Why Do People Flake?
A Rant'n'Rave by Grig Larson

Ahhh, the innocence of youth. A time where one thinks the world runs on ideals instead of greedy sub-purposes; a place where one thinks there is true black-and-white good vs. evil instead of confusing grays. But I should grow up. No, wait, I will hold on to some of my childhood faculties and bitch!

Why do people flake? By "flake", I mean people who say they are going to do one thing, usually a specific, promised thing, and then totally forget or ignore what they said and expect you to accept it, or just don't care enough what you think. They have all lack of accountability in the face of responsibility to do good as their word; treating promises as momentary issues, with no intention of making it a permanent reliability. What's even worse, most people are "part-time" flakers, meaning they are sometimes good for their word, sometimes not.

Comedian Barry Sobol stated it as a difference between coastal attitudes, which I will paraphrase here:

"The difference between New York and Los Angeles is reliability. If you say to your friend in New York, 'We will meet at this theater at 8pm tonight,' that is not a suggestion. That is a statement of fact! And, at 8pm that evening, your friend will be there. In LA, you could invite over a dozen friends to do the same thing, and maybe one or two will show up, one by sheer coincidence that he happened to be there when you were. In New York, if you don't show up for an appointment, you have to furnish a reason: 'Joe, what happened, I was at the theater, you weren't there, I had my balls between my ears goin' what the hell happened to youse?'. In LA, no event is too important not to show up to. You could say, 'Drew, I have an important open heart surgery tomorrow, could you give me a lift tomorrow morning to the hospital?' and Drew would say 'Sure!' Three days later, when you finally hear from Drew, you ask, 'Drew...? What happened...? I had to take a cab to the hospital, where were you...?' Drew would say, 'Oh, dude, I'm sorry... I flaked...' 'I flaked!' is his excuse! In LA, they don't even have the decency to lie to you!"

Barry makes an interesting point. But I can't separate people by coastal zones. It doesn't seem to be a factor of age, so I can't say it's a generational thing, either. It's not even consistent in the same person these days. It just seems like a gradual thing that started in the 80's and is getting worse each year. It happens at work or at play, usually worse at play.

Flakes are people who may or may not show up to any event invited to, or even ones they create themselves. If confronted, they often say they were busy, or forgot. This isn't so bad if you invited them to a large gathering, but sucks when you invited them specifically for a purpose, like a band rehearsal (no lead guitar), or access (they had the tickets). It really sucks when they invited you, especially if it was a one-on-one, and you wait for them at some coffee shop for hours until you finally give up. "I'll get you those tickets," they say to a group that is sold out that you would give your right arm to see. The days tick by, and you can't get a hold of them and the concert goes by, and when you finally get a hold of your friend, he either says he did not promise them to you specifically, or he forgot, or usually some lame excuse that makes you think he did not have those tickets to begin with.

Not to say flakes are intentionally evil, although some are, but many people were never taught personal accountability. About a year ago, I actually had someone deliver this line to me, "I can't be expected to be reliable, I have attention deficit syndrome." Hey, even the handicapped try to get wheelchairs. I have studied attention deficit, and while I believe a lot of it is just excuses, I recognize some of it is legitamite, whether chemical or enviromental. But, please, dear God, get help. There are wonderful items on the market called day planners, palmtops, and digital watches with alarms. Get a pager and subscribe to Yahoo's scheduling service, it's free, and they can page you! Use red string on your finger, if you have to! But do us a favor, if you have no desire to be a more reliable person, stop making promises, okay? Attention deficit is not a crutch, but a challenge. I can accept someone more who says, "I just have a difficulty remembering, could you remind me?" than someone who blames me afterwards that I did not remind them.

Flakes In Action

Here are just some of the more extreme examples that I have had in my life. Often, these were done by people who do this frequently enough to make my "Flake Gallery". Some facts and stuff have been re-arranged to fit a short format, and to avoid possible libel or "You're bringing that up again?" comments. Stories are titled by the excuses given to me.

"Oh, you know, I just got tired..."
In one of the worst flake events of my life, I got stuck in Georgetown with about 5 other people, waiting outside of a local club for our mutual friend who had eight tickets to see a sold-out show for a local punk band which one of our friends was subbing for the drummer. The place is packed, and we can't get in without those damn tickets. Minutes turned to hours as one of my friends was constantly harassed by people thinking she's a prostitute. Finally we gave up, and ate at Swensons, only to have someone's credit card denied, and we had no extra cash to back her up. On top of that, another friend was questioned by the police because he looked like a suspect they were looking for. By the time it was all over (which included a fender-bender at a stoplight and a car battery dying), we asked our friend, who was at home watching MTV (according to her mother), what happened. The casual reply put her in the annals of flakedom.

"We just lost track of time..."
I get invited to a dinner, celebrating a friend's recent graduation. I am invited specifically, told that I must attend, or the party would not be the same. I am told to bring my tarot deck to do some readings, and a few of my famous musical CDs to play. I feel obligated to attend that this point. I don't have a car, and I have to trek up to Maryland (from VA) via Metro that takes two hours. There is no bus stop close to them, so I walk about a mile from the Metro Rail station to their house, not exactly in a good part of town. I get to the door, which is partly open, with a light on inside, and I knock. No answer. I go in. No one there. The place is a mess, as usual, so I can't tell if the place has been ransacked. I make sure it's the right address, and I recognize the cars in the parking lot. Finally, after waiting and thinking for an hour, I go back home, but the busses stopped running in my area (late at night), so I have to take a cab home, and it ends up costing me all my loose cash which means I had to stiff the driver a tip. He wasn't happy. Days later, after thinking something awful happened to them, I find out they went to the mall for some food a few hours earlier, and forgot about the time.

"I'm working on it...
Out of a dozen or so people who promised to get me free Internet access, only one came through, and you're looking at the web page it was printed on. Most of the people who promised me were net administrators or people who had high level ISP access who said it was really sad I didn't have full access, and said they would get me a net account up and running by today/tomorrow/nextweek-at-the-latest. I should say another came through, but she was using software my machine could not handle, and I wouldn't be able to use her account when she was using it, which would have sucked for her. But that's OK, she not only gave me access, but a foot in he door to where she worked, and now I work there! :)

"Oh, I'm sorry, when was it...?"
As an author, I love it when friends of mine say they will attend my readings and book signings. And it's really OK if they can't make it because they are busy, or if they would say, "I'll try and make it if I can," that's cool, too. But about half of the people I know who say, "I will definitely be there at (blah blah time and place)," and I don't see them. I never ask, "Why didn't you come?", because that's kind of rude, but when someone says, "Oh, your reading went well, and I see you sold some more books, and blah blah blah", the flakes always say, "Oh, when was it?" Please, if you are going to forget, which you should know by now whether you do or not, at least tell me you can't make it or you'll try depending on circumstances, or better yet, say nothing and attend at will. I never want to force anyone to come, and don't say you'll come just to make me feel better. If you don't want to or simply cannot afford to buy my book, this is OK, too. You shouldn't feel obligated. Really. But you look ridiculous when you say, "I keep meaning to buy your book, I do..." for the last 4 years. I won't hate you or think any less of you if you do not own a personally signed copy of my book. Just stop making weird promises out loud in public.

"I was busy..."
When I was writing for the comedy troupe, Prune Bran, I would say only about half of the people required would show up for rehearsal. This was a really bad problem. I was riding the metro or getting rides across the state line for this, and some people actually lived on the same college campus we rehearsed at and didn't show up. Often it was so bad, we had "throwaway" parts for notorious flakers, since some of them didn't show up to performance, either. "Oh, I'll be there..." they'd say over and over again. It wasn't predictable, either. A Performance no-show could have attended lots of rehearsals, and rehearsal no-show would attend a performance, not know any lines, and get mad that they got "bad" parts. It was infuriating for the two directors. The flakes never had good excuses. I can count the legitimate excuses we got on one hand.

"Oh... um, oh yeah..."
At a lot of conventions I attend, this is the most common response to, "Why didn't you volunteer for (blah blah) like you signed up for?" My friend Bruce, who runs three large conventions a year, often says that you take the number of volunteer pledges you have, and divide that number by five, and that's a more realistic number that may show up. I have attended meetings of many different convention planning committees, and on of the topics that always comes up is "how do we compensate volunteers?" Good question, but another discussion is always brought up, how do we compensate those that work from those that pretend to work to get the compensation? While a majority of volunteers work hard, and often don't even care about the compensation, there are always those mooching for food, tee-shirts, and fame, doing little to no work. Also common in fandom are flakes who said you'd share a room with who would split the bill. When I was in high school, we'd take the number of people who said they'd come, divide the total room cost by that amount, and round up to the nearest $5 or $10 dollar mark. And if we got too much money, we'd refund the people who actually paid. I remember our treasurer refunding people only about once or twice in three years (about 9 cons). Often we'd hear, "We're $20 short, can you give us a few bucks?" "Gee, you had 13 people, and we paid $20, and the hotel bill is only $200?" "Yeah, well, BillyBob and his girlfriend never seems to be around during collection time, and the club treasury can only contribute $40..."

"Oh, man! Sorry, dude..."
Ever not have a car? It sucks! It really sucks when you are dependent on a ride who doesn't pick you up, or worse, leaves the party without you. I have been fairly lucky, but I have been to many a party where someone else's ride is missing (probably bonking his girlfriend in the den), or doesn't pick their passenger up, and the passenger had all the good soda! Or they pick someone up, and are responsible for their ride back, yet disappear. This can suck for the pal who got the ride, or the party host if the "friend" is being an obnoxious, party-killing twit, and no one knows where his ride is to take him home. I was at one literary gathering where someone, we're still not sure who, brought a guy who immediately thought "away from parents" meant "fun and drinking." It was a very alcohol-free party, yet this rather young person managed to bring his own hooch, and proceeded to get as drunk a the little amount he brought with him would allow.

"So who needs 'em?", right? Just dump those friends and get new ones, you say. HA! If it were only that easy. Picking friends based on whether they flake or not is like picking people who don't have a hair color that starts with the letter "B". If I started picking friends like that, I wouldn't have many left, and a lot of sore people going, "Well, he's just over-sensitive, that's all..." I used to think it was just my friends. Then it was just my friends and my wife's friends. Then is was just the friends of me, my wife, and my friends. Then it was everyone I knew socially, plus customers at work (not showing up to parking lot pickups, to pay on lay-aways, etc). I began to ask, "Is this common?" I began to ask customers and co-workers. They all reported a sharp decline "since the 'Me' Decade" of reliable people, products, and services. Friendly service? No way, they hate their job. Reliable service? With this kind of heavy rotation, no way. Good employees? They can come and go between jobs as they please, they don't need you. Reliable bosses? Same problem. Man, what is happening to honor and accountability in this world?

Sometimes I wonder, in a flake's universe, how does one plan anything? Do you invite people to a party, knowing they won't show up anyway, so you don't throw it? Is throwing a party now merely the act of saying, "Come to my party, I have champaign and caviar," just a useless phrase said for ornamentation without anyone realistically expecting the event to occur? Some flakes say, "I promised you that to be polite." Well, it sure as hell ain't polite when you don't deliver on your promise! Cut the crap, and keep your mouth shut if you can't say anything reliable, I say.

Non-Flaking Rules

So after reading this, maybe you feel guilty? HA! To those it applies to, you never read my web page anyway. How do I know? You promised me and when you see me you keep saying, "I've got to read that web page of yours sometime..." without me prompting anything. But I digress. If you know someone who needs these rules, feel free to cut-and-paste, but just leave the URL as a copyright notice.

How Not To Flake

  1. Say what you mean, mean what you say. Always. If you have nothing to say, then shut up.
  2. Never promise what you cannot deliver. Even if it makes you look good at the time. If you think you can but are not sure, say that. "I may be able to get you access to that server, but it depends on my admin's final say. If you don't hear from me, here's my e-mail."
  3. Always do what you say. Never flail out promises like seeds, because they will not grow unless you attend to them.
  4. If you cannot make it, tell the truth. Tell people honestly what happened. Don't make stuff up, because soon no one will believe you when you tell the truth, either. If you are not sure, you can give a comment like, "I try to make it, I have a lot of stuff to do that day, and may be too pooped to party."
  5. "I forgot," "I was busy," and "Something came up," are not good excuses if used more than once! If you forget, remind yourself somehow, like memos on the fridge, e-mail, Post-It notes, etc... Too busy? Don't make the promise in the first place if that is your lifestyle. Something came up? Call and let people know in advance, of that's not possible, follow up afterwards with a phone call or e-mail.
  6. If you cannot do something, notify in advance if at all possible. Can't make a party you were specifically invited to and expected at? Call. Can't volunteer because you got sick? Call before the event. Cannot get someone that net access? Tell them. Can't give someone a ride? Call them in advance time enough for them to get another ride.
  7. Follow up. If you promised someone something, let them know of the status without them having to ask. If you keep delaying, give them a target date. If that date keeps moving up, at least say, "I have no idea when this'll get done, the boss keeps changing the rules. Rather than keeping you hanging, I'll say it's not possible right now. I am sorry, but I did not know it would be this hard."
So now we know about flakes, how they work, and how not to be one. One last question remains, What is the difference between a flaker and a liar? At first, you may think there isn't one. But there is one crucial difference, a liar is consistent. A flaker, you have no idea until they actually show up whether they will flake or not. It's worse than a liar, because if you know someone is a liar, you can just ignore what they say. A flaker may actually have a party, and if they invited you, and you blew them off, you look like the bad one! This is why flaking is so evil, and must be stopped!
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