Despite my love of laughter and being considered funny if I could make that happen, my anxious nature also meant grappling with a conflicted mind. I loved making friends but worried about what they thought of me. I worked hard to earn favor with older kids but found their company overwhelming due to my lack of knowledge about things that seemed to come easily to others.
I never understood how or why so many people seemed to know things that I didn’t know much about. On the subject of sports, I could hold my own of course. But on the subject of sex, for example, I pretended to know far more than I did.
My lust for girls in our neighborhood included teasing games of tag where I could easily outrun most of them, but dared not touch for fear of getting caught invading some zone that was out of bounds. If perhaps the lone sister my mother delivered had not died at birth, I might have gained some valuable understanding of the female mind and body. My friends with sisters were far more comfortable around girls.
Navigating that world and trying to prove what you know while protecting the edges of your frail sensibilities is never easy. The tectonics of adolescence result in frequent crashes and clashes with reality over what you did and did not know.
To make matters worse, I always considered myself a serious person. Fifty years after I was in eighth grade, I had a short conversation with one of the women that I’d know when she was a girl. “Oh, you were always philosophizing,” she told me. “We’d walk around town and you’d be talking about all these serious subjects. A deep thinker, I think we called you.”
Well, that was nice to hear I suppose, But that’s definitely not (necessarily) the way to endear yourself to girls of the same age. The fact that I also liked birdwatching, wrote poetry, did artwork, and took nature hikes with binoculars painted me as at least a partial nerd. Even (most) smart girls don’t want to be bored to death listening to some guy try to figure out the meaning of life.
So my seriousness was in some respects my relational downfall. And worse, I took any of the insults directed my way just as seriously. Even insults not directed my way elicited a defensive response. My sense of social justice was a mile wide but tolerance for penetration of its surface was an inch deep.
And that’s why teasing always gutted me. And bringing it on myself? The worst. Making some attempt at a joke or other verbal blunder in mixed company almost killed me. When things got really bad, and someone reached me with a hard fact about my person or my appearance, I’d suffer a condition that my brothers and I called getting”bent.” Getting bent could happen in any number of ways, such as finding out that something said or done previously was regarded as stupid. Of if something made me feel a deep sense of guilt. I’d walk around bent for half the day.
It always amazed me that some people didn’t seem to suffer the same depth of concern or angst over the same things I did. In some cases that was a ruse, and later in life we learn that some people are just good at hiding what hurts them or makes them feel guilty. In other cases, people are genuinely immune to insult or fear because they lack the conscience, intellect, or sensitivity to care. These people I eventually learned to label assholes.
An author named Aaron James wrote a bestselling book titled “Assholes: A Theory.” James is a philosopher, which means he tries to sort out the reasons why some people think and act like they do. He documents many types of assholes in this world, and yes, there are many kinds. By the time I was approaching eighth grade, my ability to identify assholes was growing day by day. I was learning that while men were often assholes, women could quite frequently be assholes too. This was confusing to me at first because lacking any sisterly relations in which I could learn what asshole girls were like, I projected a certain form of perfection on all the girls and women I met. This grand mistake haunted me in many ways, cause as Aaron James documents in his book Assholes there is a particular form of female asshole called a bitch.
“A person counts as a bitch, we may say, when, and only when, she systematically takes special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that leaves her open to the voiced or expressed complaints of other people, but immunized against their motivational influence.”
Perhaps you’ve known a few assholes and bitches in your life. Eventually, we all have to develop some level of defense (or tolerance, take your pick… it’s basically the same thing) for such people. But when you’re just twelve or thirteen years old and prone to getting bent by your own social miscues, it seems like assholes and bitches know something that you don’t.
Assholes and bitches at large
It’s a fact that they sometimes do know something you don’t. Like knowing that using intimidation to get your way is a frequently advantageous personal trait. It’s also true that really smart and talented people can turn into the worst kinds of assholes or bitches.
The most extreme of these are sociopaths, people with no concern for how others feel at all. They couldn’t give a rat’s ass if your feelings are hurt or if you disagree with them for legitimate purposes.
About the age of thirteen years old, it starts to become evident that the world has many people that are either assholes, bitches, or sociopaths. You don’t know it yet, but some of them will someday be your boss at work or even the pastor at your church. Others will run for office, (even in high school) to get their way about everything they want. These are some of the purest assholes and bitches on earth. The most dangerous assholes are the control freaks working as judges or taking out their frustrations in law enforcement.
The list goes on and on, and the sick part of this formula is that so many people grow to admire and worship the biggest assholes and bitches in this world. This habit imbues them with some sort of satisfaction through associative or vicarious power.
Think about it: the movies and TV shows we watch are filled with archetypal assholes and bitches, especially those carrying guns as if that were a sign of intelligence, grace, or real power. We live in a world where people embrace an “ends justifies the means” philosophy if it appears to represent a chance to get on the “winning team.” You know the type. It’s grade-school-level stuff, but the “winner by force of association” dynamic becomes more deadly and serious as people cement their prejudices in this life
It’s almost too much, at the still-tender age of thirteen years old…to imagine that the world is filled with so many awful people. As an eighth-grader, I walked around philosophizing because I was trying to figure all that out. By that age, I’d learned to deal with bullies and such, and hoped naively, they’d someday go away when we all grow up. Too bad. So sad. That doesn’t happen.
The harsh truth is that things don’t change all that after you’ve reached eighth grade. That’s true whether you take life seriously…and engage however you can…or try to skate through life listening to Jimmy Buffet songs, smoking weed, and watching The Big Lebowski…as if that answers any of life’s most serious questions. The Dude Abides? By what reason? The assholes and bitches are still out there, of course. Even the Dude admits that. His best friend is a big asshole. But he loves him, for reasons not fully explained. So stop pretending they’re not out there. And understand that they’re eagerly awaiting the chance to collide with you. They even make up slogans to browbeat the world or cling to religious lies by tradition to justify their assholey instincts. ASSHOLES. BITCHES. They never change.
That is perhaps the reason why I so enjoyed the feeling of crossing the finish line in first place (or nearly so) and why it felt so goddamned good from such an early age. I’ll admit it: there was always a tinge of revenge and released anger behind all that energy. It felt like a form of justice to leave the assholes and bitches behind where they could marinate in the bitter sauce of their woulda-coulda-shouldas recipe for self-justification.
So it was for me on every competitive arena. But the distant running was the best. Nothing makes you feel better than running so hard and so fast that the worst people in this world can’t keep up. The fact that some great people get left behind isn’t a problem. I’ve also also gotten left behind or cast out of the race many times in life. It builds character. Unless you’re an asshole. Then it doesn’t.
These days I’ve mellowed and no longer feel the need to beat everyone at everything I do. Competition’s Son has grown wiser, and I choose where to compete and when. Because they’re still out there. The assholes and bitches, sociopaths and zealots. The only way to keep them from running over you is to keep moving, or turn around and face them with the facts. They always seem to run away from those.