Shit Stirrer

17 Oct 2006

Remember Henry Blake?Who among us didn't love the man? Iwas just thinking about Henry this afternoon -- especially how Radar could always get him to sign anything. Remember how Henry'd get all fired up (though rarely) and say something like, "Well, who issued the weekend pass?" And then Radar would say, "You did, sir" (and then they'd cue the laugh track). I think they used that joke about 500 times in that show, and it never got old.(Or, maybe I just saw those episodes 500 times.)

What reminded me of this today was our office notary. Until about a year ago, many of the owners here had apparently developed a habit of presenting her with various papers from the outside -- documents allegedly bearing their wives' signatures and so forth -- expecting the notary to simply rubber stamp them. I'm pretty sure she did just that for many years. It's no doubt that many a shady deal went down during that heyday. Reassigned beneficiaries, last wills, property sales, etc.

But, something must've gone wrong at some point. Or, perhaps the notary profession simply renewed its commitment recently to "ethics" (in light of Enron and rest of that cluster fuck a few years back). Whatever the cause, the woman hung a new sign in her office earlier this year stating in boldface 100-point type that a PERSONAL APPEARANCE is required for all notary services rendered. Fair enough. I never asked her to bend the rules for me, anyway. And, it's her ass on the line, I suppose, if she falsely notarizes documents.

But today something interesting happened. She walked into my office and said, "Patrick, I need a witness."

I didn't know what the hell she was talking about at first, so I put on my best southern church choir voice and replied, "Amen! Can I get a witness?! Can we ALL get a witness!!!" (Don't they say that sort of thing in baptist churches? I don't know ... It sounded right at the time.)

She didn't laugh. "No, I mean a witness to sign this document."

"Oh ... Uh, sure. Where do I sign?"

She pointed to the place for the witness to sign, just above her freshly applied notary seal. Now, I've signed a hundred of these things for people, but since she's become such a stickler for the rules, I decided to mess with her a little bit. "Now, let me get this straight," I said. "You're a notary who's all about playing 'by the book' and you're asking me to sign my name indicating that I've witnessed the person listed here signing his name to this document. But, there's just one little problem, isn't there? I didn't witness it. Therefore, I can't help you."

I summarily handed the paper back to her, unsigned.

I was kidding around, of course. (Hey, I'll sign anything, just like Henry Blake.)I even reached out to take back the paper, saying "I'll sign it ... I'll sign it." But, the realization of her own hypocrisy had set in (much stronger than I'd expected it to) and she suddenly became overcome with anger -- directed at me, of course, but really directed at herself (which she's no doubt realized by now). I sort of felt bad afterward for ribbing her like that, and even tried to make nice. But, she's still a little pissy about the whole thing.

* * *

I've just had a memory flash ... Several years back, on a city bus:

I'm sitting in the back section (because, all the cool commuters sit back there). We're nearing downtown Shitsburgh (as Sienna Miller infamously put it) and some spikey-haired butch woman who boarded a few stops back is having a bad day. She keeps making loud comments to her boyfriend -- a bald guy in a hockey shirt (and not even a Penguins shirt, mind you), about how rude the people in the back are for talking during the bus ride.

So, I say really loud to the woman sitting across the aisle something along the lines of:"Apparently, you and I are the only ones here who didn't receive the memo."

The bus itself is loud (its engine in the back near us) and the back seats are far apart, so she has to really project her voice in order to talk with me. But she answers, "What memo?"

"The one announcing that the Port Authority was purchased by the Carnegie Library."

"What're you talking about?"

"Well, it simply must be the case. Clearly, we're not allowed to talk on public busses any longer, which could only mean that the bus system has merged somehow with the library."

It was my rude way of telling blondie to shut the fuck up. But, it backfired. Blondie rose and fired an evil look in my direction. You could almost hear the strains from a Sergio Leone movie pervade the air as she plowed her way down the aisle toward me.

We had a little confrontation.

Normally, I think these things through a little better. I guess since she was with a guy, I failed to consider the possibility that, were things to escalate, I'd have to deal with her and not hockey boy. But she was the dom, he the sub. Who knew?

No matter how ugly a situation gets, getting into a physical brawl with a woman is just taboo. There was a moment there, though, when I considered this inevitable. Time stretches out and a million uncomfortable things go through your mind -- not simultaneously, but in such rapid succession that it's almost so.

It occurs to me that I'm probably too concerned with my audience as I write. I'm afraid a reader will think I'm an asshole if I'm completely honest, you know? And, make no mistake, I can be a real jerk sometimes. I'll get to that in a moment. But, I also like to direct the feelings of my readers; if I'm an asshole, then I like to be the one to say so, point it out, and give examples. I don't like to open myself to the possibility of being misinterpreted, frankly (not that it doesn't happen regularly, mind you).

And speaking of hypocrisy, I suppose my apparent fear of judgment comes from a rather judgmental stance within myself. In order to counter my dislike of being judged, I attempt to write with particular clarity, which ironically stems from my own judgment that my audience cannot distinguish between, for example, (1) my referring to a particular woman as a nasty skank bitch in this one instance where it's clearly called for and (2) my being the kind of general misogynist who routinely refers to all women as such on a regular basis (which, please don't misinterpret me, is not the case). But, god damn, this woman was a nasty skank bitch.

Believe it or not, I'm actually (generally) non-confrontational. I've blogged about this before (in my post about firing Vlad ). But, as I said, strange things crossed my mind as the ugly whore sat next to me:

Oh fuck, she's actually going to sit next to me and confront me about this idiotic thing that she brought on herself.

Oh fuck, the bitch is some kind of crazy karate chick and she's going to start something physical.

You don't ever hit women--under any circumstances ...

But, this woman is seething. What if she actually hits me? Do I just sit here and take it? Should I perhaps be defensive ( e.g., block her punches but don't hit back)? Would it be wrong if she hit me and then I lost my composure and punched her in the face? Is it ever okay to strike a female? No, no of course not. But, what if she's really masculine / borderline tranny, really, and also draws "first blood"?

Again, these are extremely uncomfortable thoughts that one normally would never have -- except in rather intense circumstances. Add it to my list of reasons to avoid public transportation at all costs (unless you're fortunate enough to live in a city where normal folks commute this way -- DC, New York, Chicago, etc.).

Thankfully, I talked Blondie down a bit.When she hit me with that "you got somethin' to say to me, say it to my face" routine, I simply said something like, "Well, it's just that your comments would've made sense in a library or a funeral home. But, there's no reasonable expectation of peace and quiet on a city bus. You apparently have a preference for a nice quiet ride, but you can't expect to regulate the volume of every conversation here."

She eased up and started talking to me. I'm fairly certain she was on crack or something, but things calmed down. I'm sure she took it all out on her hockey boy love slave later on. The poor bastard.

* * *

I'm trying to get my hands around this thing, see?

Are there any other former Catholics out there? I'm now thinking back on my immense childhood boredom with the whole Sunday "go to church" thing. All the other kids seemed to have so little trouble behaving for one mere hour per week. Stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, kneel, sit, kneel, sit, etc. With me, something just went wrong -- wasn't wired right, I guess. For one, the monotony just killed me as a youngster; it was painful to mentally run through the whole routine upon first arriving. I remember thinking to myself: "Okay, he's going to talk for a while, then we stand and sing a dumb song, then we sit and he talks some more, then we stand, then we kneel, then ... then ... then ... "

I still do that sort of thing -- thinking ahead at the outset of routine things -- sometimes. Running, for example. When I'm into it (most of the time), I don't think about the whole process. But, every now and then, I just think, Okay, I'm going up this hill, then making a left, then a right, then going straight. I hate thinking that way because everything seems to take longer. But, I do it anyway. Sometimes. Maybe it's simply impatience. I wasn't blessed with that virtue. Sometimes.

Back in church, I longed for anything to break up the routine. And one thing always did the trick -- the screaming baby. I simply can't put into words the immense joy this ungodly sound would bring to my young mass-bound ears. Well, maybe I can ... Let me think for a moment. I'm a writer, after all, right? (Rhetorical. Hold your tongue, smart asses.) On second thought, it's beyond metaphor. Let's go straight for an adjective here: Bliss. Yes, that's it. Bliss. I'm lying. A metaphor would be better, but it's late now and I'm being lazy. But anyway, I was truly a little fucking Damien, somehow able to cross the threshold each Sunday. Perhaps I even willed the screaming, if you believe in that sort of thing.

So fucking young, I was. And, yet I relished the sound; it soothed me like a thick cotton blanket fresh from the dryer wrapped round you on a January morning. And, the louder the better. Why? Because it pissed off everyone around me. Except my sister, of course. She liked it, too. For the same reason, I suspect. We'd lean back (having been previously separated for bickering or talking) and steal a glance at one another over the back of the pew, stifling our smirks as best we could. I loved to feel the anger seethe within the adults as they exchanged their own disapproving sneers. Though we were in church, the hatred for the inconsiderate parents was palpable -- a bonus irony that made the experience even more enjoyable.

Well, that's all well and good when you're 12 or 13. But, I guess it's also sort of a negative characteristic when you're pushing 40. I'll admit: I do enjoy stirring up shit. Or, even if I haven't stirred it, I like being there when it hits the fan. I've had friends who've summed up my existence as the kid in the zoo who puts his hand in the tiger's cage to pull its tail. At the time, I took that as a compliment, believe it or not. One has to pride oneself on something, after all. Being the shit stirrer, the instigator, the agent provocateur.

What a sad gift ... I get to be the fucking Bobby Fisher of being an asshole -- thinking ahead 40 moves about how I can produce general unrest among the populace. I'd make a good terrorist, probably. If I were evil. But don't worry: I'm good. Mostly. But why couldn't my "gift" be music? Why couldn't it be art? It couldn't be something useless, even, yet somehow intriguing? (Don't go there ... It's just a link to a bunch of videos of people doing tricks with inkpens.)

Oh, sure, I could write about it. And, I have. I write pretty good asshole characters, now that I think about it. There's a great one in my last screenplay. He more or less steals the show -- like the time I saw Jesus Christ Superstar and I laughed to myself because the actor who played Judas was 10 times as talented as the Jesus actor.

My problem is that, while I've always enjoyed these things, it's really only very recently that I've realized that I stir up shit almost without thinking about it or even trying. Trust me ... It goes miles deeper than the notary or the nutcase on the bus. I do it at work, in meetings, on my board of directors, in personal relationships. Somehow, naturally, I'll just push any buttons I see. Hell, many of my blog entries practically celebrate this quality.

But there's hope. I've had a little epiphany recently, and I now at least realize that I do this. Since I enjoy it so much, I don't plan on curbing my behavior outside of the home. But, I also believe I could make an effort to be a little bit nicer at home -- not that I'm a terror to live with, mind you. But, I don't need to subject my own family to this type of thing, right?

Of course, if I'm a better person at home, I'll have to balance this with a little extra effort at work. Let's see ... Whose buttons can I press tomorrow?

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