(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser August 2012)
“I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.” Woody Allen
So…Melky Cabrera, the star outfielder of our San Francisco Giants, has been suspended for fifty games for using performance-enhancing drugs, which means all his game-winning hits and spectacular catches are now suspect and this year’s success of my favorite team is suspect, too.
“Everyone cheats,” said Carlo, when I called him to commiserate about Melky’s suspension. “You think he’s the only one cheating? Guys on every team cheat every day because if they don’t cheat they’re out of work. That’s why they risk getting caught, because at least when they’re on the juice they’ve got a chance as opposed to no chance. And it’s not just baseball and football and the Olympics. This whole fucking society is built on cheating. Look at the toxic derivatives the Wall Street cons use to bankrupt the world. Cheating on a massive scale, protected by the fucking government, and the fuckers get huge bonuses for cheating. That’s all Melky was doing, going for a big bonus. Look at the income tax system. Legalized cheating if you can afford a smart enough accountant. Cheat or pay. Look at all the great inventions stolen by the big corporations. Screw the inventors. Look at Romney, offshore tax cheat, cutthroat business cheat, lying cheat. Fucker could end up President for all his lying and cheating. Look at Obama breaking every promise he ever made, selling out to the worst Wall Street crooks and lying about helping average Americans while he drone bombs women and children on the other side of the world. So Melky hit the juice hoping for a big payday and got caught. What else is new?”
“The first and worst of all frauds is to cheat one’s self. All sin is easy after that.” Pearl Bailey
I was thinking about Carlo’s spiel on our cheating society when a friend called to ask if I’d seen the defamatory Amazon reader review of my book Buddha In A Teacup. I had not seen the poison epistle, so I went to Amazon and was baffled (and angry) to find a brief commentary containing the following spiteful and entirely false declaration. “We could listen no more after 5 out of 7 stories were centered on the attainment of curvy, slender, and busty women with extra commentary on their sexual appeal or glistening naked bodies.” Wow! I am well accustomed to people expressing their negative opinions of my work on the interweb, and though I may not like people calling me a lousy writer, I have no problem with the free expression of opinions, however lame and misguided. But expressing opinions is entirely different than blatantly lying about my work.
If you are among the few who have read or listened to Buddha In A Teacup then you will know that none of the forty-two stories in my little tome are about attaining busty, curvy, slender women, nor are there any (let alone extra) commentaries on the glistening nudity of such. If that were the case, I might actually have made some money by entitling the book Buddha In A Bordello or Busty Glistening Buddha Babes or The Buddhist Way of Attaining Busty Curvy Slender Glistening Women. But I did not choose any of those more titillating titles because they have nothing to do with my book.
Fueled by my outrage, I wrote to Amazon and said, “Because I assume it must be against your policy to print false and totally misleading accounts of the books you sell, I hope you will speedily delete etc.” To which Amazon replied, “The reader’s comments do not violate our guidelines.” Amazing. One wonders what would violate their guidelines. Threats against the author’s life? Racist profanity? Detailed plans for a nuclear bomb? In any case, lying, which is the essence of cheating, apparently does not violate the Amazon guidelines.
So…the end result of cheating is that others are cheated, as I am cheated by the jerk who tainted my book with his lies; and to be cheated is to be robbed; and to be robbed is to be violated. So it occurs to me that if Carlo is correct in his assertion that our whole fucking society is built on cheating, then we, the people, are constantly being robbed and violated, and it makes perfect sense that we should come to believe/think/feel that robbing and violating and cheating are the way of the world, the way of our society, and perfectly appropriate ways to behave.
“The truth is more important than the facts.” Frank Lloyd Wright
I once knew a strange little man, an eternal boy, who made a very good living as a cheat-for-hire at Harvard University. A brilliant polymath, he had once been a student at Harvard but could not, for complex psychological reasons, complete any of the course work required of him and so was forced to resign. He was, however, entirely capable of completing other students’ work, as well as taking tests for them, and many desperate clients paid handsomely for his services. He had a lovely townhouse in an upscale part of Cambridge, a fantastic collection of rare books, and several suitcases full of cash. At the time I knew him he had been a professional cheater for several years.
He met his clients at various cafés and pubs in the university district to receive his assignments from them and to hand the giddy undergrads their completed essays literally under tables in exchange for wads of cash. I was present at one such exchange, and after the happy client scurried away, the cheater said to me, “You know, I have now written over seven hundred essays for these people, and all but thirteen of my essays got A’s, and those thirteen should have gotten A’s.”
“Gads, you could have graduated from Harvard fifty times by now,” I said, finding him almost impossible to relate to. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get caught?”
“I’d love to get caught,” he snickered. “But I never will be because my clients will never tell on me and the professors don’t care who writes the papers and the university doesn’t care so long as the tuition is paid. It’s all just a game to these people until whatever comes next. They have better things to do than study and write papers. They go to parties and take drugs and have sex and make connections, whereas I have nothing better to do.”
“Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except it ain’t so.” Mark Twain
Then again, I, and most of the people I know, don’t make a practice of cheating; at least I don’t think we do. We occasionally go over the speed limit and we don’t always thoroughly check the grammar and spelling in the emails we send, and we do occasionally eat things we said we weren’t going to eat, but we don’t lie or steal or intentionally rip people off. In fact, it seems to me that we go out of our way not to cheat, not to overcharge, not to take advantage of others, but rather to help when we can. And this, one might argue, is what cheaters depend on: the honesty of other people.
Romney and his ilk get away with hiding their billions of dollars in offshore tax havens because you and I and hundreds of millions of non-cheaters dutifully pay our taxes to keep the country running (sort of), and most of our money goes to paying the interest on the national debt and supporting the gargantuan military tool of the master cheaters of the world.
I could go on and on about cheating and cheaters I have known, but…how depressing! Instead, shall we cheer ourselves up by listening to some baseball on the radio and imagining that no one on either team is a cheater, that the contest is entirely fair; and may the best team win?