I'm one of those freaky people who gets a kick out of other people's pissiness. Not close relatives or dear friends - their pissiness makes me pissy - but strangers and acquaintances. Prune faces, wrinkled noses, sneering comments - I get a strange thrill in witnessing such silliness. Nothing is sweeter or more endearing to me than to see the protective masks all the rich tapestry of human nature uses to hide its own vulnerability. The myriad tattoos and brutal piercings of the bristly leather clad set: they remind me of porcupines, prickly and dangerous but infinitely lonely. I adore them. They've lost a bit of their scary enigma since tattoos have become more mainstream. There's the eternally angry, spoiling for-a-fight scrappers: they're wolverines, snarling and snapping but always alone in their self-dug holes. There's the academic snobs, pouring disdain and over ripe vengeance on the rest of the non-genius minded: they're rogue elephants, cast out of the herd long ago and unable to forget that bitter rejection. Having been a waitress for a vast majority of my life, I see them all and I've waited on every one of them: bitter housewives, angry husbands, disgruntled teenagers, broken-hearted shrews, unhappy couples, control freak tyrants...the pissy parade, all marching to their own tune of teeth-grinding displeasure.
I think some of the most misunderstood, ironically enough, are the wealthy. When we poor folk see all their treasures heaped high, we sneer when they seem so unhappy, or cold and distant. What the hell do they have to complain about? They can buy happiness. They don't have any problems.
There is a partial truth in this: nobody suffers like the poor, as the late great alcoholic once said. But the rich don't necessarily have it great. They just have a lot of stuff. But oh, how I love that particular mask of pompous pissiness worn by the old money rich.
Some years ago, I worked in a fine gift store, very high end, and there marched through those doors such a parade of pompousness as to be the stuff of legend. I adored watching it all unfold, especially when they tried to put my gabby, grinning self "in my place." Oh, it was delicious and strangely endearing, like kittens puffing their fur out to look threatening but only ending up looking cuter. One man came in, sneer firmly in place, eyelids lowered, silver hair perfect, suit tailor-made. He was looking for a small gift for his and his wife's anniversary. I, in my usual uncouth bluntness, asked how many years? He looked startled, then froze me out with an icy, "Five." I was still married at the time and replied, "Puppy. I've got you beat by four years." This was too much for the poor man. Nostrils flaring with disdain, he told me, "This is my fourth marriage. If you count all those years I, in fact, have you beat." Delighted with his defensive freeze out, I laughed and sang, "Well, na na na na naaa!" and stuck my tongue out like a five-year-old. He stared in amazement, then laughed himself, shedding his iron mask and showing me his human side. How very beautiful it was, too. "My wife always returns everything I've ever gotten her," he told me. "Everything. Now I've already bought her jewels and a new car for this anniversary. I just want a little something wrapped in a box that I can hand to her." I felt very protective of this poor man who obviously had a bad habit of choosing unwisely in the spousal department, so we roamed the shop in search of the perfect small gift. I showed him Herend porcelain and Saint Louis crystal, Armani statues and inlaid music boxes. The whole time, he kept muttering, "She'll return it. She'll return it, I know it." He finally settled on an exquisite Meissen vase, a breathtaking morning glory handpainted on the front, his face glowing like a child's at Christmas. Hopeful. I wrapped it carefully, crowned the package with a graceful silk rose, and wished him well. A week later, the wife returned it. She was so ingrained with her disdain, she wouldn't speak to me. I kissed that work of art after she'd sailed out, but didn't have the heart this time to laugh at her pompous pissiness. I thought of his face, and all the wives he'd gone through, women he probably heaped as many gifts on as he had this ungrateful one. I thought of the wife, and how empty she must feel inside, that nothing ever given was enough, that not even something given in love was enough. What had happened to her to create such a persona? What had shaped his ideals to actually want such a relationship? Who had not loved them? Who had betrayed their youthful trust and shaped their delicate minds when they were children?
We're all products of our environment and we usually learn only what we're taught. Voluntary or involuntary, we absorb lessons from parents, peers, enemies, friends, loved ones. I sucked up a broth of poison myself for the majority of my life. It was all I knew. But I'm trying to gain a scholarship to a new school right now. The school of the not-so-obvious, the hidden lessons in the sledgehammer tactics of obvious circumstance. The art of beauty from shit, the patch of blue on the garbage heap, the rose blooming because of manure heaped on its base. After all these years of being just a curled up, brown-leafed wilt of unfulfillment, I've begun to bloom. Out of tragedy. Out of my own personal pile of shit. Holy hell, my friends. I've become a garden and I didn't even realize it. My original goal was to just stop thinking about suicide two weeks out of every month. I began to step outside of myself, where I realized the world didn't revolve around my own shortcomings.
I don't look on other people's unhappiness as my fault anymore. That's a weird thing with insecure people: we think even strangers are unhappy because of something we did or didn't do. So try an experiment: every time you see a pissy person, think of what animal they are or, as I sometimes still do, what kind of pajamas they wore as a kid. Pink bunny slippers on a pompous windbag are just too delicious an image to not cultivate. That way, you're a little less hard on yourself and a little more agreeable to the rest of the world.
Try not to go too far, however. Guffawing at a tent revival in the Deep South can get you into some real trouble. Just a word to the wise.