As I believe I’ve mentioned from time to time, reflecting upon my life is something I should not do. It’s just something I do when a change is coming, as there’s some entirely too arrogant part of my psyche that insists that there must be something passable as wisdom in there and I might need it to navigate the terra incognita ahead.
In the event your Latin is a bit rusty, terra incognita is Latin for “how the fuck did I get here?”.
Recently I have been pondering the strange fact that I, of all people, being so outgoing and charming as I am, have no friends. Not a one. I (literally) don’t even get up from my chair when the doorbell rings because it’s almost certain to be one of the few Jehovah’s Witnesses in town that I haven’t pissed off yet, and on those rare occasions when it’s not a JW it’s a salesperson. Yes, it’s true: I am friendless. And upon reflection, I pretty much always have been.
It’s a weird thing, my judgment of character. In business I can tell within 30 seconds of meeting someone precisely which sort I’m dealing with, and on the telephone it’s within two, maybe three minutes. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember me writing two years ago about a potential client who’d just contacted me and the sort I figured him to be. I predicted that if he came aboard he would pull these certain shenanigans and I’d tell him to go get bent. He went away without coming aboard, then he came back… what, last December? I’m too lazy to look. I said again then that he was this sort and would pull these certain shenanigans and I would tell him to get stuffed. Then in January and February he pulled precisely those shenanigans, all of them, with no others thrown in for flavor, and I told him to take Vonnegut’s flying fuck at a rolling donut. There were no surprises. There very rarely are, and they’re never in the opposite direction from my predictions. Not one I’ve pegged as a shithead has turned out to be a decent human being, and not one I’ve pegged as decent has turned out to be a shithead. In business settings my judgment of character is flawless.
Sometimes, though, I will take on a shithead just to squeeze some cash out of him before he does the predictable shithead thing that compels me to show him the exit. Some people’s lives are illuminated by their religion, others by their passions, some by their commitment to worthy causes; my life is illuminated by burning bridges.
In personal relationships? I’ve concluded that if I get to thinking that someone might turn out to be a good friend, the wisest course of action is to pay the son of a bitch a few hundred bucks to stay the fuck away from me. Cheaper still is to avoid thinking that way in the first place. A story to illustrate:
On the first day of first grade, I met a kid whose family had just moved to town, the first Mormons I’d met who weren’t my relatives. Lesser Mormons, they were — if you’re a Mormon and not from Utah, do yourself a favor and don’t move there. Trust me. Digression thus ended: This kid to whom I’ll refer as Melvin, Melvin The Mormon, soon enough became my bestest friend in the whole wide world whether I liked it or not. He was the smallest kid in the class, real bully bait, and it was my lot in life to be the always gracious one who saw to it that the bullies always got what they deserved. Melvin hid in my shadow like it was his mother’s skirt before I even knew I was casting a shadow, and before too long the other wimpy kids joined him. I ended up like a mother hen, always surrounded by fuzzy little fuckers who stayed close by for their own safety. No one ever asked me how I felt about it.
Fifth grade rolled around, and a kid who hadn’t been a bully before decided that that’s what he wanted to be. I understood it. He was the youngest in the family, had some older brothers, the parents were neglectful alcoholics, and the kid was just pushed beyond his capacity for resilience. Naturally, he aimed to start his reputation by taking me on. That didn’t go so well for the poor dumb bastard, but at least he had good sense enough to stay down when I recommended it. And while I heaped on a little additional verbal humiliation to teach him a lesson, which I probably shouldn’t have. The next thing I know, about a week later, wimpy little Melvin is up in my face challenging me to a fight after school. Oh, Melvin, you can’t be serious. The little asshole was serious. On the way home after school I tried to talk him out of it, pointing out that he stood about as much chance as a bunny rabbit hunting a German Shepherd, but he took a poke at me. I blocked it, and several more, still trying to talk him out of forcing me to take him out. Finally, I punched the idiot thinking that the sight of blood would back him up. No such luck. I let him land one in my gut, and said, “Okay, man, I give up. You win”, but something compelled him to keep on so I just kept blocking his punches, and every now and then feinting at him to keep undeserved confidence from getting him into trouble. Finally one of our city’s finest showed up and ended it. We were the first kids in our class to have the cops called on us. What an accomplishment.
The next day at school Melvin explained that it was the wannabe bully who’d put him up to it by telling Melvin that if he didn’t beat me up, the bully would beat him up. I thought it illogical as hell that Melvin would rather take a beating from me than from the bully who was afraid of me, but later came to realize that it was the perfect out for him. I wouldn’t do Melvin nearly as much harm as the other kid would have. I confronted the wannabe about it, and might have goaded him just a little bit into taking another shot. I was less merciful in my verbal thrashing afterward, and made sure he got the full measure of what it felt like to be laughed at by all of those wonderful bloodthirsty onlookers who always congregate around a fight. The wannabe was a loner for the rest of elementary school, and though I tried to feel sorry for him I just didn’t have it in me. We could have been friends, and would have been — the first time he thought he’d prove himself at my expense, we were playing together at his house. That time I let him off with a warning… after throwing him down the stairs.
Have I ever mentioned just how much disrespect I have for those despicable asswipes who will be bloodthirsty onlookers at a violent confrontation? I’ve never done it, but then few have been the violent confrontations in my vicinity that I wasn’t part of. Those other times, I walked away. Too many people have lost too much blood in the name of saving face, and I will not be a part of that. Not even to save my own face.
Melvin and I went to different junior high schools, and never saw each other. The two time loser, though, went to Melvin’s junior high, and caught up to Melvin several times. It was a pretty regular thing from what I was told, Melvin’s bleeding. I was getting in fights all the time throughout the suckfest that was junior high school, too, and it’s a wonder that I got away with the shit I did. I never started a fight, never goaded anyone into one, but when it was on it was on and that was that. Fight after school? Well, okay, if you still want to after the one you just started right here in class is over. I mean, gawd… I hit a kid with a desk, picked the thing up over my head and bashed him with it while the teacher was out of the room, and no one tattled on me. A kid came at me with a claw hammer in wood shop, then made up a story about why he was bleeding and had to go to the nurse. The biggest billyest bad ass in the school took his shot at me in drafting class, just fell on me with no warning (or he’d never have got the first punch in), and when it was over I didn’t even have to go talk to the vice principal. I guess it was in my favor that the whole thing transpired right in front of the teacher, just four or five feet from his face. The other kid stayed home for a few days longer than his suspension because he was ashamed of the condition of his face.
Near the end of my junior year of high school I just randomly bumped into Melvin who’d just transferred. He said hi, and I thought it might be interesting to catch up. Not much later, I met Amethyst. We decided to ditch school for the rest of the day to focus on falling in love, and she was with her best friend so rather than dragging a third wheel I rounded Melvin up to come along. We weren’t long at the park we’d gone to before he was saying to me that I should “go for” the friend while he would “go for” Amethyst. I told him that if he moved at all in that direction he was going to get that beating I still owed him. He had good sense enough to back off, but I didn’t have good sense enough to throw his ass out of my life right then.
It would be several years before the truth came out, but the truth is: My parents and sister left on vacation the day after school ended, and I stayed home because I had (a) a job, and (b) Amethyst. While Amethyst and I were preoccupied with vigorously sacrificing our virginity to one another, Melvin was helping himself to all of my cash and a brand new carton of cigarettes I’d bought on the way home from cashing my paycheck. Though the kitchen was at all other times well stocked, it was nearly empty because my mother didn’t “want to be feeding the whole god damned neighborhood”. So there I was with almost nothing to eat, no cigarettes, a nearly empty gas tank, and two weeks to go until payday.
Melvin, princely Mormon that he was, loaned me some money to help get me through. Money that had been mine when it left the bank. And, it would turn out, money he’d be right there to collect on my next payday, too.
Of course that’s not the end of it. Stay tuned.