I’m writing now. That’s a new thing for me. I’m not good with new things. I’m not good with much, to tell you the truth. To tell you the truth, I kicked a child into the river yesterday. Two days ago I waited around my apartment for the cable guy to show up. Never happened. Never got asked to the prom either. Yeah, I’m a guy. So what? I consider myself a feminist. You know who else I consider a feminist? Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Some say she actually was one. I disagree. But I consider her. I’m actually very considerate. I hold doors open for people who aren’t even there. Maybe someone else is coming. I don’t know. I’m not omniscient. I’m not omnipotent either, but I did once leg press my best friend in high school. I asked him to jump on the machine, he said no, so I blackmailed him. My mother once blackmailed my father into taking us to the zoo. Why it was such a chore is beyond me. My dad liked the reptile house. I didn’t. He made me look anyway. He said it would make me a man, put hair on my chest. Today I’m as smooth as the day I was born. You know what else happened on the day I was born? The Challenger blew up. It wasn’t my fault. I had just gotten here. I was the third child, the house was small, so the crib went in the laundry room. So did the dog when we went out. He pooped in there every time, and I had to clean it up. How does a six-month old clean up after a dog? I don’t know, and I was there. I wasn’t there for the English Protectorate, and I’ve since developed an unhealthy fixation. What do you want from me? Fairfax turns me on. I lived just off Fairfax Avenue for two years. I ate at Canter’s five nights a week. The pastrami does something to me that I can’t put into words. I did once put a small bag of oyster crackers into words. Actually it was just one word: obstreperous. It means noisy, rowdy. You might call a Western omelet obstreperous. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why someone would wear a tuxedo to a bowling alley. When I go bowling, I wear corduroy pants and a t-shirt that says, “Morrissey is a twat.” But of course the t-shirt doesn’t say that. A t-shirt can’t talk. I made that mistake in school and the teacher corrected me. “It reads,” she said. I said, “What do you know? You teach math.” I don’t like math. Too many numbers. When I can, I stick to Roman numerals. When I was eight, I got stuck to a tree covered in sap. My parents never thought to look for me, so I spent the night there. I made friends with the tree and gave it a name. I named it Mattress.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
A little wisdom will tell you that all the assholes stomping around the earth are embalmed with misery and hate themselves more than the people they leech off ever will. It’s hard for victims to recognize that. They’re too busy hating their victimizers to recognize it. It never occurs to them that a fully grown asshole started life as a gravy train for the leeches who loomed over him. A victim rarely realizes that before they can hate an asshole, they have to start hating themselves, and they never realize that self-hatred is the first mile on the long road to becoming an asshole. I’m as guilty of that crime as anyone. Most victims-turned-assholes get their comeuppance sooner or later, usually in a very public and particularly mortifying manner. I was lucky. I learned my lesson in relative privacy after three hours of getting my ass handed to me in Street Fighter II by a kid with no arms.
I was born a naturally sensitive person. Conflict terrified me, especially when it was my conflict. So when those kids in class who reveled in tormenting the fat kid drew their long knives and started paring strips of fatty flesh, I said nothing and cried. I usually managed to stave off the tears until no one was looking. I was shy, and making friends was a Herculean peril. The girls never liked me. Well, some did, but they were never the girls I was attracted to. They were always the girls that made me think, “Them? Those are my options? Fuck my life in half.” I saw other kids, beautiful kids, having fun, always smiling and laughing, and thought, No, seriously, where did I go wrong? My fantasies were always perfect. I played the hero in a Tolkienesque realm or a galaxy close enough to resemble popular movies. I always got the girl and fell back onto a throne of jubilant applause. Then I went to school the next day, and the fantasy, still fresh in my mind, underlined, emboldened, and italicized the discrepancy between it and the reality.
While fear and loneliness was consuming my waking life, there was another kid who seemed to be living the dream. Shawn was in my grade. To the best of my knowledge his in utero development had somehow been retarded. His arms ended where his elbows should have been, terminating at rounded stubs with small concavities that should have grown into fingers. Both of his legs stopped at the knees, and he wore a special shoe on one foot. When he walked he favored one side of his body. His half-arms flailed like nunchucks duct taped to his shoulders. And he always had a smile on his face. I don’t know what his history was, but he seemed to have decided years before that a mere physical handicap was no dissuasion from doing whatever the hell he wanted. It was as if he had said, “What, this shit? This is nothing.” Here was a kid that our classmates, being the ice-blooded avatars of predation they were, should have pounced on like vampires who’d been trapped for a month in a Whole Foods. No. They lit up like Tesla coils when they saw Shawn. Everyone wanted to be his friend, and he let everyone in without regard to clique loyalty or sartorial incompetence. This kid with no hands had grabbed life by the throat and was leading it around like a dog on a leash. God, I hated him. I never voiced my anger. I knew I would be castigated even more than I already was or imagined myself to be. When someone feels beaten down enough, they tend to feel that the beating has continued long after it’s stopped. I suffered the sting of the phantom lash in silence, suffered the frustration of that silence, and the twin pains coiled into a double helix of acrimony.
Now, I had never actually spoken to Shawn until we found ourselves at a mutual friend’s Bar Mitzvah. Our friend’s mother had rented out a now defunct but much beloved arcade named Malibu. It was a staple of our Eighties/Nineties youth that enchanted us young teens with a panchromatic clamor of music and 32-bit seizures. After the obligatory cake and presents the kids were cut loose to enjoy Malibu as they liked. Some kids rode the Go-Karts around the track outside, still years from having a driver’s license and unfamiliar with the migraine-inducing frustrations of operating an automobile on a daily basis. Some of the boys sublimated their urge to compare genitals by jousting on the air hockey table. But I was all about the videogames. An introverted worm with dubious social skills found a lost horizon within the simulated heroism and accomplishment of a videogame. And for kids like me the biggest and best was Street Fighter II. It’s cartoonish graphics and manga-derived action was far preferable to the heightened realism and humorlessness of Mortal Kombat. Also, the kids who favored Mortal Kombat were thuggish and delinquent. No. Street Fighter II was the avenue for the pathological introvert’s momentary self-actualization. Unfortunately I sucked at it.
My friend’s mother had provided all the kids with more than enough quarters to last the whole party. I headed for the machines and found two of my classmates already putting Chun-Li and Dhalsim through their paces and around them a group of others coalescing into a scrum of voice-crackling braggadocio vowing to show the world a thing or three about how to play the game. You see, I could only play the game by myself or with my closest friends, the kids I knew would accept my ineptitude without sinking their fangs into my neck. I skulked away from the gaggle of kids who thought nothing of their god-gifted ability to speak or exist without fear. I very slowly killed the next hour and a half by playing other, less satisfying games and sitting at a table alone, feeling sorry for myself. I watched kids I knew and kids I didn’t run around wielding smiles gleaming with brazen apathy, laughing at their own witless gilt, enjoying their lives and oblivious to the blessed ease with which they could enjoy.
I made my way back to Street Fighter to find that the mob had transformed. A line six-children deep snaked away from the 2nd Player controller. Shawn stood at the 1st Player controller, planted on a milk carton, his little bread loaf arms slapping the buttons and smacking the joystick, and obliterating everyone he played. I stood several feet away and watched. The other boys would lose with frightening speed and return to the back of the line certain that they would avenge themselves on their next turn. Shawn welcomed all comers with teeth-shattering defeat. Fewer kids began returning to the back of the line. Soon Shawn was playing the computer, the line having gone the way of all his opponents. The others had decided to waste their quarters getting their asses kicked in games they could at least fool themselves into believing they could beat. Shawn defeated his pre-programmed enemy, then turned to me. “You want to play, Tony?”
How the hell did Shawn even know my name? “Listen, I suck,” I said.
“So what? Jump in.”
I edged up to the 2nd Player controller, drawing breath as if I was about to step off the top of CN Tower. I chose to play as Ryu because I found him the easiest to use and I was uncool. Shawn chose Ken and destroyed me with blinding speed. I wasn’t surprised, but I dropped in another quarter and threw my hat into the ring again. And again and again. I wasn’t even enjoying my beloved Street Fighter. My self-loathing was handing me my own ass one game after another. Then finally by some mutant happenstance I won one round. Actually Shawn probably let me win. He must’ve seen the flagellating veins tearing through my forehead and winding up. He took the third round, and I lost the game.
Then he said, “Let me show you something.”
In the next game he invited me to attack him. I did, using all the most powerful moves.
Shawn said, “Don’t go right for the Shoryuken. You gotta set me up for it.”
He showed me how to draw him in closer to me.
“Now throw a few jabs.”
And Shawn proceeded to teach me how to play the game. He taught me a little, we played a real game, he beat me, and he taught me more. I never wound up winning a game, but the number of rounds I won slowly grew like a carefully cultivated garden. The night ended, and I thought of this oddly shapen kid of indomitable will and optimism. I had simultaneously written him off as beneath me and begrudged him his happiness. Over the course of one night he had brushed away my prejudice like a pestering fly. His great victory wasn’t the improvement of a strange kid’s gaming talents. It was the transmogrification of that strange kid into a better person, one with a wisdom he hadn’t possessed before, a wisdom he could apply to the remainder of his life.Today Shawn is a successful entrepreneur based in Las Vegas. I’m a writer, so I’ve still got a ways to go on the wisdom of not hating myself.