Words have meanings, but those meanings can change over time. Overused words especially, like love, hate, God, and like. Phrases which are overused become memes or lazy shortcuts or verbose filler between uh and ah. “For all intents and purposes” could be shortened to “essentially,” so it’s perplexing that we still use it, given that it began in 1547 in a treaty by Henry VIII. Today we say “at the end of the day” to mean “consequently” just as often as news anchors using the two most heard phrases on TV: “when we get back” or “after the break.” Note that by the final ten minutes of a news show there are breaks every two minutes. So is it really a break…or a hiccup? Regarding love, no one has really defined it because, like God, it means different things to different people. A cousin of mine—whom I never met before—once told me he loved me, although he didn’t know anything about me, and mostly talked about himself rather than to ask me anything. I never heard from him again. So was it love? Maybe in his mind. The Bachelorette who was going to marry a jock ex ball player teared up in an emotional TV confession, wondering aloud if, now that they’d broken up, it was ever real. Defining IT is the problem. The word “love” is too nebulous, too cliche. Maybe he loved her like he loved a good baseball mitt. Maybe she was thinking about that doll house she built at age eight. If so, was their breakup really a breakup, or a hiccup on the way to whoever? We want to believe people are telling the truth, and often they themselves believe they are. Self deception is just as common as any other kind. That is why it is important to read, to be curious, and to contemplate or imagine. Einstein once said that curiosity is more important than knowledge for a reason: you gain knowledge through curiosity. Students cramming for tests do not generally gain curiosity via that knowledge. It may come later, the result of observation and contemplation…by being alone, and defining the world by what you see and think and feel instead of defining yourself by how others see you. (eg.:) At the mall the other day I try an experiment, asking a girl at a makeup kiosk if she knows where GNC (a vitamin store) is. She looks up from her mirrors and cell phone to respond, “Sorry, no.” So I ask, “How long have you worked here?” After a pause she says, “Four or five months.” I say thanks anyway, and leave. The GNC store is directly above her, in her line of sight. She doesn’t see it, though. She’s back on her cell phone.
SEGMENT 3: BRENT S., University of Arizona Sophomore
LOCATION: A table outside Wiggles internet cafe near the U.of A. main gate, evening. Sanders is a stocky, muscular young man with a buzz cut. He closes his laptop to sip a beer and check out the girls passing on the sidewalk. One college girl gives him a sly smile and a little wave. He lifts his glass slightly to her, and grins.
Valerie Lott:) What is your main goal in college, Brent?
Brent S.:) To score. What else?
VL:) You mean high on tests?
BS:) No. (laughs)
VL:) What about academics?
BS:) College is the time to have fun. Unless you’re an athlete. Then you gotta work before you can get high.
VL:) You don’t study or work?
BS:) Not much.
VL:) Why is that?
BS:) Don’t need a job. Never had one, never will.
VL:) So you’re not here to learn anything.
BS:) What for?
VL:) What do your parents say?
BS:) Have fun, son. Here’s a check.
VL:) Too busy to be bothered?
BS:) Dad’s a busy man, sure. Do I want to be an investment banker like him, with no time to have fun? Not hardly. So no, I don’t have any big career goals. But then, ya know, some guys get a cake on their birthdays. I got a new Cadillac Escalade. See? (He points toward the evidence, yet the camera never leaves his face)
VL:) How did that make you feel?
BS:) Not getting a cake, just an SUV? Oh, I don’t know. Great? (laughs) What do ya think?
VL:) What do you think?
BS:) About what?
VL:) About anything. What are you thinking right now?
BS:) That this is. . . pretty much weird. What is it you want me to say here?
VL:) Anything you like. Start with the truth.
BS:) What’s your point?
VL:) I don’t have one at the moment.
BS:) I think you’re lying. I think your point is to target some college kids so you can blame them for whatever it is you been assigned to cover. Maybe begin by cornering some privileged white dude outside a bar, and have a go at making him fit the profile.
VL:) What profile?
BS:) You name it.
VL:) Okay. Let’s start with the profile of the typical visitor to your internet site.
BS, looking away, smiling to himself:) Oh, and now it comes out. I wasn’t random after all, was I?
VL:) I never said you were.
BS:) So I’m a playboy. Who wouldn’t want to be me?
(He finishes his beer) You ever seen those Girls Gone Wild videos? Those girls go wild for a reason, honey. (a pause) It’s kinda like that, and I film it. Big deal.
VL:) You recruit these girls?
BS:) If they’re eighteen, not old like you. (chuckles)
VL:) Did you know Sarah Collins?
BS:) Who? Naw. Look, I don’t know any women. Who really knows ’em, anyway? You think I got girls as buddies? What am I, gay? Do I look gay to you?
VL:) No, you don’t look gay, but then Sarah was fifteen, so you don’t look very intelligent either.
BS:) What did I just say? Read my lips. I. . . didn’t. . . know. . . the. . . girl. If she was fifteen, she wasn’t on my site, anyway. I always get a driver’s license and birth certificate. Always. And they sign a release, too.
VL:) Did you tell the police this?
BS:) I don’t tell the police anything, okay? They looked at my records, but I didn’t say a peep. Got it?
VL:) You referred Sarah elsewhere, didn’t you?
BS, looking away, after a pause:) Ya know, I hate people like you.
VL:) All hatred is self hatred.
BS:) Who the hell said that?
VL:) I did, just now.
BS:) Yeah? Well, you’re full of it. Just another (expletives deleted). That’s all you are. How about that? Use that in your report, you (expletive deleted).
VL, after a pause:) Do you really think that’s my profile? That it’s who I am?
BS:) You know that too, honey. But I know who I am. I’m young. I’m rich. I’m good looking. Things that just eat you up.
VL:) You may be young, rich and good looking, Brent, but did you have anything to do with that? (a pause) Have you ever tried being honest with yourself about anything? Or with a counselor?
BS, laughing:) Wow, you can play offense too, can’t you? Bravo. (claps) Maybe one day you’ll actually score, yourself. Maybe even with somebody rich and good looking, just like me.
VL, after a pause:) You think we’re all players trying to score points?
BS:) Okay, you can stop now. (Makes a “time out” sign) You want the truth? Here it is. It is all a game, yeah. This whole thing. What you’re doing, what I’m doing. . . (Makes a sweeping gesture around him) Batteries included. Understand? You got your point of view, and I got mine, and like every other player, we’re looking over each other’s shoulder toward the goal. . . and so when you offend, I defend. And vice versa. It’s what we do. Never give an inch, that’s my motto. And yours too. It’s all about winning, baby.
VL:) What is it that we win?
BS:) Whatever floats your boat. Whatever keeps the sharks away. Thing is, I don’t need to lie because I can buy.
VL:) Can you buy peace of mind?
BS:) I can buy anything. I can even buy you. (grins) See, if you find the game offensive, it’s because you want my ball. And, you know, the Earth is a ball, too. It’s a small world, after all. Wanna know who’s going on the offense, next? Flip a coin. Flip two coins. Flip a third into the fountain, and make a wish. Wish the world was different than the way it is, bitch.
(Brent rises and turns to leave)
VL:) There’s one more question.
BS:) Yeah? What’s that?
VL:) Did you know most criminals in prison didn’t know their fathers, either? And that some of them take college courses, too?
BS, with a chuckle:) Does it look like I’m in prison to you?
(Sanders gives Val the finger, walking away as the camera tracks him to his black Cadillac Escalade. Another young man greets him there with a high five. Sanders hooks a thumb to indicate the camera, and the second young man stares into the lens over Brent’s shoulder. Finally, they both laugh, and leave, the SUV blasting rap music. Fade.)
Excerpt from The Miraculous Plot of Leiter & Lott.