In which the Elegant Bastard explains his decision to decline certain opportunities to pucker up!
Few things can cause alarm like the sudden tears of a child, and yet one thing is certain. Nature ensures that we will all encounter them.
Toddlers go splat. Forward and backward, they all fall down. Every parent and all passers-by learn to know and dread the sound of puppy hands slapping down hard on concrete, brick or asphalt when legs still very new misstep themselves.
A sudden silence ensues as the startled child confronts this newest fact of life, and then the long and building wail begins. Next come the cries – intense, and mixed with short gulping gasps for air. But soon the shuddering abates and the volume diminishes as the parent, having instantly and expertly scanned palms and knees and head for blood or bites or bruises, picks up the fallen explorer and starts the comforting stream of silly words: “There, there … not your fault … bad bad sidewalk … Make it better.” The last is accompanied by a long and noisy kiss applied to whatever body part is hurting – and noisy it must be, for as mothers everywhere will assure us, only loud and sloppy kisses have any therapeutic value whatsoever.
Years ago, my neighbor’s son, aged three, accepted just such a bit of first aid to his injured palm, and then asked his mother whether she would apply the same remedy had he fallen on his bum. She, a notably brave woman, assured him while she retied his shoe (the culprit in this affair) that of course she would. Grasping this promise to his breast as adults might a policy from Prudential, he happily ran on ahead.
Equilibrium had been restored, the journey along the previously offending pathway resumed and I was able to stop laughing within a matter of three blocks. Such is our recuperative power. Very shortly after each fall-down-and-go-boom episode in life, we saunter on our way again. We learn to get over falling over. Perhaps that’s why we are always so surprised when it happens again and again.
Our response to these unanticipated moments evolves with us. Consider my neighbor and her child. In twelve years or so, another fall may occur. Rather than tears, this will likely elicit a loud “Shit! That hurt!” Rather than hugs and noisy kisses, the immediate parental response will now be something along the lines of “Will you please watch where you’re going – and your language.”
But the painful interval will be brief. The slightly embarrassed adolescent will make a pleasantly apologetic joke and the slightly remorseful parent will buy an apologetic beverage or inexpensive t-shirt. These are kisses of a sort. The cause will be corrected and life will resume. By then he will be adept at getting over falling over. There will be no more cries of “bad bad sidewalk”.
Brief wails are entirely appropriate immediate responses to the sudden and undeserved treacheries we experience during our journeys. In the same way the sidewalk betrayed the child’s trusting feet, the hammer strikes the thumb. The knife or the needle bites the flesh. The five-star resume secures no interview. Now the shooting pain that once could only fashion itself into tears finds its way out in words: “Crap!” “Fuck!” “God Damn!”
I’m sure that somewhere there is someone studying why in these moments we tend towards the excretory, the sexual and the divine in our utterings. Do moments of unexpected pain make us long for the remembered satisfaction of the excellent bowel movement? The intense orgasmic peak? A miracle? Or do we just need an explosive burst of sound to somehow reassure ourselves that we are still here and to summon a friend – or even just the dog or the cat – to listen to our momentary rant. I really don’t know. However it helps, it helps. The moment passes and all is well, or as well as it can be. We change our grip on the hammer, learn to hold the knife more efficiently and edit the resume. Almost unconsciously, we get over falling over.
Or at least most of us do.
However, there are some among us who wail willfully well beyond childhood. Theirs is not the startled exclamation but the practiced cry, prepared and polished in anticipation of its use. It becomes their on-going conversation with the world. They have fallen on their bums. They hurt. It’s not their fault. It’s ours. Someone – preferably everyone – had better pucker up and kiss it better. Now!
Should we kiss it better? Sometimes the answer must be yes. Our common humanity demands that we always try to staunch the gaping wounds, reattach the limbs, clear the land mines, hug the bereaved, and reassure the defeated. On more occasions that we would like to admit, we should feed the hungry and house the homeless. And yes, when sexism, racism and all the other hatreds that bedevil our world emerge, we need to face them down, even if it costs. To dismiss these cries is to lie down with Iago and breed strange beasts. However, for the others, for those who embrace an easy victimhood as an alternative to a little sweat, learning or truth, my answer is no.
I collect narratives. I always explain that I may use them in an essay. In return I provide a coffee or a drink or a meal – and an ear. I have gathered here a selection of recent encounters with what I would call professional toddlers. In all cases like these, I am pucker-proof. (All were originally first-person accounts.)
There was the 23 year old “activist”, so busy protesting just about everything that he had no time to work. He proudly showed me a video of him screaming profanities at Toronto police while he danced in front of them grabbing his crotch. He had successfully managed a false disability claim but complained bitterly that he deserved more. Oh, and his parents didn’t understand him.
There was the mother whose son had been caught plagiarizing three times in one semester. In the last episode, he had physically coerced another student in to writing the paper. She accused the panel of racism. The presiding assistant dean, herself a person of colour, objected, only to hear herself called an “oreo” and a “wannabe whitey”.
There was the 88 year old World War Two veteran who asserted loudly and profanely that he couldn’t live on his four pensions since the government kept wasting his tax dollars on “frogs” and “lazy immigrants”. And was I one of them Jews? I looked like a Jew. He paused. Or a Polack.
There was the young man who explained to me that he had every right to scream death threats at his sister who had dressed immodestly and spoken casually to a Hindu boy at school. I pointed out that his religion called for conservative dress by both genders and that even as we spoke he was attired in a “wife beater” t-shirt and jeans tight enough to make walking painful. He responded by claiming that I didn’t understand his culture , just like that “faggot” prof who failed him in calculus … and was I going to get him another beer, or what?
There was the woman who explained that she was encountering systemic discrimination at a (normally absurdly liberal) Toronto university where her pursuit of a doctorate in literature was being hampered by 1) her refusal to read books written by dead white males, which, when accepted, was followed by 2) her refusal to read books by any males whatsoever, which, when accepted, was followed by 3) a refusal to read novels written by anyone since novels were Eurocentric. Her thesis would be based on her own stories, written in response to her own unique struggle against the discrimination she encountered in this cruel cruel world. Her appeal is pending.
There was the very large woman who argued vociferously that she would have stopped smoking years ago if those big corporations or that greedy government had told her it was bad for her health. And she wouldn’t need her sidewalk scooter if those big corporations (and that greedy government) hadn’t been allowed to sell potato chips and supersize drinks to the innocently unsuspecting. And … oh, and I was to get her a third frappuccino (with Splenda) while she motored outside for a ciggie. She’d be right back. (Later that day I saw her deliberately drive her sidewalk scooter into wet cement because she felt the detour provided (with a ramp) discriminated against her. When the concrete workers loudly scolded her, she accused them of what she called “fattism”.)
To all of the above, and to the student who failed to study and blamed the failing grade on intolerance of his sexual orientation, to the bus driver who refused to drive until that “rude” passenger who commented (politely) on his incessant cell phone use apologized, to the woman who abandoned a full shopping cart in a narrow aisle when asked to stop “testing” so many grapes, to the guy who for five minutes berated the young barista into tears for running out of soy milk, to the “misunderstood and alienated” young man who blared his L.L.Cool and Moe Dee hate while sprawled across three subway seats in front of two elderly standees, and to the self-appointed “community leader” who demanded that all change their ways so that he need not in any way change his, I want to make one thing clear.
I really have neither sympathy nor patience to offer you. It’s time to grow up and stop blaming the sidewalk.
And if you can’t, well then, if it must be kissed, I can only suggest that you kiss your own ass.
Once again, please feel free to comment, “tweet”, “share”, “like” or mutter imprecations. And if you are in the mood for another rant and feel the same way about constant spitting as I do, you might enjoy the post at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-6J