The key to discovering new ideas is to chat with people in bars. Avoid sports and politics. Those topics lead nowhere. Anything else, though, can be eye-opening. Yesterday, I discovered the fastest way to read a book while chatting with a young server, we’ll call him Jonesy Forehead, a smart and engaging young man who was anxiously waiting for his relief to come so he could eat chicken wings with his mother. He looked at his watch. He checked his phone. But he also held a book.
It was 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I’m not much of a fan of rules, especially numbered lists of rules, but the way he held the book provoked my curiosity. I asked Jonesy what the rules were. He was through the second. “Tell me the first,” I said. “I might need a new rule, though I’m thinking 12 rules for death might be more appropriate for me at this point.” He looked at his watch. 11 minutes until he had to run.
“The first rule is to live like a lobster,” he said enthusiastically. I began telling him how lobsters in supermarkets made me sad, and thought that I was already living like a lobster–my claws bound by The Man, stuck in a small tank, unable to move, soon to be boiled and eaten by rich people. Unshaken, he continued: “Lobsters compete for prime hiding territory under rocks. And when one lobster wins the best place, it walks proudly and continues to walk that way. The lobsters that lose walk with their heads down and continue to lose. Other lobsters pick on the loser lobsters and stay away from the confident lobsters out of fear.”
“Yea, I remember junior high,” I said. “So I should walk like a lobster?”
“Yes. Shoulders back, chin up. It shows the world you are a winner, and the world accepts that.”
“Do lobsters have shoulders?” He ignored my questions and nervously discovered that he had nine minutes remaining until his race to delicious chicken wings could begin.
“The second chapter is about dogs,” he continued. I wondered what happened to the lobster characters, since I was now interested in how their lives would turn out. He had engaged me in the tale only to make a quick turn in the narrative to new characters I didn’t yet care about. When I asked if the lobsters came back into the story and did something with the dogs, he gave a noncommittal “maybe.” Jonesy Forehead knows how to spin a tale. He has me hooked.
I asked, though, that he wait to tell me about the second rule until next time we met. One a time is all I can handle. I have to think about the first lesson longer, practice walking like various lobsters, seeing others’ reactions, deciding which lobster is me–or future me. Maybe I should eat a lobster to show it who is really boss. So much to do. “What if instead of changing my posture, I just wear a Charlie Sheen “Winning!” shirt?” I asked. He politely nodded, and I think we both reflected for a moment on those kinder, gentler times when we thought about Charlie Sheen’s problems instead of our own.
At the 8 minute mark on the dinner countdown, Jonesy’s relief came and he quickly scurried out. He promised, though, to walk me through the next 11 rules over our next 11 meetings. I was pleased. Not only did I learn a new rule, I discovered the fastest and easiest way to read a book: have someone else do it and give you the basic details. I look forward to the dog story coming soon, but hope the crustaceans aren’t out of the picture.
Oh, and the bonus: I woke up today with “Rock Lobster” playing in my head.