February 15, 2009

Go Fuck Yourself, Mr. Falafel


In part two of Beyond Good and Evil—in which he described the “free spirit” or Übermensch and the philosophy of the future— Friedrich Nietzsche wrote:

Every free spirit longs instinctively for a castle and a secrecy where he is saved from the crowd, the many, the great majority—where he may avoid “men who are the rule,” as he is the exception—except the one case where he is drawn to such men by a still stronger instinct, as a seeker of knowledge in the great and exceptional sense. Anyone who, in interacting with the masses, does not occasionally glisten in all the colors of distress, green and gray with disgust, satiety, sympathy, gloominess and loneliness is certainly not a man of elevated tastes.

            Nietzsche goes on to say a lot of other things, but I tend to stop there.

            Not that I consider myself a Nietzschean Übermensch by any stretch—it’s a laughable thought—but that passage came to mind again recently.

            The other night Morgan was telling me about something she’d read in the newspaper that morning. It seems a woman was jogging somewhere on the Upper East Side. Without any provocation or warning, a man headed in the opposite direction whacked her over the head with something as she passed him. He didn’t rob her, didn’t molest her—just whacked her over the head and kept walking without a word. The woman ended up at the hospital with a busted skull.

            It’s a disturbing thing to consider, of course, that any one of the countless strangers you pass on the street every day could just attack you out of the blue for no reason. It seems to be happening more and more often these days.

            “I dunno,” I confessed when Morgan finished telling the story, “I’m tempted to do  pretty much the same thing every time a jogger passes me.”

            (I can admit things like that to her.)

            It’s true, though. And it’s a bit of a problem. I see a jogger, and my first gut instinct is to trip them, or clothesline them, or push them in front of oncoming traffic.

            I don’t do any of these things, of course, but for a moment there, the urge is almost overwhelming. I’m starting to think that one of the reasons I don’t go out much anymore is the fact that I’m plagued by such reflexive ugly thoughts and impulses. Not that ugly thoughts have ever stopped me before, but sometimes I wonder.

            I stopped by the Korean green grocer this morning to pick up some boring necessities. When the young man at the register rang everything up and gave me the total I wasn’t paying close attention, distracted as I was by the array of strange and alien ginseng products on the counter.

            “What’s that, now?” I asked.

            “Twenty eighteen,” he repeated.

            Even though he spoke in a perfectly articulated English—one much more coherent than my own—my immediate impulse was to yell “Fie? Fie? There’s a v in there! Say ‘five’!”

            But I kept my mouth shut and handed over twenty dollars and eighteen cents. Not only would it have been shockingly rude, it wouldn’t have made any sense. Plus I stop at that store maybe once a week, and wanted to reserve the right to do so again in the future. Nevertheless, the urge charged into my head and almost got me, the possibilities of which kept me chuckling all the way home.

            More often than not, when these thoughts flash in my head, there are no future repercussions to worry about. In most cases I could theoretically say or do whatever came to mind, knowing I’d never see that person again.

            A few weeks ago, I was delicately picking my way down an icy, snow-covered sidewalk with a heavy bag of groceries in each hand.  Only the narrowest of paths had been shoveled clear, and I was doing what I could to keep my feet on the cement. Then I heard a crunching sound in front of me, and looked up.

            Charging toward me at what seemed to be a dangerous clip on sidewalks that icy was a woman overdressed in fashionable winter gear pushing a monstrous black stroller. She saw me toddling and slipping along clear enough, but gave no indication that she had the slightest intention of slowing down or veering even slightly from her chosen righteous path.

            At that moment I had two choices—go over a small snow pile and tumble into the street with my groceries, or press myself as flat as possible against the wrought-iron front gates to my left and hope for the best. I chose the latter. As she roared past with the stroller (missing my frozen toes by mere centimeters), she muttered “be careful.”

            My immediate desired response was, “Yeah? And your baby’s ugly.”

            It was pointless, of course, and made no real sense in context, but damn it would’ve felt good at that moment.

            If I see someone on the sidewalk with a cast on their foot, I want to stomp on it. If I see an elderly person walking with a support cane, I want to kick it out from under them. I reserve especially cruel impulses for kids on bikes and scooters. I shouldn’t even get into the kinds of things I think while waiting on a subway platform. Present me with any stranger of any kind in public, and my brain immediately starts to churn out things that no human being should ever begin to consider saying or doing to another. Part of me is just curious to see how these people would respond. On the bright side, at least these thoughts tend to pass quickly. As soon as they pass I return to my previous train of thought until the next person comes along.

            Sometimes it slips out, though. Not being able to see so well doesn’t help. More than once, Morgan’s nudged me under the table after I started to share my thoughts about someone I didn’t realize was sitting next to me at the time, or began speaking in very general terms about the handymen working on my apartment building, unaware that people who could’ve been the extended family of said handymen were all around us.

            Most of these people—the ones upon whom I consider inflicting horrible physical or emotional damage—are not doing anything to aggravate me personally (not many of them anyway). They aren’t cutting in front of me at the drugstore, or slapping my hand out of the way while I’m searching for an elevator button, or blocking my path while I’m just trying to get to the fucking bank. Those people get special consideration. But these others are just folks minding their own business like me, just trying to get on with their lives. Yet for some unknown reason I want to douse them in kerosene and set them ablaze.

            But I don’t do that, or any of the other things I consider. I choke those desires back down, swallow them, crush them into submission. Until the next one comes along and I have to do it again.

            No wonder I always return home from even the briefest errand feeling wrung out. Which leaves me wondering if maybe I’d feel better in general if I let even just one or two of these thoughts out for some air.


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