“The next time she says that, I’m going to…”
How many times have I said that? And then what? Usually nothing. I’m a coward, not because I want to be, but because I have been taught to be. Not just by my parents, but teachers, telephone solicitors, nearly anyone in authority. I am afraid of being embarrassed, humiliated, made to feel as though being ineffectual, is what I should emulate. I was encouraged to be no more, no less, than that opaque color on the wall that refuses to make people wither, blush, or pretend to fade.
I was having a discussion just the other day, when this guy gets off his bar stool, throws a peanut at the television, no one was actually watching, and screams an obscenity at the screen. I was so inspired by his outrage, of what I had no idea, but it was contagious. I threw a peanut at the TV as well, and the guy asked me what I thought I was doin. “You lookin for trouble?” he says as he takes a step towards me, eyes crossed, fists clenched.
It was one of those critical moments in life I’d lived through hundreds of times before and had frozen in my usual comatose stance. Even though my body succumbed to rigor, my mind raced with possible responses. But as usual, my upbringing jumped in and told me to be silent, don’t antagonize him, he will go away, and after all, it was just a peanut. The other me, was right of course. Would a blackened eye or broken arm really have contributed anything to the situation, but more anger and further aggression? Rationalization is one of my better traits.
It is not so much the bullying that troubles me, as is my steadfast ability to be bullied. Perhaps it is a trait I was born with; a defect in my helix of chromosomes that interferes with my instinctual reactions to violence and abuse, and my inability to verbally shame an opponent.
I am by nature, more a pacifist than a coward. At least I believe I am. Pacifism, however, should never be confused with cowardice. Generally speaking we are willing, in Gandhi fashion, to use our bodies as weapons of inactivity, or as a response to affect the aggressive tendencies of those who seek the opposite of what we protest, even protests just in our minds.
The problem is that, as societies emerged from the darkness, which they will ultimately return to, I must confront the injustice of incorporating bumps and bruises into my life. Had I been born into the appropriate position of the pendulum’s arch, I may have fared as well as Gandhi, or ever Martin Luther King. But alas, I have enjoyed the ride to the top of the roller coaster, and with anticipated screams, I descend into that world where being bad, is no longer a moniker to avoid. We have reached a state of idealism that allows for those Breaking Bad, to find absolution in the TV sets of our lives, and the gassing and beating of those in search of equal justice. I can only blame that on electronicism, a disreputable adherence to all things electronically suggestive.
After the peanut throwing man left me feeling humiliated, because of my inability to pull a 257 magnum from my shoe, brandish it in front of his nose, and eat a peanut, I went back to the bar to contemplate future incursions into a realm I knew nothing about, and had a good talking to myself. It did no good, but did give me some practice practicing to be less inflammatory and more submissive.
It was during my self-debasement that Zelda Hope sat down next to me. Her name was stitched on her jacket pocket. She wanted to know if I’d buy her a beer. Having just been nearly beaten to within an inch of my life, and having noticed she was wearing combat boots, I perhaps over enthusiastically agreed.
I can still remember her smile, me on the floor, her boot inches from my face, and her words, “What you lookin at fella?” A memorable moment to be sure. My response, letting even myself down, “Nothing to see here fella.” I must have said, “Fella,” out loud.
It dawned on me, after Louie the bar keep told me to get out and not come back, that perhaps it was not me, but the perception of me that seemed to bother people. I am not terrible looking, if that’s what you were thinking. I’m no Brad either, but then we can’t all be born to be heart throbs. Where would that leave 99% of us?
Sitting at the base of Benjamin Franklin’s bronze cast, him reading a copy of Thomas Paine’s, Common Sense, I realized perhaps it was I who had a perception problem. I expected too much from people, who expected so little of themselves. I began to see how they could twist my appreciation of their antics, into rebellious disdain.
Just as I began to feel I was getting a grasp on the intricacies of being a jerk, who should come by but Harry Hart. Harry and I go way back. I never was comfortable around him because I never could bring myself to call him by his name. If I called him, “Hey you,” it seemed somehow less inclusive than I intended to be, and yet calling him Harry or Hart, seemed as though I was criticizing his parents for a poor choice of possibilities from the, “Book of Names,” Fifth Addition, Simon, and Schuster.
H.H. was large for his age. When I was ten, he had the body of a twenty-four-year-old army veteran. When I was twenty-four, he had the mental acuity of a ten-year-old. That however did not simplify our interaction along societal norms that one would expect to have, when considering both our ages and metal proclivity. Being asked for your lunch money when you are twenty-four is not only embarrassing, but I don’t carry cash; too dangerous. I offered to put lunch on my credit card and he just looked at me like it was time he refined his scalping technique.
“So look here H.H.” I said to him, “Why can’t we just be friends. I might be able to teach you a few of life’s more intricate moves, and you could teach me how to react to danger as if I was ten years old, and the size of King Kong.” Of course I said none of those words as I found I had a quarter in my pocket which I presented to him with a smile, and some lint.
I know things didn’t go as well as planned this time. But next time, just you wait!