On Happiness

All kinds of sacrifice, growing up. I miss being young and full of vitriol. The older I get, the more people I meet, the more empathy I am burdened with. I miss intolerance. I miss blind rage. I want to be able to use the verb “curb-stomp” again.

Because it’s not like my opinion on the overwhelming majority of humanity has changed much. I still don’t want to be around practically any of them. I’m still a pessimist to the core, and for every good trait I see in you I see three more that make me want you to go away. But dislike doesn’t translate to hate anymore, and hate is sooooo much more fun. 

Even the annoying people. Even the stupid, the wasteful, the ignorant. The loud. The abusive. The cheaters and liars. I want to hate them but I can’t. I can’t even get mad in traffic anymore, I haven’t flipped anyone off in I don’t know how long, and that is one of my FAVORITE things to do. 

I bought a new car today, and driving to the dealership to pick it up, the last drive in my old car, this dude in his fifties starts swerving into my lane on the freeway in his Lexus or whatever. If he sideswipes me, it’s insurance and wasted time and talking out loud to strangers and who knows if I’ll ever get my new car depending on how that plays out, probably not the one I’d picked out, at the very least, the one waiting with my name on it, that’ll have to wait on the insurance companies, which could take months, to say nothing of the potential injury caused by an accident at sixty miles an hour. So I slow down and keep my distance and see he’s trying to read something on his cell phone. Swerves over into my lane again.

There’s that famous David Foster Wallace speech called This Is Water, where he talks about this exact scenario, and he comes to the conclusion that even though the likelihood of pure assholish behavior is high, it’s also technically possible that this man in his Lexus or whatever has been waiting on a text from his doctor with the answers to his test results, or perhaps his daughter has been trying to get pregnant for months and finally has some news, that sort of thing. I don’t even go that far. I don’t take off my pessimist shoes. I go with the odds. If it is a text, I assume it is a meaningless text that he has no business reading behind the wheel of a car. If it’s directions he wants, I judge him for not putting them into his phone before he started driving. More likely though it’s checking the weather, or looking up a recipe for schnitzel, or checking his stocks. Almost assuredly, it’s a mundane, meaningless behavior that pointlessly jeopardizes my weeks of effort, to say nothing of my life. I mean, at least wait until we’re around the curve.

In my twenties I would have savored flipping this guy the hardest known bird in the animal kingdom. I would have relished jumping into his bubble and kicking dirt into his eyes. Laying on the horn. A glare that would pierce metal. Maybe a little driving redemption, I’ve never been a tailgater or a brake-check guy but I wouldn’t mind creepily keeping pace with somebody, watching him like a hall monitor from the corner of my eye. But I can’t do it anymore. I’ve made too many mistakes myself, true, but I’ve also never been above a little hypocrisy. Maybe it’s the people I know and care about and the mistakes I’ve seen them make, and I love them regardless, that plugs up my hate-hole, but in the moment that never feels like a factor. Instead, I identify and release. What’s he doing, why he’s doing it, then it’s gone. Oh, trying to read on your phone in the middle of the freeway, because it’s 2017 and we’re all addicted to knowing everything we want to know immediately and we can’t say no to an impulse to Google who the drummer for White Snake was, even in the middle of a funeral? Okay, bye, change the station. Once we’re through the curve I can forget about you.

This is why I’m looking forward to having children. Bring me back some boundless rage, I cannot wait. Like I might even be tempted to bring my children into busy public places, maybe park the stroller just a bit too far from my sidewalk table and wait for somebody to trip over the wheel, holding their cup of Starbucks or a box of knives or a nugget of plutonium, and I can rise like a tide and unleash righteous hell from a spittle-flecking toe-stepping range, how dare you endanger my offspring, how dare you swerve into my lane, how dare you employ foul language in the same fucking room as this little angel, you can beg of no forgiveness from me. I am become fury, the wrath of an impotent god.

Or maybe I should just take up video games.

I suspect this impulse (or lack) has something to do with my marriage. My wife is a badass, exactly what I wanted in a spouse partner, strong as she is smart. I couldn’t love her any more than I do, but strong smart people don’t need a lot of protection, or help, and when she does need help I’m terrific at helping wrong. But little babbies are not strong at all. Plus they’re dumb as hell. They won’t figure out whether I’m wrong or right until way later. In therapy. It’s only important that I’m there, that I do something in response to whatever threats they may perceive or have to have explained to them later. Because, honey. Because the lane markers are there specifically so that cars don’t run into each other, and to transgress that sacred boundary puts lives in danger, and that’s why I didn’t have enough middle fingers and had to borrow some of yours. Because a box of carrots could have just as easily been a box of knives, if they’re the type of person to carry around boxes of things, and now next time maybe they’ll keep a bit wider berth. What do you mean, you like carrots. You’re dumb as hell. Go back to sleep. Okay fine, I don’t know your “schedule” or whatever, just go outside and play in traffic. Soon as I hear the first horn, I’ll be out with a baseball bat, and you can point them out to me. We’ll have a grand old time.

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