"Unskilled and Unaware of It" is the title of a recent study by social psychologists at Cornell and the University of Illinois who tested subjects to find their skill levels in various things and then asked them how well they thought they did.
Guess what? The people who did the worst thought they had done really well, while the people who did the best figured (look down, shuffle feet) they hadn't done well at all. No, the study wasn't called "Big Fucking Surprise." This is Cornell.
Not knowing what a dummy you are at least makes you a happy dummy, an ignorance-is-bliss policy that I, like the above dopes, use deftly in my professional life. Some writers love to see their work in print. They stare at the page like it's some scroll the Discovery news team just unearthed in a cave in Jordan. They care. I suppose they're called "professionals."
I prefer to be like the droolers in the Cornell study. I hand over my work and never read it again. I didn't even know I had a book on Amazon.com until someone told me in a bar.
Well, I knew I had a book out. To produce a book unawares would be like passing a kidney stone the size of a chicken and not realizing it until someone looks under your chair and says, "What's that?" The book is called "Pop Tart: A Fresh, Frosted Sugar Rush Through Our Prepackaged Culture" and is full of columns the length of this one -- perfect, I've been told, for the uneventful bathroom visit. I knew I wrote it. I just didn't know it was on Amazon.com.
Nor did I know Amazon.com ranked wares by sales until my friend Chas said to me, "You've jumped 70,000 spaces on Amazon. You're 819,016 ... with a bullet!"
So, my book was ranked 819,016? That's like thinking you look real fine and then gazing in a mirror and seeing Gladys the Mule-Faced Woman. The brow, formerly smooth as an ice rink, furrowed. If I was 819,016, what could be selling worse?
A call to Kay Dangaard, director of press relations for Amazon.com, revealed the site could not be searched by ranking, only by topic. This led to a process of elimination longer than the Great Wall of China as we tried figure out what subjects could be so awful that they actually out-sucked me.
"Let's try nose-picking," Chas said, a phrase you don't often hear from an adult. This search produced not one but two titles. "Nosepicking for Pleasure" was ranked at way over a million. A huge relief, but not yet time to break out the party hats. "Nose-picking for Pleasure: A Handy Guide" by Roland Flicket was ranked 756,023. I was outdone by boogers.
It was my turn to think of something so bad no one would buy it. That was easy. Poetry.
"There's the 2000 Minnesota poetry calendar," Chas said. "It's killing you." Ranking: 688,526. Once a happy squirt, I now began to wonder if there is enough empty space in town for my ego to be buried in.
"Wait! I got something for you," Chas said. "Autonecrophilia." Chew on that for a while. What could it be but a book by someone who is consistently told, "Drop dead" and "Go fuck yourself" simultaneously?
But that wasn't all there was to it. He dragged the title out the way they do when they're announcing the Oscar nominees. "Autonecrophilia ... The Poems. Book Two."
Is there anything I could say to embellish this? It's just wrong to the power of 882,659, which is what it's ranking was. Being more desireable than necrophilia ... it's a great feeling.
Haggis was my next choice in this junior-high-level gross-out competition, the Scottish foodstuff that consists of sheep intestines and oatmeal neatly stuffed into said sheep's stomach lining. Serving this to someone would be the kind of thing Amnesty International would go after you for, yet more people bought into it than bought into me, as "Haggis: A Little History" was ranked 62,846. At least the book was written by Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the "Two Fat Ladies" on the Food Network, a consolation as large as the two of them put together.
There is, I confess, smug satisfaction in being more popular than "Genital Warts: Human Papillomavirus Infection" (rank: 1,068,639). But there is humility in being completely thrashed by "The Gas We Pass" and "Everyone Poops," books that teach children all about bodily functions, because God knows they don't talk about them enough amongst themselves. These emissions ranked 3,880 and 1,637, respectively. The good news is that they were soundly trouncing "101 Favorite Stories From the Bible," "Mars and Venus on a Date" and "Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul." It's nice to know consumers have their priorities in order.
As I now have mine. I'm going back to "ignorance is bliss" (especially since my book rocketed up to 777,715 in the time it took to write this) and have learned that writing about gross things grabs people by the shorties. How else did you make it to the end of this piece?