When Emilio’s popsicle slid neatly off its wooden stick and plopped in the dirt at his feet, he finally snapped. It had been a long time coming. In his fragile emotional state, watching his sugary prize melting beneath the sun’s relentless glare was more than he could stand.
One might not think it such a big deal, especially for a grown man, but losing the frozen treat - purchased not just for palatable pleasure but also as soothing relief from the interminable heat - to the very calefaction it was meant to relieve is a cruel blow for anyone to bear. Children frequently cry when this happens, and rightly so. That adults do not is perhaps due largely to their hard-earned realization that life simply isn’t fair.
For Emilio, the incident was merely the tip of an emotional iceberg, and his Titanic had just struck home. It was the final straw. His sanity fled with the same ease his popsicle had parted from its stick. The result was catastrophic.
The loss of the lolly that triggered the events that followed was simply a result of the universal law of thermodynamics. To fully comprehend the underlying cause of Emilio’s meltdown, however, requires an understanding of another, lesser-known, universal law. And for that, we need to rewind a bit.
Earlier that week
Robert (sometimes Rob, never Bob) Vance sat at the bar in his favorite pub, scowling into a pint of Guinness. It may have been happy hour, but he was not. Hardly known for his sunny disposition, Robert had already made the waitress cry twice, and the night was still young. As the CEO of a multinational advertising firm, he saw taking out his displeasure on those beneath him as his god-given right. And from his lofty position in life, he thought everyone was beneath him.
Except for his wife. Robert may have been the boss at work but Nancy wore the pants at home. She was the only one who could cow her formidable husband and she never passed up an opportunity to do so. Her constant nagging was the reason he’d escaped to the pub in the first place. And, of course, the reason for his foul mood. Nancy would strongly disapprove of him drinking during the week, so it was Robert’s way of exacting revenge, petty though it may be.
An old man in a loud checked shirt, sandals with socks, and long, stringy gray hair sat alongside Robert at the bar. He looked like a hippy past his prime, a scraggly time traveler from the days when gas was cheap, dope was plentiful, and love was free. Noticing Robert’s gaze, the old guy nodded at the TV in the corner, tuned to the evening news. “Crying shame, isn’t it?”
“All this violence. And they blame the heat.” He snorted in disgust.
“Yeah, it’s senseless, all right.” Robert hoped that his dismissive tone would discourage further small talk, but it had the opposite effect.
“Oh no, nothing senseless about it. It’s all perfectly understandable if you’re familiar with the universal law of emotional transference.”
“The what?” Robert figured indulging the old guy was the quickest way to get him to shut up, so he reluctantly feigned interest.
“The universal law of emotional transference. I’ve been around the block, you know, and I’ve seen it at work time enough to know all about it.”
“Is that like a science thing?”
“It has a scientific basis, sure. You know how they say energy can’t be created or destroyed, just transferred from one form to another?”
Robert had never understood that Einstein shit but nodded anyway.
“Well, it’s the same with emotional energy. Especially negative emotional energy. There’s a finite amount of it around, so every time you take your frustrations out on someone else, you’re just passing it along. Like you did to that poor waitress.” He smiled wryly.
Robert liked the Freudian psychobabble even less than the Einstein stuff, but he felt compelled to defend himself. “But she can just pass it along herself, right? She’ll probably take it out on the busboy or something, then she’ll feel better. No harm done.”
“Ah-ha!” The old guy exclaimed triumphantly. “Therein lies the rub, my friend, because harm most certainly is done. Most folks just never realize it.”
“I’m losing you.”
“Think about it. Each time someone takes out their petty frustrations on someone else, they feel better. Like shedding a burden. But you can only safely lash out at people beneath you. It’s like they say – shit rolls downhill. But what happens at the bottom? Somewhere out there are individuals who have no one beneath them. Maybe they go home, kick the dog, and feel better. But maybe they don’t. The shit just piles up, keeps building, until… “ he mimed an explosion with his hands. Boom!
“What’s your point here, exactly?” Robert was fast losing patience. “You’re saying it’s like karma?”
“Oh, no. Karma is the belief that you get what you give. A nice idea, but far from realistic. People frequently don’t feel the repercussions of their petty meanness, which is why there are so many assholes in the world. I guess my point is – your actions have consequences, whether you realize it not. So, the ‘random’, ‘senseless’ violence we see? Nothing random or senseless about it, my friend.”
Having expounded his crazy theory, the hippy then lapsed into silence. The old guy was probably just lonely and needed someone to talk to. In listening to his inane ramblings, Robert figured he’d done his good deed for the year. As for what the old man had said, he dismissed it out of hand. The eloquent theory sounded good, but it was pure bullshit. As his mother used to say – you can put lipstick on a pig but, at the end of the day, it’s still a pig.
Amen to that.
Robert drained his pint and made for the door.
The next morning, Robert sat behind the massive desk in his opulent office, but his luxurious surroundings did little to improve his temper. He was pissed off, more so than usual. True to form, Nancy had chewed him out over his trip to the pub the evening before. His ears were still ringing from her verbal assault.
His personal assistant strode through the door and dropped the morning’s reports on his desk with a cheerful, “Morning Bob.”
“What did you just say?”
“Um… morning Rob? Robert. Mr. Vance. Sir. I’m sorry, I – “
Robert exploded, unleashing the full fury of his legendary temper. The assistant scurried out before his boss could throw something at him.
Back at his own desk, the PA felt more than a little sorry for himself, not to mention bitterly resentful towards his arrogant boss. When his secretary brought him his coffee with two sugars instead of the preferred three, he took his frustration out on her, roundly insulting her intelligence and questioning her competence in language that could be best described as colorful. He felt much better after that.
The secretary did not. She was furious and spoiling for a fight. Later that day, when the junior typist was five minutes late in delivering the draft minutes for the upcoming board meeting, the secretary unloaded on the girl poor in much the same way the PA had done to her.
The typist, being the most junior employee in the building, had no one to take her rage out on. She sat with it, nursing her resentment, letting it grow and fester. When she visited the restroom and discovered there was no toilet paper, she sought out the cleaning lady and gave her a tongue lashing for her ineptitude.
Poor Maria had just been on her way to change the toilet paper in the ladies' room and felt the chastisement was wholly unjustified. But there was nothing she could do about it. Her anger, too, just grew and grew.
When Maria got home from work that afternoon, her husband, Emilio, greeted her in his usual exuberant way. “Hey, honey. Good day?”
“What do you think? Could anyone who cleans toilets for a living have a good day, Emilio? Your sarcasm is not appreciated.”
“Woah, I wasn’t being sarcastic, I was just – “
“Did you water the plants?” Her icy tone was always a precursor to trouble.
“The plants? Sure, just the other day. You said once a week, right? So I thought – “
“No, Emilio, you did not think. In this heat, they need to be watered every day! That should be obvious, even to a useless imbecile like you!” Trouble had arrived. Maria proceeded to tear her hapless husband a new one.
Emilio was used to this. He knew his wife was taking strain. They both had minimum wage jobs – he was a night security guard at the local supermarket – and were struggling to get by. Maria delt with a lot of shit at work (this was a joke Emilio frequently made to himself but never voiced to his wife; she wouldn’t have seen the funny side), so her frequent bad moods were understandable.
He told himself all this again now, as he’d done many times before, but it didn’t eradicate his long-suppressed anger at being his spouse’s emotional punching bag. And he had no one to take it out on. They didn’t even have a dog he could kick. They had a cat, but even if he’d wanted to use it for soccer practice, the only thing Maria loved more than her Azaleas was her little Princess. Putting foot to feline would not have been a smart move.
So, Emilio decided to deal with his frustrations in a mature, healthy way: he’d go to the park before his shift started – there was still an hour or two of daylight left – and enjoy a soothing summer popsicle, as he’d done so many times as a child. It would be a useful time-out, a way for him to compose himself before work. And, pleasant nostalgia aside, sweet relief from the sweltering heat was much needed.
Park Massacre the newspaper headlines would later scream. More Random Violence Amid Record Heatwave. The television reporters filed breathless reports of how an off-duty security guard – no priors or violent history – had inexplicably snapped and gunned down several people in a quiet park with his service revolver. One victim had been the CEO of a prominent, multinational advertising firm.
The shooter’s wife and family would claim, between choking sobs, that the man had always been gentle and kind, that his actions were incomprehensible and there had been no warning signs. There was no apparent motive. Chalk another one up to random, senseless violence.
The coroner ruled that Robert Vance’s death had been caused by the bullet that pierced his occipital lobe, but a certain old hippy would have disagreed. Vance’s death could more accurately be attributed to an unfortunate result of the law of universal emotional transference.
When it came to the trial, Emilio insisted on testifying in his own defense, despite his attorney’s advice to the contrary. When asked on cross-examination what had sparked his deadly actions, he said only, “My popsicle melted.” It was the truth, as far as he knew, and he was under oath. Emilio was certain the jury would understand. They did not. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The attorney was enraged at the stupidity of his client. He knew he should’ve gone for an insanity plea. After the verdict, he took his frustration out on his junior partner, for no other reason than because he could. The junior partner proceeded to… well, you get the idea.