like I was amazing and it absolutely worked on me because I was weak. I fell for being told I had a great resume and was a potential vital asset.

I want to pause here to make a point. I was not in any way what this company wanted. I am autistic. I am not a good salesman. I don’t make eye contact. I had no sales experience at all. I had no experience with customers ever. But I was being treated like a custom fit for the job.

And let’s interrogate the job. I’m helping people get every benefit possible out of their products like their iPhones? Have you ever seen someone do that at a store? If you have, it was a sales person at an actual store working for the company. It’s not above board. It’s definitely not marketing.

But I didn’t have a chance to think because they pulled the special invite to the second interview card. Now stop for a second. That’s obvious garbage. They probably tell everyone that’s vaguely acceptable that. It’s a great way to make you feel special and again, they’ve conditioned you. So yeah I bragged about this. And I know everyone who had a functional brain saw through it but said nothing to be nice.

But I admit I did sober up. And pretty fast. By the end of the day I started to have doubts. I didn’t say anything but even I figured this out because I had a chance to think. However I suspect I would have bought in again at the second interview if not for circumstance.

Let me lay out that second interview. Or what I saw of it. See I admit I bolted midway through it. I could lie and make up a story but that would defeat the purpose of telling you the truth on a scam. But I saw enough to make a call.

Once again you get the wait. That tactic is so great at weeding people out. But this time? You’re put in a group. You’re given the peer pressure. Everyone else is buying in. Shouldn’t you. I’ve seen this a lot in the way pyramid schemes have message boards and group chats. That pressure is everything.

And that was when they made it clear. You would move up the ranks. You would have people beneath you. Very little about the work. It was all about advancement opportunities. That was all I heard. And after 10 minutes I looked at the time. My wife and daughter needed lunch. I would rather feed them than listen. I stood up and said I had to go. I’ve never heard from them again.

If their tactics are all about weeding people out then I fell away here. I recognized what was going on and I decided I couldn’t buy in. The risk I was missing out wasn’t enough for me. But others bought in. And I get why. I see I why I didn’t. The interview between.

The place I interviewed at next was Flag and Banner in Little Rock. I give their name because if you follow my story you know I’m happily employed there. I also want to name them because if you look them up, you’ll find all kinds of information on them. It’s all accurate too. We leave our bad reviews up.

That was straight forward. Also a mass interview but with a very casual employee orientation feel. I met the owner. I was told exactly what I was doing. I was told exactly how much money they made. I was told a clear history of the company that’s what I now know is true. I was given a clear answer to what my career would be and a clear offer. So by the time I went to interview 2 for the company I was already with Flag and Banner in my head. Just hadn’t crossed the checklist.

I believe this. Without FAB, I went at least further with the company. I would’ve stayed for the interview. I would have had serious discussion about signing on. I would have fallen for it. I opted out because I could. But someone else wouldn’t have that option.

People who fall for schemes are victims. I believe that every time. They’re trying to get success in a rigged game. I went through a lot of demoralizing interviews in my hunt. I saw the system didn’t work. I get it.

I wish I knew more about this one. This scam fascinates me. It must if I’m finishing this in an ice storm. I just know it was a near miss. And I could be back here. Like Alan Moore said in The Killing Joke, All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”

Review: DuckTales Season 3 (1-11)

So THIS took much longer than I like with hospitalizations, COVID, a car crash, funerals, etc. I APOLOGIZE! On with the show! By the end of February, this’ll be over. And I’ll miss it.

Challenge of the Senior Junior Woodchucks!: A rollicking start to the season that rights the ship after the turgid moon arc. This is a very classic style story with a nice message about how fixating on rules and theory means nothing next to practice. Huey knows the guidebook (voiced by Stephen Root!) but he’s not great at using it. It’s fun and it starts the season 3 arc.

Quack Pack!: The Ducks suddenly find themselves in a sitcom. It’s a funny idea that proves a stealth remake of a major moment in the original. It does get a bit creepy and weird but it’s a lot of fun. Jaleel White is great in his voice work here. The only thing I hate is this is how the show nods at Goof Troop. I wanted more than a nod.

Double-O-Duck in You Only Crash Twice!: We were due a straight Bond parody. At least it’s great. Beck Bennett gets a seasonal best here as Launchpad is accidentally made into a brilliant spy. He gets to hit notes other than too dumb to live for once. Plus you get Jason Mantzoukas as Darkwing villain Stteelbeak and he’s never bad. Only sour note: The Rescue Rangers cameo is silent. What a missed opportunity.

The Lost Harp of Mervana!: A very moralistic episode about how being lazy destroys you. I’m finishing this at 9:15 am on a Sunday morning. I don’t disagree. There’s a fascinating idea here about the danger of little white lies. Beakley, who I’m realizing really has been my least favorite character, is given a rare flaw as she has to deal with the cost of trying to protect Webby. It also feels very Carl Barks in tone.

Louie’s Eleven!: A heist parody. Hey, I like those. This is good. It’s a thin episode and it’s predictable but it’s fun. We meet this universe’s Daisy Duck and as good as the celebrity voices are, the legendary Tress MacNeille is a highlight as Daisy.

Astro B.O.Y.D.!: B.O.Y.D. breaks and we get his true origin along with questions about what is/isn’t real. Is he a person or not? Yes it’s an AI cliche but it’s good and this is a great episode. We get insight into how Gyro is so horrible. We see his broken mentorship. We get some great Lin-Manuel Miranda work too.

The Rumble For Ragnarok!: The show’s worst episode and it’s easy to say why. This feels like it breaks Scrooge. I don’t buy that every 10 years he was a heel in professional wrestling. I found everything about this plot absurd and annoying. I’m not a wrestling fan admittedly so I was allergic anyway. But what a bad episode.

The Phantom and the Sorceress!: OK, a Magica episode is a great way to win me back. This gives her plot with Lena closure. Catherine Tate and Kimiko Glenn kill here. Also I’m really appreciating Violet, a cynical but likable addition. The Phantom Blot is a bit weird here, really NOT his original character, but it’s ok. The show has enough thieves. Fun stuff.

They Put a Moonlander on the Earth!: On one hand it’s a Glomgold episode. On the much heavier hand it’s a moon episode. That sadly wins. I really did not care about Penumbra and giving her a whole episode was a miss. There’s some nice work by the great Rob Paulsen here but I was so bored by a predictable plot.

The Trickening!: We’re on a real pendulum here as the show swings hard back with an episode centered on both the kids and on Launchpad with both plots singing. Not only is this a love letter to classic horror, it’s got a murderer’s row of great voices. Bet you never thought you’d see The Bride referenced on DuckTales but it is. This is funny, at times creepy, vintage work.

The Forbidden Fountain of the Foreverglades!: The inevitable fountain of youth episode feels a bit like Old but for kids. It’s predictable but a lot of fun. Goldie shows up to be a thorn in Scrooge’s side and we even see why they were ever attracted to each other. It’s a silly romp.

It’s tempting to say this was a mixed bag but it’s really not. 2 of the 11 episodes weren’t very good but the 9 that were were peak quality actually. I’m going to miss this show. I’ll have final thoughts next essay.