Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Squirt-Gun Offense

Kids! don't read this ... its dangerous advice

While attending a not-so-recent computer conference I stayed at a rather interesting hotel in San Francisco's tenderloin district. The hotel provided an adequate coffee and donut breakfast each morning. I came into the eating room one morning, grabbed a jelly-filled, a cup of coffee and had a seat. Across from me was a well-dressed man munching happily. Before we could start a conversation, the hotel manager walked up to him and stated "Sir.. these donuts are for guests only."

The man stood up with a smile and walked out leaving a half-eaten cruller on the table (possibly this being the biggest crime). The whole event struck me and I warily looked at the hotel manager to see if he was about to yell at me next (although I truly was a guest). The donut thief's nerve was pretty impressive. He wore a business suit and maybe stopped in at random hotels on his way to work every morning and munched free crullers. If he was ever caught he simply got up and left. Now say what you will but this guy truly was a thief. He was stealing. Granted, it wasn't a lot of monetary value he made off with but he was a thief nonetheless. The question as to why the hotel manager didn't call the police is unneeded. The offense simply wasn't that big of a deal. The police would have been overkill and probably cost the hotel more angst than simply booting the guy out.

The bottom line is .. this guy got away scot-free. He got half a cruller, a few slurps of coffee and was politely asked to leave. Welcome to planet earth - where small crimes are unpunishable. Or, more precisely, where retaliation for small crimes can be more expensive than the crime itself.

I decided to test my theory more. I happen to be a speaker at this conference but that afforded me little except access to the speaker ready room (which coincidentally included yet more donuts and coffee). Speakers did not get the privilege of entering the exhibit hall prior to its opening time. Getting in a few minutes early would not be bad since there are no crowds and the exhibitors are all too happy to talk (and give free schwag) to speakers.

The guards at the entryway must have been retired military too - their only insecurity seemed to lie in the fact that they weren't allowed their M16s at this gig. The donut-thief inspired me. What if I tried a forced entry? Would I go to jail? Would I get kicked out of the conference? Would ANYTHING happen besides someone stopping me and telling me I "wasn't supposed to be there"? No, nope, nuh uh, and not a chance.

I went for it. I looked confident and strolled in between the two para-military at the door. They glanced at my badge with strained necks so I picked up my pace. I got past them before they jumped me.

Guard-1 put his hand on my shoulder "Sir! you can't go in.. sorry.. no non-exhibitors in before 10"
(Guard 2 immediately assumed the "drunken dragon" stance from what appeared to be a style of wing-chin kung fu)
I confidently replied "um.. I.."
Guard-1 interrupted me "Oh wait, speakers have a meeting in here today don't they?"
I pretended to have a clue "Um.. yeah!"

Now here's Tyma's life rule #152. If someone believes something wrong - but you WANT them to believe that wrong thing -- say as little as possible. Your words can only screw things up. I knew this. I shut up. I kept walking.

As I filled my bags with polyester t-shirts I didn't need, squeezing toys with company logos on them, and the occasional usb-drive key fobs I thought more about this whole concept. Its real simple - break the rules with no consequences. Usually the crimes you commit are small - but the trick is that they can add up. The business man from above could probably eat free every day. Getting into places your not supposed to (like conference exhibit halls pre-opening) often have advantages - after all - they are keeping you out for a reason. All you need for this little plan is some confidence. Our business man wasn't embarrased or frightened when asked to leave - to him - it was simply the end of this opportunity. On to the next.

Now it sounds like I'm a proponent of this whole underhanded way of life. I do believe you should reach out and grab what you can in life lest it pass you by. But I hate it when I am the victim of these little trangressions a lot. There must be a way to punish these mini-evil-doers. After playing with this idea for a long time I've come up with a name for it -- the "Squirt-gun offense". Succinctly, this describes any offense that the logical retaliation would step "over the line" and thus you really can't do it. The idea is that if you can't retaliate like you like to, you can at least soak the perpetrator in water. For example:

1) Someone maliciously cuts you off in traffic in a personal way.
Correct response: Side-swipe them and give them the finger.
Why you can't do that: Your insurance goes up and you might injure your finger.
So what you usually do: Attempt to cut him off in return or get yelled at by your wife for trying and sit back in traffic as the loser.

2) Your business rival asks if your wife has quit her Jenny Craig program again.
Correct response: Comment that you used to sleep with his wife and you're glad that's over.
Why you can't do that: You've overstepped the line - he'll punch you. His insult was subtle - yours is an attack. It would make sense to retaliate with a subtle insult but that's hard to do once your mad from his comment. Your intent is to retaliate hard at this point. His subtle insult was really an attack to, but as a conversation opener and given with the right tone, it could be cloaked as concern.
So what you usually do: Smile and comment on your wife's successes.

3) Someone off the street has the nerve to crash your wedding reception and eat/drink.
Correct response: Have the groomsmen take him out back and beat the living snot out of him for trying to ruin someone's special day..
Why you can't do that: Groomsmen will get in trouble and they are your friends (presumably).
So what you usually do: Politely ask him to leave now that he's full and hope he doesn't make a scene.

Shooting someone with a squirt-gun is probably illegal (squirting with intent to dampen) but it's not likely you'll get busted for it. If you do it, you'll probably make the target mad - but there really isn't much they can do about without stepping over the invisible line themselves. If they whack you - its a whole new ball game. The judge is not going deem assault "ok if first squirted with water". A better plan by the hotel manager from our first story would have been to simply walk up to the business man and start pelting him with shots from a super soaker. What's the business guy going to do? Tell the cops they squirted him? Heck, he stole donuts - I think its even.

The paramilitary guys guarding the exhibitor hall looked downright uncomfortable not having a weapon of some sort in their hands. I doubt a greanie-meanie squirt cannon would have satisfied them completely, but it would have been a step in the right direction. They would have begged for offenders.

Honestly, I haven't found a solution to the problem of being the victim. I don't think there is one that works in every instance. Quick wit is a big helper in a lot of cases but doesn't do much if someone cuts you off in traffic.

However, at least now I have a name for the type of situation I'm describing. Anytime someone does something that makes me want to retailiate but circumstances prevent me from logically doing so, I should squirt them with water - they committed a "squirt gun offense". The more it happens to me, the more I try to learn from it.

I try my best to not be the victim, but if you get me, congratulations. And I hope you're wearing waterproof undies.


Dean Moriarty said...

lol "Squirt Gun offense".... hilarious.. i wish i could actually do something like that.. this shit has been on my mind, i just let it go.... but a squirt-gun.. hmmm thats something to think abt

Killeroid said...

That was hilarious.You going to the pre conference thingie

George Larson said...

Well-written and thoughtful again.

I dig your style.

Your methodes of conceptualizing are interesting. Keep blogging, because I am book-marking!

intel_knight said...

sir, I am rather positive I read this piece elsewhere, quite some time ago. If you are re-posting your own entry from back then, please accept my apologies

Paul Tyma said...

This was originally posted at my old blog site www.tyma.com (which you will notice now redirects to here).

I'm sure the web archive or google cache can confirm this.

Ahmet Baba'nin yeri said...

good method of thinking