Making People Feel Like Dummies: Swimming the Treacherous Waters of Sheldons

RCA-Male-to-Male (or "do-dad" for the uninformed)

RCA-Male-to-Male (or “do-dad” for the uninformed)

I’ve had some pretty memorable conversations at the checkout counter at Radio Shack:

  • “So you need a male-to-male connector…” (I was fourteen, buying some cables for my stereo–a bit startled by this apparent pickup line.)
  • “Can I please have your address?” (Perhaps another line, but I was just paying cash.)

And my favorite, when I was buying a 25-foot audio cable…

  • “May I ask what you’ll be using this for?”

The guy was implying that purchasing an audio cable to run video through a non-gold-plated triple-insulated cable may not only ruin the quality of my picture but perhaps offset the precarious balance of the Middle East peace talks.

The reason I don't shop in junkyards anymore.

The reason I don’t shop in junkyards anymore.

“Thank you for shopping with us…dummy.”

Radio Shack has survived, somehow, by cornering the market of oddball technical needs at crazily marked up prices.  And, with the development of any specialty, there comes the inevitable feeling of invincibility and irreplaceablilty.  I’ve seen it a hundred times in many out-of-business stores such as CompUSA and Highland Appliance, the smug, head-bobbing stroll to your confused presence in an aisle as you try to decide which of the 37 boxes with similar kHz, RAM, ohms or parsecs you’ll need at home.  And like any guy, the last thing we want to do, after asking directions, is admit that we don’t know something–especially to this know-it-all.

“Oh sure, you could buy this hard drive if you’re just thinking of the short term and don’t mind it being obsolete in a year.”


Home Depot, which is still in business, also has specialists, but they have been trained in the fine art of not making customers feel like idiots.  Before I die, I’d like to know what half the items in any given aisle actually does.  Like Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story 2 going down the Barbie aisle for the first time, “We haven’t been down this aisle, it’s pink!”

Comic book stores are equally treacherous for the uninformed.  Nothing sums up “a lot of knowledge about a little” than the following scene from  The Big Bang Theory


The writers of this hit show know their audience and subject matter very well.  We all know a Sheldon or two and generally have to endure his superiority.  The show uses the classic method of trapping a normal person into an abnormal group–and making that normal person seem like the oddball (think Charlie Brown, Oliver in Green Acres, Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island or poor Lamont in Sanford and Son).

Jim Parsons' patented look of pity/scorn/impatience.

Jim Parsons’ patented look of pity/scorn/impatience.

The J-Word and S-Word

But unfortunately, most of us do not have a live studio audience or even an annoying M*A*S*H laugh-track to get us over the humps of daily Sheldons.  Jimmy Fallon created a similar role as Nick Burns, Your Company’s Computer Guy…


It was a perfect portrayal of a feeling and a person we all know too well.  And, in addition to the iconic chair-takeover line of “Mooove!,” we hear the J-Word, that can drop our IQ’s 35 points.

The “Just” as in Fallon’s “Sure, just type in X , Y, Dot…” has a close cousin I’ve encountered regularly since I began blogging using WordPress last year, the S-Word or Simply.

Two guys who could also help you find the right shovel, without making you feel too foolish.

The Natural  (1984) Two guys who could also help you find the right shovel, without making you feel too foolish.

You get to the S-Word through the usual route–the moment of Google surrender.  It’s the cyber-equivalent of finally asking the Wilfred Brimlyish guy in the orange apron at Home Depot, “Umm…I’m looking for something to stick something together in my garage so that I can…ummm…” And by that point, Wilfred has already started walking you to the right aisle.

But unlike Home Depot, the Google helpers often skip a step or twelve and assume that you’re smarter (or at least more veteran) than you are.  Under a provocative title that lures you in, assuring you that you won’t feel the fool, “42 Easy WordPress Shortcuts to Make Your Blog Look Professional” you might find:

Fear not, 4 out of 5 dentists don't know what this means either.

Fear not, 4 out of 5 dentists don’t know what this means either.

But in the summary, highlighted in green below, you find our S-Word.  And what is simply laid out for you…

Come again?

Come again?

Even a child programmer can handle this one.  But like Jennifer Aniston’s character in the SNL skit or poor Penny in the comic book shop, there’s that initial tug that the skinny-dipping swimmer felt one late night on Amity Island as you not only feel yourself possibly drowning, but being chewed apart on the way down.

It's "simply" a fish.

It’s “simply” a fish.

A Better Tip Than $20

One of the best summer jobs I ever had in college was a bellman at a nice hotel–lots of corporate travelers as well as occasional celebrities playing at nearby Pine Knob.  It was the first job I had that paid tips.  Pretty easy work–grabbing someone’s garment bag, hanging it in the room while he went right to the bar with $10 for me when I got back with his room key.

After a month of getting lots of cash, I joked to my dad that I could guess how big of a tip I was going to get by looking at someone when he walked in the door.  I never really saw my dad lose it except for a couple times–once when I ran across the street as a five year old and another time when I blamed a some little league teammates for losing our game.

“You know what?  I travel all the time and I would hate to think that someone sitting behind the desk is judging me on what I’m wearing or what I look like?  I run into people like that a lot and it really bothers me that you’re doing the same thing.”

Bang.  Elephant guilt-gun at point blank range.

And he was proven right the very next week when I was stiffed by Steven Stills and given a $20 tip for parking a car by this little old man wearing sweat pants and beat-up tennis shoes.  I didn’t know he also owned the hotel and was heading in to use the gym.

It became a minor crusade of mine to be sure that my video production students never adopted that know-it-all tone for two reasons that I explained every semester:

“It’s mean to sucker-punch another’s blind-spot,”

But more importantly…

“You’d like to keep your job and stay married, right?”

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About Kevin Walsh

Kevin began in 2013 as an experiment that was as simple as "What's a blog?" and ended up becoming a forum for fellow writers. He's been a high school teacher for 28 years and worked as an administrator and instructor in colleges for 6. Contact him at: He is also the producer of the web-series and blog, www.DiggingDetroit, founder and producer for MMD Productions at which offers quick, professional photography, video and multimedia solutions for individuals, organizations and businesses. His high school media production text, "Video Direct," has been used in 40 states--and he occasionally still sells a few. He is the current president of the non-profit DAFT (Digital Arts Film and Television) which sponsors the Michigan Student Film Festival. He lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, is married to Patrice and is tolerated by his two kids Aidan and Abby who have all graciously allowed him to write about them on occasion. Follow Kevin on Twitter @kwteacher

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