Full moon

At the station entrance at Metro Center in DC last weekend there was a sign — neat, professional — apologizing for broken air-conditioning on the platform.  How genteel, I thought.  Ever since I’ve been back home in New York the subway platforms have been obscenely swamp-hot, the humidity rolling up out of the ground from them like the waves of heat and stink generated by piles of fermenting garbage.  In DC, though, there is an expectation that things will be otherwise, and an expectation that someone might apologize if they aren’t. In New York no one expects to be comfortable.  Or: we expect to pay a lot for the privilege of being comfortable, and even then there are no guarantees.

An hour before dinner on the night of the full moon  I was telling Choire that I thought all the assholes had left town for the summer, just because on my walk to the East Village I’d seen two people reach down, pick up items that strangers had dropped from their bags or pockets, and then half-jog down the block after the droppers to return the items (a wad of cash; a pink tie from a gym duffel).  Of course there’s still the problem of tourists, clutching their frightened-looking childrens’ hands and not understanding walking protocol, but in spite of them the city still seemed to me to have been pleasantly emptied-out of its worst element.   Choire was skeptical of this yoga-addled theory and of course he was right to be.

I left him and went to meet Kate at a restaurant on 4th street.  The place was pleasantly emptied-out, not so much that we worried about the food but enough so that we could comfortably sprawl at a four-top with the waiter’s blessing.  We hadn’t seen each other in a long time and so for the first half-hour we were oblivious to everything around us as we caught up.  We ate some buffalo mozzarella with three pale decorative slices of deli-quality roma tomato on top, barely noticing what we were putting in our mouths.  We were having a good time.

I have to describe Kate a little for this story to make sense: she is blonde and even though she’s taller than average she seems small because of the almost childlike delicacy of her features.  I’m not sure what her spirit animal is but I’m pretty sure it’s herbivorous.  I’m not saying that she is weak or a pushover, just that she seems to me to be someone who it would be almost impossible to dislike on sight, unless you were jealous of her beauty or you had been traumatized by a snub-nosed, doll-faced blonde as a child.  Like, if maybe something bad happened to you while watching a Naomi Watts movie.  Anyway: there is nothing intrinsically hateable about Kate, there just isn’t.

But about halfway through our meal — I had some kind of little chewy pasta with wild boar sausage, it was okay –  we started getting the feeling that we had direly offended the couple sitting behind us, who had been eating their meal mostly in silence.  I had noted the feeling of being eavesdropped on, and then a bit later a gruff, old-man voice raised in a way that seemed intended for our notice, something sarcastic about “how things are going in the ACCOUNTING business.”   We lowered our voices then, even though we hadn’t been talking loudly at all.  The man continued to clear his throat and make pointed comments that were clearly about us but that we couldn’t quite hear.   The hostess then came over and lingered by the man’s table making small talk; it became obvious that the man and his companion were regulars. When the hostess left, the man told his date in a loud pointed way that the hostess was “a beautiful person.”

We rushed through the rest of our meal and got our check.  I got up and went to the bathroom, apologizing first for leaving Kate alone in our corner of the restaurant with this couple and the bizarre waves of malevolent feeling that I could sense coming off  of them, even though I was facing away from them.  When I got back, she told me she’d overheard the man saying to his date, “You’re afraid of what I’m going to say to that girl, aren’t you.”

We paid the check — it wasn’t cheap, I noted with a twinge — and the waiter bid us farewell, standing near the table as we gathered our things.  And then just as we’d almost reached the door, the gruff-voiced old man shouted, “And don’t come back!”

I could have just kept walking, I guess.  Is that really a thing I could’ve done, though?

Instead I stopped and turned to the man with a wide-eyed look of affability, fake but I’ve been working on it and it seems less fake now than it used to when I was younger, I’m pretty sure.  “Excuse me, sir, but I’m just curious — what did we do that offended you?”

“Your girlfriend there talks too loud.  And that laugh! It’s grating.”  He addressed himself directly to Kate. “You’re grating.”

I don’t remember the rest of our conversation in detail; definitely I didn’t handle the situation diplomatically or well.  I didn’t yell, but I did try to make some logical counterarguments along the lines of  “this is a restaurant, not your living room, my friend and I came here to talk to each other, maybe you have a hearing problem, we didn’t do anything wrong.”

“You’re grating,” he said, making a dismissive gesture. “You should go to Europe, see how they behave there. You ruined our meal, I couldn’t hear my companion …”  His “companion,”  a mask-faced middle-aged Asian woman, stared blankly at us.   Kate I think tried to say something too at this point, and I told the man that he had ruined our meal by being — I remember I did say this — “mean and judgmental.”

“I’m not mean,” he said, as though the suggestion was laughable, and then finally it dawned on me that there was nothing we could or should possibly say to this monstrous person.  The last thing I told him was that I felt sorry for him because he had to be him, and that was his punishment, and then as we finally left we gave him the finger through the windowpane like children. In my dark imaginings, the waiter and the hostess, that beautiful person, probably descended then and cooed to their regulars about how imaginarily rude we’d been, in order to keep the monster’s business.  Possibly that’s what I would’ve done, back when I was a waitress.

I’m not telling this story because I’m proud of how I acted. I’m not, especially not the last part.  I’m telling it because I’m trying to figure out why this incident has lodged so firmly in my mind.  In my everyday dealings with strangers, I habitually base my actions on the assumption that all people aren’t secretly evil.  When I sit down to eat I don’t pause to wonder who around me might be full of a rage so powerful and achingly trapped that just a stranger’s laugh could release it all, venomous and vile and scarily out of scale, yet still commonplace enough that you’re just supposed to brush it aside.  Well, what else can you do?  It’s true what I said, that he is punished by being himself.  Or is it?  It doesn’t seem like any kind of punishment at all.   This man will probably go to his death feeling that pleasant interactions with other humans are just another product he can buy, and that the purpose of life is to accumulate enough capital that you can buy all-pleasant interactions all the time.

Well, fuck that.  Fuck people like that.  Fuck forgiving them, thinking about where they’re coming from — trying to imagine the disappointments of their childhoods, etc –  and having tender, yogic compassion for them because we are all parts of the same whole.  It doesn’t make me feel good to hate this man, but it doesn’t make me feel good to forgive him either, and so here I sit, not doing either, and I guess that means he won, but I don’t know how to make him and people like him stop winning. Sometimes human history seems like the story of their victory.

27 comments to Full moon

  • dan

    Wow. I spent that very evening of that very same full moon completely preoccupied (for no discernible reason) with these very people. I found myself crafting contingency arguments for imaginary scenarios in which The Negative People In My Life do/say fucked up shit to me. Trying to figure out the wise, balanced, yogic response to cynical chaos and knee-jerk jerkness – in advance, so I could bypass all my violent instincts and launch straight into my talking points. But maybe “Fuck you” makes more sense, because it’s probably what I’ll say anyway. Like namaste already much.

  • top hat stooge

    Ah, assholes. Can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

  • NotAndersonCooper

    Oh my. The gentleman sounds like a Town Hall Republican.

    My NYC transit pet peeve is the in-car announcement, “We apologize for the unavoidable delay.” As opposed to, “We apologize for the deliberate and malicious delay.”

  • So, here are some well-crafted, totally appropriate clichés that are nonetheless blindingly true:

    1. What goes around comes around. (Karma is real…believe it!)
    2. Living well is the best revenge.
    3. Hell is other people.

    You don’t have to act saintly towards everyone; hating the haters is completely okay as long as you don’t internalize it or let it ruin your day.

    That guy might seem to be perfectly happy with himself. Maybe he went to bed that night congratulating himself on his forthright courage in speaking up for his rights and reprimanding the two rude girls that dared to ruin his little lunch.

    But the fact that he had to anticipate his date’s appalled reaction before he spoke PROVES that this can’t be true. He knows how the world sees him. Leopards and spots.

    He has only himself to blame, by the way. If he really thought you were being too loud he could have politely asked you to tone it down a little, or asked the waitress to. Nothing wrong with that.

    So don’t believe in his happiness for a second. Although he might display contentedness on the surface, take the larger view: any internal model of the self that allows for such behavior towards strangers MUST be spackling over a well of emptiness so vast and deep that were you to experience it for yourself you would curl up into a ball and vanish into despair.

    That’s his reality. Pity is the only appropriate response.

    And here’s how I handle it, by the way (similar things have happened to me from time to time). I act as though the guy doesn’t even exist, and I address myself to his date and say, “I’m so sorry you have to live with this!”

    And finally, I guess I can reveal this now since enough time has passed that the statute of limitations prevents me from being prosecuted, but I even sank to violence once. I’m also not proud of this, but the affront was so egregious and the guy’s manner (it’s usually a guy, right?) so smug and self-righteous that only the difference in our ages (I was 30’s, he must have been 50’s) prevented me from knocking his teeth out. But he just got me so flaming hot that had it been a fair fight there would have been a little bit of the old ultra-violence.

    So I simmered and stewed through the concert and tolerated the abuse (which was drunk, loud, vulgar, and continuous) and waited until we were outside and then when he turned his back I grabbed a stick and whacked him once across the ass with pretty much everything I had. I’m sure I broke skin. He screamed and howled and shrieked and I ran away and that was that.

    I know…there’s just no excuse for it. Cowardly. Wrong.

    But damn…it felt good!

  • Patrick M

    I was 95% sure that at the end the guy was going to turn out to be Sam Mendes.

  • emily

    Ha! Awesome. And then it was Dave Eggers!

  • TC

    I hope your friend Kate is nothing like me, because, even though that guy is clearly a prick, I would feel self conscious about my laugh from there on out.

    It’s sort of a control freak maneuver to try and maintain a public environment to your weighty standards and you’re right in saying that guy’s punishment is to be stuck being himself.

    I hope your friend keeps right on laughing.

  • Calista

    Eh, I think your first instinct was right. I mean, did that guy enjoy his dinner? No, because he was too busy being full of rage. Is it fun to be full of rage? No. Sometimes there’s this sort of simulacrum of satisfaction, but it’s never real fun. Folks who act that way are doing it because their lives – through their own doing or not – are miserable. And they know it, on some level.

  • SJM

    I would go to that restaurant again & again & again and make sure to give him a super grating hello every single fucking time.

  • rick

    Interesting story. By my reckoning, the man was an (accounting?) dullard. As you unfurl sentences that indicate categorically superior and more dynamic mental faculties, it registers as an insult to dullards. No idea why this observation is considered taboo. The only place the obvious phenomenon gets mentioned in in Aframerican culture, with the useful word “haters.”

    I think bright-ish people would agree, life is episode after episode of confounding, threatening and offending morons, unless you get the right friends or community.

    And for young, pretty girls to exhibit a level of mental agility beyond a middle-age dullard is like pissing on a cross, psychologically. It’s a profound threat to the innate egotism idiots are saddled with. You don’t need to be talking about physics, or anything, it’s the sheer apparent horsepower of rapidly analyzing even trivial abstract concepts.

    After the insult is felt, any old mental rubbish will be provided to justify the feeling (you’re “too loud”–actually your existence itself “bothers” them). The psychology of human mediocrity is pretty standard, but nobody talks about it, these days. Except Kat Williams:

    http://bit.ly/kplq

  • Ace

    Maybe you kept rolling your eyes and making stupid smirks at him.

  • MJ

    Somewhere between hate and forgiveness lies pity, perhaps?

  • emily

    @Ace

    Ha ha. But if you read a bit more carefully you’d realize I wasn’t facing towards him, so even if I had been smirking and eyerolling (I might’ve been! I do sometimes. You never do, I guess?) he wouldn’t have been able to see. I really have to admire your doggedness at keeping that meme alive, though, three years later and counting.

  • Sarah

    That sort of experience just makes a person feel bad. Just bad. And no matter what you try to do – turn the other cheek, fight back, whatever – you’re still going to be left feeling bad because that’s how he wanted to make you feel. But it was never really about you or your friend in the first place. You were just a convenient stop along the way for him to unload his rage. I think that’s what you need to keep in mind when some random stranger is an asshole – it’s not about you, it was never about you and the only way to make it about you is if you hold onto it and internalize it. Seriously. Don’t let him get away with that – let it go and move on. The guy’s a jerk

  • Rebecca A

    Hal said: “You don’t have to act saintly towards everyone; hating the haters is completely okay as long as you don’t internalize it or let it ruin your day.”

    Sarah said: “what you need to keep in mind when some random stranger is an asshole – it’s not about you, it was never about you and the only way to make it about you is if you hold onto it and internalize it.”

    Great pieces of advice! And well stated. Comforting to read, actually.

    I love how Emily takes us along as this weird little man ruins her night though. I KNOW when someone acts like an asshole for NO REASON it is not about me. I KNOW I should not internalize their idiocy. But I sometimes play it over and over again in my mind, like Emily and some other posters here.

    Thanks Emily, for once again capturing so well a (sadly all too) common human experience.

    So anyway, the guy was clearly mad because he can’t get a hottie like Kate, right? Never, in his entire life, did he have a chance at a hottie like Kate.

  • ow a paper cut

    Sounds more like wild boor sausage

  • Ace

    what the fuck.

    ‘So anyway, the guy was clearly mad because he can’t get a hottie like Kate, right? Never, in his entire life, did he have a chance at a hottie like Kate.’

    you have a pretty big misconception of guys there lady.

  • Let me guess, the guy sitting in the banquette next to you was…

    Tom Brokaw?
    Chad Kroeger?
    The ghost of John Updike who doesn’t know he’s dead yet?

  • woody allen

    I love how you can just say whatever the fuck is on your mind in New York, piss on the street, honk at people, etc. In other places you would get shot for doing these things.

  • Maybe

    Maybe his “companion” manipulated him into making a fool out of himself as she laughed at you from behind her blank face.

    Every time I reread this story I wish it ended with you guys mooning him.

  • Maybe

    Bare assed round and full, just as the new moon that bared itself to us, on that fateful night, whether we liked it or not.

    Whether or not we’d once conquered it, to some mocking, to some always inspirational.

  • John

    You are exactly right Mr. Allen (are you really Woody Allen?). Whenever I visit my dad who lives in East Texas, the roads are glutted with every conceivable type of automobile, and yet nobody ever utilizes their horn…ever! I wonder if this is because horn honking is perceived by a lot of people as rude, and in a gun-happy state like Texas the last thing you want to do is piss somebody off. Still, why are autos equipped with horns if we’re never supposed to use them? I feel that New Yorkers (especially cab drivers with difficult last names) understand the function of a horn better than anybody else in America.

    I know this is off topic by the way, and I know the biggest fallacy to your assertion that one is allowed to be free and let their hair down in New York is the fact that New Yorkers are probably nastier than most (or all) other people in America. It was us who invented the line, “If you don’t – insert whatever here -, I’ll put a bullet in your f@#$ing head!” But I still had to back up the point you made about honking with anecdotal evidence.

  • [...] actualization, a certain tyranny of fulfillment, which came directly from this asphyxiating, and generally uncomfortable, city. This outline was not eidetic but lucid enough so as to elicit sublime determination. The [...]

  • Rebecca A

    Aw shucks Ace! I’m blushing! It’s a beautiful thing, to be not only noticed by but also disagreed with by the likes of you!

  • MJ

    A note on the NYC Subway vs. the DC Metro…

    The subway is the womb of New York City – a dank, slimy, hollow organ – and let me tell you, New York is a nasty slut. Phallic trains full of human spermozoids rumble constantly through its skanky canal, ejaculating people at each stop, and dirty sweat vapor takes the place of breathable air. Not only is New York a whore, she’s an old unkepmt prostitute and her rotting vagina is comprised of rusted beams and steep, narrow platforms. While riding the subway, one feels as though they are in a sweatshop at the center of the Earth. The pretty little plaques of mosaic art that sporadically appear on the walls are laughable in their attempt to beautify this colossal cooch.

    The DC Metro, compared to the whorry subway, is a high class escort. The Metro is an enormous underground tunnel with high rounded walls covered in a pattern of squares and vast walkways. She’s pretty. There are electronic signs that inform you of when the next train will arrive and the conductors clearly announce each stop upon arrival at a station. Unlike the subway, the turnstiles here have designated exits and entrances, so you don’t have people colliding, trying to get in or out at the same time. And, amazingly, she’s cheaper than the subway. I could provide a few more comparisons to female genitalia, but that joke has already stopped being funny to me. (But, if my vagina were a form of public transit it would be a trolley. Or perhaps a tandem bike.)

  • Mel

    “I tremble for my species when I reflect that God is just.”

    - Thomas Jefferson

    I’m sorry that this astonishingly self-centered person was able to hurt you so deeply & make you angry. Karma is real. Next time it happens, once you’ve recovered from the shock of having scalding vitriol thrown in your face, you can walk away with your head held high, knowing that Life deals with people appropriately.

    I like these two challenges from the Bible:

    “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” – Romans 12:20

    (I like that one because it’s like God giving us permission to burn others.)

    - And –

    “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Mt 5:44-50

    So, yeah. Sometimes human history does seems like the story of their victory. But that’s where our faith in the spirit world comes in, and we remember that this life is far from being all there is. G-d is patient…”He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” It’s hard for us to get our minds around that, to accept it. You ARE lucky if you don’t have the same Achilles heel as the guy in the restaurant. Imagine how hard it would be to be happy, to feel joy, to unconditionally melt into the loving arms of another if you are so fucking busy pointing out the flaws of others. Fuck, man. He can have his money and his sychophantic hostesses & waiters!

    Anyhow. I’m struggling right there with you. It’s a daily game/lesson/chore/joy. Peace…

  • Peter Perkins

    I came looking for a comical “Emilyian yarn” and what do i find? The Dinner Asshole. Thanks Emily

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