Reasons to be fearful   Leave a comment

Parts 1 through N for unreasonably large N.

As I mentioned last time, I’ve been even less outgoing and sociable than usual, lately. And I wondered about something: people who interact with humans more than I do tend to like humans more than I do.
Of course, any cause and effect could go both ways on that, and it could even be self-reinforcing.

Currently I interact with people fairly infrequently. I do speak face-to-face with somebody most days, but usually just at a checkout or something. But it has not always been so.

At school, of course, I had to interact with people all the time, and it was often tiresome. I was the fat, nerdy kid who wore glasses and hated sport, so you know how that worked out. Fortunately, my height matched my girth, I was always taught to stick up for myself (and am too bloody-minded to back down), and my school was more disciplined and better behaved than most, so confrontations were generally kept to insults. Which didn’t bother me nearly so much as their complete lack of thought or wit; always the same tedious standards, over and over again. Was that really the best they could do? Oh, occasionally there was an attempt at some trick or subterfuge, but they were so obvious and transparent that the only response they could hope to elicit was rolled eyes.

And then I got a job, at KFC. If you’ve ever had a service job then you know how it went. If you haven’t: the staff are a lot more pleasant and intelligent than you think, but the customers – especially the ones who think they’re so much better than the people who’re being forced to pretend to be polite at them – tend to be utterly obnoxious and hateful. I much preferred cooking the food to serving it, but occasionally I was lumped with a till. Serving a shopful of drunken louts, after midnight, when you are half the staff that’s turned up for what should be a four- or five-person shift (and the stand-in manager’s bravely ran out to the office to escape the horde in the lobby), and everything’s going wrong, does nothing to dispel misanthropy.
And then they tell you to smile. I’ve already told the story about the customer who demanded I give him a knife, right? Well, I suspect that’s one of the reasons we didn’t have one.

University was generally an uptick; being around a lot of very intelligent people with similar interests was a good thing. But not everything was quite so grand; turns out people will attack you for absolutely no reason, and I literally have the scars to prove it. I was walking down the road to one of my exams, and a man walking towards me shouted “give this to some cunt down there”, punched me in the face, and walked off. Queue a tedious trip to casualty, because the campus medical centre didn’t have anything to stitch me up. Oh, and when I reported it to the police (at others’ insistance; I wouldn’t have bothered wasting my time) they referred to him as a “gentleman”; good work that officer. And they tried to imply it could have been my fault; had I said anything? Or made eye contact?
Fortunately, the kid who failed to steal my bike at some traffic lights was far more amusing. He shouted “get off the fucking bike” and stuck his hand up his jumper; my face must have been a picture as I stared at him in puzzlement, before realisation dawned. He’s pretending to have a knife! And he cowered most pathetically when I turned and walked towards him.

And then I moved back home, nearly nine years ago. Aside from a few months working for a charity while I was on the dole (one of the best jobs I’ve had, I reckon), where people were friendly and pleasant, little of note has happened in the meantime. Occasionally I’ve been accosted by some thug at the door (and have written about them often enough), or some idiot in the street or a car will hurl abuse. Nothing unusual or unexpected. But it is sad that abuse and unpleasantness is “usual” and “expected”.

Yesterday, I had quite an argument with my boss over some holidays. I won’t (and probably shouldn’t) go over it, but towards the end he explained how and why the decisions had actually been made with good intent. Ignoring whether that was true, or I believed it: in all my thought and arguing, the possibility that he’d been acting with good intentions had never even crossed my mind.

This is standard. I don’t like it when a hostile person comes up and starts bothering me, of course, but it’s an easily understood situation and I can work out how to deal with it. On the other hand, when somebody comes up and starts acting in a pleasant and friendly manner, it’s terrifying. All I want is to get away. The notion that they might actually be pleasant and friendly is so utterly ludicrous that it doesn’t bear consideration, and the stress of worrying about – and trying to work out – what’s really going on; what they’re really up to, what subterfuge is this? On top of the effort of having to talk to someone, it’s all I can do to not yell “Why are you doing this? What do you want from me?”.

Similarly, I can’t take a compliment. I always worry about their being some subterfuge or trick, or a lie towards some greater purpose. Stop trying to butter me up, I think, and just tell me what you want. You have to admit that this is exactly how smarmy, annoying salesmen work.

Really, I never assume or expect honesty from others. I’m a very honest person, lying upsets me, and there’s no reason for it. But most humans seem to have, at best, a cavalier attitude towards the truth, and many positively delight in bending and breaking it. What’s worse is they seem to do so for such utterly trivial reasons, and if I can’t trust someone to be honest with matters of utter inconsequence, why on Earth should – how on Earth could – anyone expect truthfulness when it’s important? I will, for instance, make arrangements based on the assumption that the whole thing is some bizarre, fallacious fabrication, and be genuinely surprised if it actually comes to pass.

Maybe people can learn and improve, though? No. As far as I’ve observed, humans are incabable of (or, at least, unwilling to) learning and changing their behaviours. I’m sure you know of things you do that are obviously stupid, but that you can’t change? I’ve talked about my working patterns before, how my life and job would be more pleasant if I just got up and did work during my alloted hours, rather than letting it pile up until deadlines, or doing nothing during the day and then starting after I’m supposed to be finished. I know it’s stupid and harmful. I know how stressful it is, and how miserable it makes me. And yet I’m incapable of behaving any other way, even if I try to change it. And I’ve seen others make mistakes, or do stupid things, of greater or lesser import, over and over and over again like little clockwork men, so it isn’t just me. You can try to help, but if anything that will make it worse, even if they know they’re behaving stupidly (and they’re quite likely to just make excuses about how it’s everyone else’s fault). Humans can’t learn.

On Thursday it was my sister’s birthday meal out. I only found out about it on Tuesday, so I only had two days to panic and worry about it. I’m not sure why I agreed to go (not that I was asked; it was just assumed that I would), although I suspect it was some sense of obligation. But a family meal out – what’s the problem?

Firstly, I don’t like social things much, especially out in public or where there are people I don’t know. There’s all the bother and worry about getting ready, going out, and so on, but the only thing worse than worrying that I’ll say or do something exceptionally stupid or mortifiyingly embarassing, is actually doing something exceptionally stupid or mortifiyingly embarrassing. And I’ve managed that fairly recently, so it’s a real threat. It probably doesn’t help that there’s not much positive reinforcement; it’s never “that was amazing”, so much as “it wasn’t as bad as I expected, I don’t think I did anything stupid, and now it’s over”.

Secondly, eating out is one of the worst social things; there’s an increased risk of mortifyingly embarrassing (and messy) mistakes due to clumsiness or stupidity; there are all those rules and rituals that you’re supposed to know, particularly involving drinks (and I hate that tap water is frowned upon. Look, I actually want tap water. If I were at home, I would be drinking tap water by choice. I don’t particularly like Coke, or wine, and there’s a limit to the amount of beer I can drink before feeling ill, so I don’t see why I should feel obliged to pay for such things. I want to drink nice, near-as-damnit-free water from the tap. I don’t even want ice in it). But the absolute worst part is being waited on. I’m not going to go around feeling like I should be subservient to other people, so it makes me uncomfortable when people act as if they should be subservient to me. I know they resent it, and if they don’t, then they damn well should. And if I should do something stupid that they then have to – calmly, professionally and uncomplainingly – clean up…

Thirdly, the family part. Although blaming my entire family for my mother seems unfair, and she is the problem. If you think that I am embittered, cynical and paranoid, then rest assured I can’t hope to hold a candle to her. If somebody were to describe her as a nasty, avaricious, snide, bigoted witch, it would be hard to argue except to point out the foul slander of witches (although, to redress the balance: when everything was stolen in Spain, I used my single begged Euro to call her; she’s also dependable, practical and sensible), and when she’s drunk – at, say, some family outing – all of her least pleasant attributes get turned up to 11. She just loves to latch onto a target and set about being snide and horrible about them for the entire evening. Often it’s my father, especially if he’s present, but sometimes she will, apropos of nothing, pick someone who isn’t there and incessently go on about them and their perceived failings. Once, it was my grandmother. Once, an old school friend. I don’t know why, but I think she thinks it’s funny, or “telling it like it is”; really, it’s obnoxious, unnecessary hatefulness.
Sometimes, though, she will turn her talents towards making a scene. She was unhappy with her steak one evening, so as well as simply complaining she set about making loud, sneering, derogatory remarks every time she could think of anything even vaguely related. Another time, she loudly and enthusiastically discussed washing horses’ genitalia, putting a nearby table off their food.

So it shouldn’t surprise that I wasn’t looking forward to the meal. But it wasn’t as bad as expected. I don’t think I did anything stupid. Mum was on her best behaviour, only being slightly fussing and interfering. The food was good (for Chinese, which is my least favourite option for eating out; it really is very bland, and usually – but not in this case – quite awful, at least herabouts). Note to self: next time, think of an excuse not to go. I got away with it this time, but may not be so lucky in future.

I think that’s that. A long and rambling post, isn’t it? And the sentence structure is quite awful. Still, if you’ve ever wondered why I behave how I do, that might shed some light on it. Similarly, if you think I’ve been even more obnoxious than usual of late. But I’ve been happier for the last day or so; hopefully that will continue.


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