Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Basest of Men

So, apparently Rob Ford is crack addict who likes to go down on hookers and Kevin (not Justin) Trudeau is finally in jail. In other news, the world is populated by filthy con men and two-bit hustlers. Remember the ShamWow guy? Yeah, him:
God, I keep forgetting how much our world still rewards assholes like this, self-righteous money-grubbing douchebags who thrive on scams and bullshit. On the one hand, I tend to embrace the gutter in fiction, but somehow the news always seems to gain the upper hand. I think the irony lies in the fact that we expose human weaknesses in writing to find their softer counterpoints, while newsreels have no such moralistic aspirations.

I work in a job which requires a lot of face-to-face customer service. Long ago I learned to emotionally divorce myself from whatever crap gets thrown across the counter. If the store has made a mistake, I try to be apologetic and courteous. If we haven't fucked up or I'm not sure how we've fucked up, I try to reason with the person and talk them off the ledge. But my kindnesses extend no further than that. The odd totally irrational customer - the lady who throws her no-ketchup burger at the cashier because it came with ketchup, or the old man who recently haughtily dressed down my 14-year-old cashier for offering him a combo, before asking for one - spurs in me a certain level of emotional detachment. It's important to step back and see the humour in the situation; weather the storm without succumbing to it. Everyone loses control occasionally, of course, but the people who struggle the most with my line of work are the ones who become defensive because on some level they view their antagonizers as equals. It's important to see the fray for what it is while simultaneously rising above it.

And that's always what gets me about pop culture. It's the gutter, which is fine, because the gutter is human nature. But it's the gutter without perspective, people hounding together and screaming "He hit a prostitute! Scum of the earth!" without taking the opportunity to have insight on the situation and their own horribly coloured perspectives. Stepping above the game isn't about degrading other people when they succumb to their weaknesses, it's about stepping away for a minute and laughing at the whole divine comedy.

That isn't to say I'm against playing, of course. I use pool as a metaphor more than I probably should, but pool is a game that speaks to all our base instincts. It's simultaneously a game of the gutter and a game of royalty. Some people pursue pool as an intellectual pursuit while others consider it the basest "my cock is bigger than your cock" battle of supremacy. And if you manage to step away from it far enough, you begin to realize that sometimes you can play a game within the game. Sometimes you lose on purpose to the same guy every time you play until he starts to wonder if he's ever going to beat you on his own. Sometimes you make a show of sitting on the sideline and railbirding until people become nervous and want to see what kind of game you're hiding. Sometimes there are different strategies to hoarding the table, either by winning every game or by subbing in your friends until the strange people get bored and go away. But other times you want to play the strangers because you need fresh blood. It's one thing to win or lose any given game; it's another thing to have perspective on the control you have over that game's outcome and its collateral outcomes.

We have a new cashier at work; a reasonably intelligent, affable guy constantly bemoaning the affectations of the customers. It's not so much the rudeness that comes with the territory that bothers him so much as it is their idiosyncrasies, the way one customer will count out all his change while another will feel the urge to sit in the drive-thru and munch down his entire burger rather than pulling over. I always tell him to forget empathy while he's on the clock. I tell him to see the people ordering as nothing more than sheep to be herded through the cash register and to their position in line, but the other day he responded: "It's not that I'm trying to empathize with them, it's that for all my cynicism I have great hope for the human race, and this job depresses that."

I understood him then. I know we're nothing but gnashing animals trying to carve out a niche at the expense of our fellow competitors, but I also find that realization unfailingly depressing. At work, I force myself to focus on the collective rather than the individual. But goddamn, is that collective ever depressing.

No comments:

Post a Comment