This guy is sitting here for the second Thursday in a row. It’s in his mid to late 70s, short, round.
Same brown pants and houndstooth jacket he wore last week, with the white pocket square and something close to full-on coke bottle glasses.
He’s chugging on the end of a cigar and sitting, bent over the arm of the couch, resting his chin on his neck, watching a video on his phone at full volume while coughing up gobs of something that would give a first level party a run for their money in a newb dungeon.
The video is, near as I can tell, some kind of genre proximate bodice-ripper style soap opera, complete with panting soft core scenes, fit for married, lonely middle-aged women.
I hear tell he’s an English professor at a local college. I can only imagine him falling asleep in the front of the lecture hall.
But if this is his petty indulgence, the thing he does, having cleared Thursday morning of a class load then so be it. I can’t begrudge him overmuch. It seems a pithy watered-down enjoyment. But who am I to say what’s going on in his head.
Perhaps an hour’s respite from slings and arrows does him some good, sitting in the back room of a cigar lounge where no doubt no one would think to look for him, zoning out to poorly written overly emotional tripe.
I play video games and listen to pop music for fuck’s sake. Talk about hack entertainment.
I ran him down in my head a bit last week. It was a weird toss between the prime directive of not disturbing people and being disturbed myself. When push came to shove I just opted to put some techno somethingorother crap on and crank it ’til he left at about noon.
“Nah, I don’t want to talk about that.”
“It’s a bit uncomfortable and not particularly complimentary.”
“Yeah I get it. But it’s not what I had in mind when I drove down the hill.”
“Oh fuck off with your horseshit. Dude you had everything in your mind when you came down the hill, except perhaps this.”
“A point, that.”
So, like I said, I grumbled a bit about him. I did it in my head and, quite a fair bit worse, I did it in public. It was too easy to do. Last week all I saw was an annoyance, a rude old man who was a simple manifestation of a template of obnoxious selfish behavior and I’d given him no more thought than that. So it was easy.
The left has ruined the word “dehumanizing” but…gotta call a spade a spade.
My own frustration, multiplied by his admitted lack of social awareness made for a cocktail of snark at which I am somewhat disturbingly adept.
Of course there’s a vein of cowardice with a pinch of anger at myself for being unable to face the situation head on. But that kind of social interaction runs in absolute violation to some of my most deeply held circuits. Conflict Avoidance, while the lion’s share of the issue, isn’t really the whole deal.
It’s a combination of “who the hell are you to assert your will?” (a no doubt confusing idea to almost anyone who knows me nowadays) and a projection of fear of conflict on to other people. It’s a weird second-order problem, the internal narrative of which being something like “I’d hate it if someone started shit with me, so I’m not going to do that to someone else. I’ll just suck it up instead.”
But what’s funny about it is that the underlying deep identity issues that such behavior is there to protect me from don’t really hold so strongly any more. I’m FAR less “first order conflict avoidant” than I ever have been. BUT I still behave as though I am because those practices have turned into deeply ingrained habits over the last fifty years. So it’s a little cargo cult in its own way. Interesting. I didn’t expect this to go quite this direction. But then, I never do.
No, what I was complaining about not wanting to write is how, with all these constraints in place, the accrued pressure comes out in just the worst possible way: I end up bitching about people’s behavior behind their back.
The worst part about that is when the complains seem at least nominally justified.
I tell myself, and others, that I’m trying to work out my frustration and anger with people to understand it. And that’s not…NOT true. But it’s still nothing short of spreading poison.
One serious problem is that…I can be pretty persuasive, especially when it’s not a goal. So I’ve watched myself twist the social consciousness about situations and people.
“Well, that’s giving yourself an awful lot of credit. Grown ups are perfectly capable of forming their own opinions.”
“True. But providing the near occasion of sin doesn’t make you a hero. I mean, you don’t invite an alcoholic to a bar or do a line of coke in front of a Senator either.”
And…because it’s an argument with myself, it ends there because I’m utterly convinced I’m right. You’re not responsible for what other people think or how they behave. But you’re responsible for being a good influence and the inspiration for people to be better. THAT you CAN control.
The other problem, the dirty little secret that we generally don’t like to admit (and I’ll drag a bunch of humanity along with me on this one) is that…it’s FUN. It shouldn’t be true. But people like talking about people. It’s low brow, sure. And I can talk about ideas with the best of them. But there’s something about it that’s conversationally satisfying, the dark temptation of it is almost impossible to resist.
But I can’t seem to stop myself. If I don’t have anything nice to say about someone…and it’s all too frequently true that I don’t, I just am ready to explode…like a vegan who hasn’t told anyone in five minutes.
I’ve gotten a little better at not responding or not starting the conversation. But holy crap is it a slog.
A part of it is a byproduct of working on curating my social circles. I don’t, of irony of ironies, condescend to friendships with people I don’t like, for whatever reason. And I’ve got no reason, other than social convention, to pretend to like people I don’t.
So I get myself in these social situations where I’m forced to torture myself by not saying anything, never a strong suit of mine.
The right thing of course is measured response to offensive behavior, not to let it bottle up. But unlike most social interactions, that’s a pretty costly thing to get wrong. So it’s pretty tough to practice, to rehearse it. So it’s slower going than I’d like.
“Ya know most people have trouble with…” GOD do I not want to hear it. I’m not evolving against a model of other people. There’s no sanity to be had in that kind of comparative analysis. I’m trying to evolve from where I stand not from an outward perception of other people.
I suppose I’ll get there. Lord knows I’ve got an awful lot to get over on the way.