Koo Koo Roo Smooth Talker

I ate lunch at Koo Koo Roo yesterday and I was as friendly as could be to the cute young cashier.

I asked her why they got rid of the big menu above their heads and went with regular menus instead. After all, there are no waiters; you have to order at the counter, so why hand out menus?

Anyway, I thought I had done a good job of talking to strangers. But while I waited for my order, I watched a true master in action. First of all, this guy was maybe six three. Being tall I think goes a long way towards a lifetime of confidence. Second, he was a smooth-talking black guy. I wasn’t sure it was worth mentioning his race, like how is that relevant? But watching the way he talked, it just mattered. His being black was just part of his whole thing. I don’t think it’s racist to say that a person’s race defines who they are in some ways.

Anyway, he walked up to the same cashier with a big smile and asked, “How tall are you?” (To complete the picture, the Hispanic woman was pretty short.) The way he asked it, though, was so friendly, so disarming, she couldn’t help but smile. She said, “Five two.”

Then he launched into a series of questions about what types of guys she liked to date. And she was loving it. I have never seen a girl so enraptured before by a seemingly innocuous series of questions about height. He could have said, “So let’s get into my van and get it on, cool?” and she would have just giggled and gone off with him.

But the interesting thing was, he just ordered his food, got it, and took off. He wasn’t trying to pick her up. Maybe he was flirting, but it wasn’t because he was trying to get something. He was just passing the time.

I was totally baffled by it. I could have sworn he was going to get her number at least. But he didn’t. He was just being a smooth dude.

The Right Temporo-Parietal Junction

Michelle took me to a lecture on cognitive development and there was a fascinating discussion by JoAnn Deak, a neuro-scientist.

Recent developments in brain scanning technology have led to a new and better understanding of this small area of the brain called the right temporo-parietal junction that is believed to be responsible for thinking about what other people are thinking. In other words, it is the area of the brain most connected to empathy.

It works like this: between the ages of 10 and 20 this area of the brain is mostly undifferentiated neurons. If these neurons are “stretched” or utilized to make decisions about what other people are thinking, they become highly specialized. If not, they become more generalized. The key is that the rTPJ is connected to the visual cortex, so seeing the other person is key to making a decision about what that person is thinking.

Take a child. Most kids are so egocentric anyway that they have no concept of empathy. The reason is because their rTPJ neurons are not specialized yet. When a five-year-old looks at a person telling a tall tale, they have a hard time telling from their face that the story isn’t true. But as children get a little older, they start to read cues in the facial expressions of the person they are communicating with. They can start to detect sarcasm, irony, white lies, neediness, fishing for compliments, etc. The visual and auditory complexes are taking in the usual information but now it’s going through a second pass to assess, “What’s this person really thinking?”

That’s why it’s important to tell children, “Look at his face. What is he feeling?” Only by assessing what the other person is feeling does the observer get a sense of empathy for that other person. And interestingly–here’s where I got interested at least– you have to see able to interact with the person directly. You see their face, you hear their voice–that’s how you feel what they’re feeling and become empathetic.

Dr. Deaks thinks the increase in social networking has resulted is a generation of children who don’t learn this basic empathy. Mean girls who write shit on Facebook can’t see their victims’ faces and therefore don’t exercise these neurons. Texting doesn’t provide cues to the brain as to the other person’s reaction. Only in person interaction works. And frighteningly, as I mentioned, failure to exercise these neurons by age 20 results in undifferentiated and generalized neurons forever– use it or lose it.

So to over-simplify dramatically, social networking is causing teenagers to become sociopaths.

Gunther’s Girlfriend

Gunther invited me and Michelle over last night to meet his new girlfriend.

We were more than a little surprised to find out that Marta was nineteen. Gunther is probably in his early forties and God knows how he gets these women, but we found the whole thing to be pretty strange.

Marta is a freshman at Loyola. She is studying communications but she said she would really love to be “a TV personality.” Who says that? I mean, she didn’t say “actress,” she said “TV personality.” It reminded me of that stripper that the Michael Jackson doctor is dating who said her body is her “instrument.”

It’s weird how as a heterosexual male, I could find such a hot girl so annoying. Every time she said something stupid–like how she loves “being a good role model for teens”–I looked over at Gunther. He was definitely not blinded by his deep love for Marta. He knew she was an idiot. He had this smile on his face like a dirty old man, like “What can I do?”

Michelle wound up talking to Marta alone for a while while I went to the store with Gunther to pick up more beer. Gunther basically admitted that he couldn’t help himself and that he finds her “naive world-view refreshing.”

Later that night, Michelle told me that Marta told her she “always dates older guys” because they’re “better in bed.” Michelle said, “Yeah, just don’t get carried away, it’s kind of a bell curve.”

And Marta said, “A what curve?”

Rain

It’s raining in L.A. today so that can only mean one thing: traffic.

Normal, ordinary rain is equivalent to a blizzard here. There are accidents on every freeway, massive flooding (there are no storm drain in L.A.), and huge delays. It took me 50 minutes to get to work and it’s only a couple of miles away.

The only good thing that comes out of this much rain is that people in L.A. love to talk about it. In the elevator, the normally quiet group of office workers was going on and on about the pile-up on the 405.

I said, “I don’t get it. What is so hard about driving in the rain? Why does it have to be Carmageddon every time a few drops hit the ground?”

One woman said, “Because no one knows how to drive in L.A.”

A guy said, “But no one is from here. Don’t they remember how to drive in the rain from back when they lived in New York.”

I corrected him, “No one drives in New York.”

Then another woman said something really smart. She said, “There are 1.6 million cars on the Los Angeles freeways every day. Most days there aren’t any major accidents at all. That’s the miracle. When you add even the smallest variable to change those conditions and multiple that by the sheer number of vehicles, it approaches almost certainty that major collisions will occur.”

Everyone stopped and thought about what she said. Seemed to make sense.

I was especially proud because that woman was Michelle.