Category Archives: Social Rules

With Malice Toward Some

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As with my post that followed the Syrian dad teaching his daughter to laugh at bombs, this post follows an interaction I had with a writer who is largely unaware of her ability to write. I worked on this post and didn’t post it. It’s been sitting in my draft folder for a long time, like undiscovered poison. Later the other day, I discovered that the writer had visited my blog and read about my cousin who died of cancer. It was an odd coincidence, one which prompts me to share it now, long after I was inspired to write it.

A few years ago, my cousin was dying of cancer. He’d been in remission for a while but as often happens, the cancer returned, vengeful and malicious. There was more than sufficient time for everyone to see him during his first round and in the interim intermission. While he was still a little wild and still a fan of drinking, he’d transformed from the person he’d been five, ten, or fifteen years prior. My cousin realized that anyone who really wanted to see him had more than enough time during his life and during the last couple of years. All else was an excuse. He recognized that he had been guilty of the same dismissive immortality with some of his friends and family.

My cousin became withdrawn. Daily life was a struggle for him, and his moments became both agonizing and precious. He wanted to reduce the drag on his spirit from visitors and ghosts from his past, especially those who brought with them the accompanying demons wrestling inside them. I tried to inform people politely that he wanted peace, to not take offense to unreturned calls, declined visits, and to honor the requests some of us were passing along on my cousin’s behalf.

To preface, there were people who were gloriously helpful, compassionate, and of unimaginable help. We all know people like this. They embrace, reach out, sit by the bedside, scrub the floor, and know when to be quiet or smile. They light us up with joy. Those people were around, too.

All of us who’ve lost someone, though, have stories of despair that sometimes overtip the balance of good vs. dark.

I was ignorantly unprepared for the backlash of anger, resentment, and hostility from some of my cousin’s friends and acquaintances. I’ve written about this time before.

I almost had a nervous breakdown due to another family member. Unbelievable as it may sound, I also became convinced that the family member was going to kill me, someone trained and capable of doing so. Though I discarded most of this sort of hateful memory, I have a couple of voicemails from the guilty party, ones in which he laid out his plan to kill me, and kill anyone who dared interfere with what he wanted to do. He also made sure that I understood that his knowledge of the system would not only allow him easy access to others to help him exact his will but also to avoid being held accountable for it. I can’t listen to them without despairing for humanity. It’s some of the ugliest things I’ve ever heard in life. This episode ruptured my connection to the family member in a way I didn’t believe was possible. Addiction or not, it was profoundly evil. It didn’t help that the family member gaslighted me and everyone around him about it, either. I still struggle with the aftermath of the anger and hate that came from that period.

There were other people like him, but most were amateurs on the fringes. Through it all, I felt horribly sorry for both my cousin and his wife. The angels among us helped my cousin’s wife get through to the end.

Really, though, the last part prompted this post.

Someone else who knew my cousin well, someone I knew in passing due to overlapping schools and geography, told me I was the worst #$%^ing human being in history, was gay, probably half-black, and that he hoped that I died of the worst form of cancer imaginable. I’ll call him Fred. He said these things because I asked him to treat my cousin’s wife in the same way he wanted others to treat his own wife. My cousin loved the moments he’d shared with Fred, but couldn’t find the energy to wax nostalgic with someone who would only make him feel worse. Fred loved drinking and hitting people, male or female. He couldn’t imagine a world in which someone might not want his anger and alcoholism around someone trying to find a few days of peace in his dwindling life. He doubled down and called my cousin’s wife every name in the book. In the most sincere way I could muster, I told him that I hoped he’d find a way to get past the anger in his soul. That only made him angrier. Because he needed to hear it, I told him that it was my cousin’s wish to be buffered from people who weren’t in control of themselves. Fred kept screaming, “I hope you get cancer X, you and that b@#$% he’s with.” He was fixated on it. He finished off his tirade by saying that my cousin deserved the cancer.

I recently found out that Fred has cancer.

Pause…

I’m not sure how I feel. Fred continued to have anger and addiction issues in the years after my cousin’s death. I’ve heard stories. I’ve watched Fred use a combination of anger and bullying on other people. He’s deserved a multitude of plates of crow and humble pie. I infrequently drop in, so to speak, and look for indications that someone is calling him out for his misbehavior. Now that he has cancer, it is impossible for anyone to call him out for his previous hatefulness.

He’ll pass away, and the world will continue to spin. I’ll feel a little pang of relief to know he’s gone. It’s not nice for me to say it, even if I’ve admitting it while not callously naming names.

My conflicting feelings don’t paint me in a flattering light. I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. Much of my aversion to Fred in all honesty stems in part from the poison of hate and addiction that my parents spewed into my life. My other family member, the one I was certain was going to kill me, mixes into the same karma that befell Fred. They are inseparable because they both contain equal parts of hate and addiction.

We all want justice and to see that “what goes around, comes around” has teeth. We don’t want the suffering, if we’re good people, but that sense of things being set right can’t be denied, not if we are honest with ourselves.

If Fred’s wife could feel even a tiny bit of the hurt that her husband inflicted on me a few years ago, she would collapse into a deep pit of anger and despair. Imagine if someone talked about her like her husband did about my cousin’s wife. I would hope that Fred himself would recognize how vicious and inhuman he was a few years when my cousin just wanted a peaceful death. He doesn’t though. His close family members are bigots and the opposite of what I consider to be good, compassionate human beings. They won’t see the irony of applauding this man’s life.

I sit with this little piece of recognition of myself. It poisons my life a little. But I protect it.

I’m not comfortable with myself. My threatening family member and Fred share the fact that they lived their lives roughshod over those they quarreled with; their anger was their first line of attack. They saw no need to withdraw from anger and even less a need to apologize or make amends.

Time cures them. But they’re quickly replaced with people who share their lack of humanity.

 

A Lesson I Revisited Today

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It’s strange the things you find out later in life. When we’re young, we don’t understand that our older family members are adults, working jobs with the same stresses we’ve grown accustomed to as adults. We see them as caring or not, attentive or distant. A precious family member of mine died what seems like forty years ago. It’s no cliché to say that she died too early; we all lost a bit of our luster when she passed.

I found out today that this beautiful human being suffered the presence of a horrid bully at work. It’s difficult for me to imagine her in such a scenario, despite the Pennington Realization affecting everyone. The bully drove her to curse, something she never did. You know you’ve achieved negative success when one of the nicest people in the world not only curses as a result of your presence in their life but that they recall your mean-spiritedness vividly until the day they leave the earth. Even her children remember the bullying and the fact this person waged a war of hatred on their mother. There was no ‘why.’ The bully simply needed an outlet on which to pour her wrath. We all know someone like her.

Her bully died this week. She died after slowly and methodically losing her mind.

I didn’t know the bully. Only her actions. Someone told me that she was monstrously mean to their loved one, someone I knew as a bright soul.

She lessened the world for a few people, my family member included.

I read her obituary again. My opinion doesn’t stain her legacy. Though it reflects poorly on me, I have no uplifting words to lessen her harm to her small world, no neat bow to tie up these words.

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P.S. The Pennington Realization is an older rule I created in recognition of observing another gentle soul being crushed under the weight of an unrelenting pathology.

An Echo of September

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In early September 2017, I had an issue with an angry driver as I walked along Friendship Road. I wrote about it back then. Luckily, nothing happened that couldn’t be taken back, mostly because I blew it off instead of escalating it. I had an escape route planned, one involving a precarious run through the brush.

The driver was in a distinctive red and white vehicle with antique plates. He thought I was Latino. My instincts told me he’d probably done some fairly aggressive or harmful things to others over the years. People like that tend to until they’re forced to stop.

The picture is of the beautiful curve in the road where I was accosted. Until this week, when I walked there, I wondered where the idiot was.

Over the years, I’ve kept my eye out for that racist lunatic. I’ve walked hundreds of miles without unluckily crossing paths with him again.

The timing was a bit coincidental for me this week as I recalled the incident.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about another road rage incident a couple of weeks ago. It involved a distinctive vehicle with vanity plates that made it crazily easy to identify. I wrote that knowing I could find out who it was strangely comforting to me. I wouldn’t want to be the angry gentleman who hit the back of my car on purpose, knowing that my victim could find me in about thirty seconds.

My post earlier this week happened independently of my discovery of the other road-rager near my house. Eerily, the two drivers look amazingly similar.

As I drove home this week on a cold, rainy afternoon, I was listening to Trump on NPR, not paying close attention to anything specifically. I’ve driven the route a few hundred times in the last four years. I casually looked to the right and almost hit the brakes. I slowed to a crawl after checking for traffic behind me. The vehicle from 2017 was sitting in plain view off the main road. It’s a distinctive vehicle. There was no doubt it was the same one.

I wondered if the man who had assaulted me three years ago would be amused if I stopped and knocked on his door. He wouldn’t remember me. He’s undoubtedly victimized many people who’ve had the misfortune of crossing his path. Should I speak Spanish to him to trigger his racism? All that time ago, he seemed to hyper-focus on my perceived “Latino-ness.”

Instead, I drove by. I laughed. Perhaps a bit maniacally.

This morning, I looked up his address, his house, his name, his picture, his life, and his ancestors. He would be very uncomfortable to know that a random encounter and his racism from three years ago could have aligned with an entirely accidental recognition of his vehicle.

Don’t be alarmed that I took the time to find out who he was. It’s one of the few things I do alarmingly well. Luckily for the guilty, it is the mystery and curiosity that drives me, rather than a desire for justice or revenge. Unlike both those angry white men might do, especially if they could do so in secrecy, I wouldn’t inflict harm on them for their stupidity.

As I read about his ancestors, I wondered what is wrong for him. I wondered if anyone else in his family knows that he lets his prejudice run free as he drives around. His wife has a mutual friend with me on social media. It’s a small world.

His, a small mind.

The Rightness of Right

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In the early 1990s, I worked at a large poultry company. The company was large, not the poultry. Never mind, the poultry was large too. During an hour break, a discussion emerged about mandatory breaks at work. Someone said they’d prefer to only get thirty minutes. Another said, “They have to give us an hour. It’s the law.”

Previously, I had been caught up in a web or absolute corruption and stupidity at another employer. They did everything wrong. They learned the hard way. I learned it was never worth it to stick your neck out. I’ve forgotten the lesson a couple of times since then. The universe reminds me forcefully.

I said, “Look, it sounds wrong, but for the most part, employers don’t have to give us breaks at all, with a few strict exceptions.” Everyone howled in derision at me. After a few minutes, the second-in-command for the entire 1000+ facility said, “You’re wrong. We have to ____________.” (You can fill in the blank. It doesn’t matter what he said because he was wrong.) Again, this guy was second in charge of the entire facility and it was part of the largest private company in the world at the time. He was in the break room with a couple of line supervisors and heard the conversation become more heated.

His lack of information didn’t surprise me. It was common, and I’d had the conversation at least 100 times over the years. Whether it was the person cleaning the bathrooms or the CEO, I didn’t care.

“Boss, you’re wrong. You can write the State of Arkansas if you want, but I’ll bet you $100 to $1 you’re wrong.” He got a little angry. The break room was packed and several people heard me throw down the gauntlet. A few brave souls egged it on. I turned to everyone and said, “I’ll bet all of you $100-to-$1 you’re wrong, too.” To soften the issue, I said something like, “It’s easy to be wrong. A lot of people have simply been told the wrong thing so many times that it sounds true.”

That evening, I sat and wrote two letters and mailed them off. A few days later, the boss found me privately and said, “You were right! We’re not required to even give you guys 30 minutes break.” He explained that he had reached out to several people and had been shocked to find out I was right. He was peevish about the entire mess. “Can you imagine if I went out and told everyone we’re no longer giving ANY breaks?” He laughed.

I walked out of the office, laughing. I said nothing to my co-workers. About a week later, I received another letter from the State of Arkansas, explaining that “no,” employers didn’t have to provide breaks based on length of shift.

I took the letter in and during our hour lunch break; I showed the letter to the loudest group of people who had bet me. “No way!” and “You faked this letter!” were thrown at me. “I know for a fact that the Labor Board has laws,” and so forth were shouted. I just kept saying, “You are all wrong.”

Five minutes later, someone had found the boss who had contradicted me.

Everyone was shouting at me, waiting to see me eat crow.

“X is right. There is no law that requires us to give you a break at all, much less thirty minutes or an hour, not here in Arkansas.”

I’m pretty sure I heard 15 jaws hit the concrete floor. The break room was silent as everyone stared at the boss. He refused further comment and just walked away.

My boss was unhappy I brought the letter to work and not pleased that I made him eat a little crow. A bit of his chagrin was also because employers really didn’t appreciate workers knowing the rules.

Fast forward a few years. I was taking a great Human Resources class at NWACC, the community college. I had a presentation about my experience at my previous employers and the misunderstanding with the bosses. Several classmates critiqued me afterward and told me I was wrong. I repeated my assertion that they were wrong. Even the professor, who I adored, chimed in and said I was wrong. I remember stopping and saying, “Why in the world would I do a presentation with cited sources about something that is demonstrably not true?” I didn’t get an answer.

I still had letters in my filing cabinet at home to prove they were all wrong. Because I was trapped in class without proof – and being accosted by people who were pissed I insisted they were all wrong – I told them who to contact to find out that were all mistaken. I told them that I didn’t want an apology afterward but would instead like to be given the benefit of the doubt for all future issues wherein someone was being accused of being mistaken. They all agreed.

Next week, the professor opened the class by giving an apology. She had followed up with multiple sources. A couple of sources she contacted simply because she couldn’t believe she had been so breathtakingly wrong about the issue, for so many years. She told the class directly that my presentation was accurate. I had my letter in my folder since the previous week. I was going to do another presentation for extra-credit without giving away the subject had it not been brought up before I had the chance. I pulled out the letter. It was dated from my time at my last employer.

I used to keep it in the same file as the warning ticket I got from the Johnson Police for driving too fast. On a bicycle. That story is true, too.

Because of the revelation that everyone is often wrong, I did my next presentation on several other issues that people just always got wrong, no matter who often they were told otherwise. This time, no one doubted that I might be right. They still checked, in hopes of catching me in the wrong.

Even now, there will be people who’ve read this far who will have it in their heads that I’m wrong. And that amuses me.

Just as people think their employer can tell them they can’t discuss their wages, there are many people who have the erroneous idea that most employers have to give us breaks. (Using the traditional system – not access to bathrooms, medication, etc.)

I’m speaking generally here. Also, I’m not making the argument that employers can’t violate the spirit or letter of the laws regarding pay discussion – or any other law. That’s not the point. Someone always chimes in and makes it even when I point out that it isn’t the issue at question.

This post didn’t start with the goal of being about mandatory breaks. It’s about certainty and the pitfalls it presents.

We’re all guilty of it. This story presents me in a favorable light. I’ve written other stories that prove I can sometimes get both feet in my mouth simultaneously if motivated.

The Realtor Who Also Owned the Road

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This is a dumb little anecdote about something that happened to me after work a few weeks ago. I mentioned something had happened to my wife but didn’t want to talk about it. Yes, it was a crime. I chose not to call witnesses though, so I don’t think it counts.

After work, someone suffering from road rage attempted to perform his dark arts on me. I was first in line to make a right turn when I first encountered this gem of a person. The traffic coming from the left was obscured by buildings, a fence, and utility cabinets jutting out into my field of vision. Combined with people driving as if Doc Brown was counting on them to get the 1.21 Gigawatts needed to travel in time, these details make the intersection more unsafe than many. I’ve seen 5 or 6 great accidents at this intersection over the years. Because of this, I not only never go past the white ‘stop’ line on the pavement, but I also do not pull out to turn right until I am 100% certain that oncoming traffic has stopped. Invariably, there is at least one vehicle going 50+ mph through the red light. As a result, I get honked at every once in a while.

There’s rarely a day that someone doesn’t do something stupid and/or dangerous when

I’m coming home from work. (Sometimes, admittedly, it’s me!) Even though it’s hard to believe, I ignore them, even if they bring me to the brink of death or despair. If bacon hasn’t killed me, traffic probably won’t.

I pulled up to stop at the red light. Immediately, someone behind me hit their horn as if they were playing Family Feud with a hand that weighed fifteen pounds. I peered into my rearview mirror. The idiot blaring his horn was a white middle-aged man with whitish hair and beard. (Let’s face it: it’s almost always a man.) He was inarticulately shouting at me and giving me the finger. I ignored him and waited for the light. He hit the horn three more times in the four seconds it took for the light to change. Then he bumped me. Literally a bump. He was driving a truck. Because it was a low impact, I opted to just ignore the idiot. I’m not one to worry about the paint on my car. I didn’t feel like finding out exactly how stupid and irrational he might be by getting out of my vehicle. If he ran over me, I’m not sure my gut would clear the universal joint on the rear of the truck. Being dragged is no way to get from one place to the next.

I turned into the right-most lane, as required. I then indicated a lane change and moved to the left, as the right lane is reserved for a right-turn-only further up. Mr. Idiot hit his horn again. I looked back and realized that he had changed lanes and was right behind me. Because I’m averse to idiots, I went to the right again so that I could detour and get away from the idiot. Mr. Idiot blared his horn again and changed lanes. I couldn’t help but laugh. I could imagine his face turning beet red. Mr. Idiot gunned his truck and went around me. Because he is an idiot, he took a page from the Idiot’s guide and hit his brakes. Knowing he would do so, I’d already slowed down. He floored it and then came to a stop at the next light, behind a green Honda. As he did so, I changed lanes and stayed slightly behind his spot in traffic. His driver window was now down and he was flipping me off and gesticulating like a swarm of bees had attacked him. His horn was still blaring in time to an imaginary metronome based on anger. The light changed to green. It’s important to remember that my only crime to this point was stopping and waiting to make a turn until I could safely do so.

Much to my delight, the Honda didn’t move. I’m certain that the Honda driver was confused by being honked at repeatedly. I noted that Mr. Idiot had a Realtor vanity plate as I passed, as well at two bumper stickers. I hoped that the green Honda would now be the focus of this Realtor nutcase.

At the next light, I heard the horn again. Mr. Idiot had ignored the must-turn lane and forced his way back to the lane I was in, several cars ahead of him. I could only assume he was late for his penis-enhancement surgery. I went back to the right lane, behind a slower car. I knew that Mr. Idiot was going to catch up to me. I couldn’t wait to hear what poetry he might recite in my direction. As he pulled up, I looked to my right, away from him. I had already turned up NPR to an ear-splitting volume in my car. Terry Gross had never played so loudly. I couldn’t hear a word he said. After a few seconds, he gunned it. As he did so, I quickly made a right turn at the next intersection. He had no means of getting back to me without killing several people.

I knew he was a nutcase. On a hunch, I drove down the road and pulled into one of the business parking lots there. I walked over to the edge of the lot and sat on one of the utility cabinets. Within two minutes, Mr. Idiot came roaring up the road. I knew that he would turn around and try to find me. He passed me going at least 60 mph. I waved as he passed, as I felt like I owed him the chance to recognize me sitting there. He didn’t acknowledge me. Note: the speed limit where he was exceeding 60 mph was half of that.

We might have been friends, if he hadn’t been such a douche in a god-awful hurry.

Apart from the vanity plate, he had two bumper stickers on his truck, neither of which surprised me, given his general attitude. You’d think he’d stop and consider that his vanity plate makes him extraordinarily easy to track.
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P.S. There’s no point in telling me I should have called the police, or stopped to get his information when he bumped me. It’s a waste of time and effort on multiple levels. In my defense, I wasn’t angry. I thought about wasting my time and the police’s time by reporting the crime. Instead, I noted the license and make and model of the truck and laughed. It’s enough to know that I could track him down if I were so inclined. Someday when I’m motivated, I’ll write a letter to let him know that he needs help. I’m certain that he’ll appreciate the concern.

He doesn’t know who I am – but I know he is. And that’s enough for me.

 

 

The Insufficiency Of Proof Postulate

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“Regarding human affairs, the expectation that you can heal someone’s inability to be open to new information is among the most foolish.”

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Recently, I’ve watched and listened as an otherwise intelligent person has descended into obstinate ridiculousness. The specific subject isn’t the issue.  (It’s not politics, though.)

It’s important to note that I don’t claim to be devoid of blind spots and outright ignorance. It’s human nature. I sometimes fall short but try to remind myself that opinions can and should change with new information. Facts, if verified, should not bend to opinion.

Because of the hysteria of the issue, my acquaintance has a new series of stories to tell me each day: new videos, facts, and opinions. Fairly early in the development of his obsession and the story, I had doubts as to the legitimacy of many of his claims. Because I’m naturally inquisitive, I noted the videos and claims he mentioned. I realized that simply telling him he was mistaken would not yield any change in his ideas. I listened over several days as he told me stories related to his new obsession. I did so without mocking him or challenging his assertions. (Which damn near killed me.)

Today, I brought a summation of the ‘great debunking.’ I had sources showing that the videos weren’t real – and for those that were, they were misattributions. Some of them were brilliantly done. As for the facts my acquaintance had amassed, none of them were entirely accurate, and most were outright fabrications designed to grab headlines.

After my acquaintance mentioned yet another ‘fact,’ I decided to forego handing him the summation and sources. Instead, I explained in less than thirty seconds that all the initial videos he’d recommended for me to watch were not actually what he thought they were. I briefly told him what the actual circumstance was and that the videos had been misattributed either due to ignorance on the part of the source or willful deceit for gaining viewers, readers, and dollars.

“What? No! You’re wrong, X.” His face had turned red.

“Listen, I’m not trying to put you on the spot. It’s just that this thing is easily explained,” I told him, trying to soften the blow and get him to accept the idea that he might have taken a wrong turn.

“That’s stupid. Of course it’s true,” he replied, getting ready to launch an ad hominem attack.

“Slow down. Look, here’s a link to a source you’ve said you trusted in the past.” I held up my phone and pressed the saved bookmark on the home screen of my phone.

Even by reading the headline on my acquaintance’s trusted news source, it was obvious that the video wasn’t ‘real.’

“See? I’ll send you the link so you can decide for yourself. Don’t stay mad at me. All of us get boxed in sometimes by our presumptions and ideas, me included.” I hoped that would appease him.

“Don’t send me that link. I know what I know and no amount of proof otherwise will sway me.” He looked at me, defensive and upset.

I let his own words hang in the air for a moment.

I know anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, people who believe horoscopes, weirdos who insist Hillary killed people, and Illuminati. I’ve never given up hope that each person could let a demonstration of each idea reveal a new truth to them.

Today, though, that hope diminished a bit.

Welcome to 2020.