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On Fear, Loss, And Being Called A Fartknocker


My cousin Nick and I stopped awkwardly trying to do pop shove-its in our grandpa’s driveway to see where the offending remark had come from.

At 12 years old, I was a formidable specimen of beauty and brutality, and I was ready to give my insulter the what-for if need be. Honor was on the line here. I knew, in the deepest pits of my soul, weathered and tempered with a dozen years of life experience, that I was not a fartknocker.

Nick silently echoed the exact same sentiment; I could see it in his eyes. An inner flame blazed.

“Oi there, you bloke! Now see here – we knock on doors with our fists, thank you, not mildly noxious clouds of briefly propelled methane gas! And we’ll come knock on your face with the same bloody things if you say that again, ya grotty nutter!”

…we completely failed to say, as we were neither knowledgable of the chemical makeup of flatulence, nor British, nor particularly good at fighting.

Instead, we took the next best option, which was to simply look up and stare blankly at the old man gliding past us on a banana-seat bicycle.

Oh, it was just Cleo.

Cleo the Can Man was a well-known figure around River City. Instead of going to a job like everyone else, Cleo spent each and every day riding his bike around the city, collecting pop cans, beer bottles, and other stuff I probably don’t want to know about out of dumpsters and off the street.

He made his entire living off of the money redeemed from these tossed-aside containers for other people’s drank. Now, even at 12 years old, I saw this as a pretty low-margin strategy – I probably made more money per hour mowing lawns and picking up dog poop from people’s yards (yep, dog poop was my differentiation strategy) – but Cleo didn’t care.

Rumor had it that Cleo had his own apartment that he paid for entirely from his daily can-collecting escapades. He didn’t have much, but he got by.

Since I’ve moved to Ames, I’ve become convinced that every city has a can man of some sort. There’s one right here in Ames, who I nearly ran over with my bike during sophomore year one night while trying to avoid a raccoon. Still, Cleo is the can man who always stuck in my mind the most.

Perhaps I remember Cleo because of the “fartknocker” incident – but I think it’s for another reason. I think it’s because Cleo simply didn’t give a shit.

Cleo cared nothing for what people thought of him. Every day he’d go adventuring around town, diving into places most people wouldn’t, calling little kids fartknockers – whatever. Cleo did what the fuck he wanted.

Most of us aren’t like this. Most of us care way too much about what other people think: about expectations, about the future outcome of every little decision, about whatever. We worry.

Sometimes this is a good thing. It’s prudent to think about the future; to plan ahead and evaluate what you do.

The problem is that we worry about the wrong things and evaluate our lives against the wrong standards. Instead of thinking about our day-to-day decisions in terms of how they get us closer to our goals – the things we truly care about – we more often just worry about what other people will think, or whether we’re going along with “best practices” and accepted advice.

What if we decided to not care what other people think? What if we made the conscious decision to throw the typical advice to the wind and just pursue what we truly wanted to do?

Amazing things would happen. Impossible things would happen. Sure, there’d be some failures along the way, some embarrassing moments – but we’d be living the way we truly wanted.

Sadly, for most people, this just won’t happen. And the reason for that is that we have too much to lose. It’s a well-known fact that humans care more about losing something they already have than gaining something they don’t. A person will lose more satisfaction from losing $100 than the satisfaction they’d gain from getting a $100. (This is why free trial periods work so well to sell products)

We’re afraid to lose what we have – our money, our jobs, the respect we think other people have for us. Due to that fear, we’re risk averse.

Cleo didn’t really have much to lose, so he just didn’t care about doing things that were out of the ordinary. There wasn’t much fear getting in the way.

For those of us that do have things to lose, getting over the fear of loss is something we have to work on. However, the rewards from doing so are great, and we should work to pursue them.

Ordinary is boring. The stuff you have isn’t worth limiting yourself. You’re better than that.

So here’s a challenge. Do something that scares you. Call someone a fartknocker. Be weird. Take a risk and go against the typical advice.

If you lose a bit, so what?