Quite early in life I was afflicted with Non-Joining Syndrome (NJS). I’m not sure exactly when it was that I came down with NJS. It may have been when I wanted to join the Boy Scouts, but was given many reasons why I should not. It turned out later that the principal reason I was dissuaded from joining was the cost of the uniform. I may have caught NJS sometime after I did join Farm System baseball, then failed to catch nearly every ball that came my way and struck out with discomfiting reliability. I learned that my competitive malaise, lack of game knowledge and baseball skills made me a less-than-desirable part of the team.

NJS may have come upon me at a time when a well-meaning parent made clear to me that just because others were doing something didn’t mean that I should too. Individual thinking, it seems, was required of me, in all situations, and at all times, no excuses. Once NJS was upon me, the comfortable ease of “group think” became anathema, otherwise known as an extreme no-no.

As a consequence of the early onset of NJS, I have not joined clubs, bands, choirs, teams, competitions, dance or theatre troupes, the circus, political parties, religious cults, war-efforts, casino gambling, fund-raising campaigns, extreme debt financing, social networking websites, etc. I even avoided joining wireless telephony until just recently. NJS has also led me to engage in all sorts of troubled thinking that lets virtually no human activity go unconsidered. Why this? Why not that? What are the benefits of doing this thing (whatever it is) that everyone seems to do? What would happen if I did something else? Is there a better way? Do we have to do this at all?

Those who have NJS are plagued with busy thinking, as they have much to consider. People with NJS have no easy path in life. Which is not to say that it is unenjoyable, just that it isn’t easy.

Sometimes I try a new approach to something and quickly learn why that something is traditionally done the way it is done. Once I have good reasons, I join the crowd and do as they do. I always drive on the right-hand side of the road in North America, for instance. It makes sense to obey the law and join the crowd. But sometimes my new approach to something works perfectly well and though it may seem odd, because no one else is doing it that way, it works better than the traditional way of performing the same function. Many years ago, I cut holes into an old pair of running shoes to make a more breezy pair of slip-on sandals. I called them, “Scandals” because they looked so ratty. (See “Feature Image” attached to this blog posting.)  Within the past few years, running shoe manufacturers have caught on and have begun making refined versions of such shoes in their factories. I also made a wired, mute button for our TV to cut off commercial sound well before remote controls existed. So sometimes I have to just start doing things the way I think is right or sensible and let others catch on, or not, when they can.

Take parking, for instance. I have long been aware of a certain pattern in the general driving population that I am quite happy about because, by being aware of it, I can gain a certain small benefit in the parking lot. Perhaps this is a regional phenomenon that may not be known elsewhere, but I have noticed that most drivers tend to park in a pattern going directly out from the front doors of most stores. This leaves excellent, close-by, parking spaces, located at diagonal approaches to the store, empty and inviting. I often find parking spaces just a few steps from the entrance to the store. These spaces appear to be empty only because they are not “aligned” with the entrance! It’s like these parking places are invisible, or something.

I could never figure out why this situation came into being, but I am not complaining about it. It serves me well enough. It is such a curiosity that it became something that I have attended to and may have, at last, gained some insight into the phenomenon.

I was accompanying a friend on some errands around town. He was driving, and he allowed me to show him a “back” route to get into a parking lot. The route I showed him took us through a parking lot that skirted alongside the store. As we passed several available parking spaces that were quite close to the entrance, it became clear to me that he intended to ignore those spaces and drive to the front of the store. I couldn’t contain myself. I said, “You know you just passed by several empty spaces.” To which he replied, “That’s okay, Jake, we can park around front. We’re good people.”

I was astonished at his response and I must admit, fairly miffed that, because he somehow needed to lay claim to being a “good person,” he felt compelled to drive farther away from the entrance, encountering two aggressive speed bumps along the way, and eventually having to back down a lane because someone had parked, blocking a transit lane. It took him close to five more minutes of slow cruising to park in crowded conditions, then we had to walk a long distance in the rain, but he seemed genuinely pleased with the result. All this, in order to park far away from the store, but be-knightedly aligned with the entrance, i.e, in front of the store, among all the other “good people” who knew where they should park. Amazing!

If that were the only type of meaningless form that London drivers observed, I’d be pleased, because I regularly benefit from the many who observe this practice. But London drivers engage in another, less beneficial observation of form. In London, a funeral procession will often stop all traffic, in all directions, as a sign of “respect.” I’m not talking about traffic that might interrupt the flow of a funeral procession. I’m talking about uninvolved, on-coming traffic coming to a grinding halt – and not pulled to the side of the road either, but just suddenly coming to a dead stop, right in the middle of the roadway, because a funeral is coming the other way. I have only seen this bizarre custom in London, though I am told by its defenders that it may be seen elsewhere in Ontario and the American mid-west too. I guess I just never noticed it in Ottawa, Perth, Barrie, Picton or Belleville.

I understand people’s desire to show respect and compassion for people who have lost someone they love, but this is not a recommendable method. I once saw a funeral procession at a dead stop, attempting to make a cross-traffic turn into a cemetery, but because on-coming traffic had stopped for the funeral, and quickly backed up across the entrance, the procession couldn’t move, and no one ahead in the opposing line would move until the procession had passed. But it wasn’t passing! It was stalled by the drivers who had stopped to “show respect.” It was a complete stalemate, with no one seemingly able to move at all! I doubt that the funeral attenders considered that very respectful, yet the people who began stopping had no way of knowing what kind of fiasco was happening behind them (that their stopping had caused.) So we sat and waited until one of the funeral home attendants got out of the hearse and walked back to direct the lead stopped car to move on.

Another time, during a ten minute drive that became a twenty minute drive, I had to stop my car because all traffic had stopped for a funeral, yet later, further along the same road, the same group of drivers refused to stop or pull over for an ambulance with flashing lights and sirens! I don’t get it. What kind of mindset requires a person to stop for the dead, but impede the dying?

Happily, I don’t have to answer that question. My NJS does not require me to delve into, explore or explain things like mass delusion or psychosis. It only requires me to try to understand certain behaviours in terms of efficiency, expediency and sometimes ethics and morality.

I remain, a simple man, still searching for answers in a sometimes perplexing world.