Jon tells himself things about the inner world of other people. He is sure they’re true. Petty, unprovable, improbable by turns, and certainly not sweet, they are a great comfort. Here are two of the most recent.
On Saturday, a silver-haired man passed him on the highway in a gleaming BMW convertible, rich people blue. The guy was wearing a baseball cap that Jon decided had been purchased already distressed. There was something about the hat in addition to the convertible that made Jon think the driver saw himself as a Hollywood director type. Jon decided that the man’s name was Peter. His last name would definitely be something waspy, like Andrews, but perhaps wealthier sounding, like Ellison.
Glancing over at Pete Ellison through a smear of bird shit on his own car window, Jon thought: “I guess you park that where your self-worth should be. Try working on a personal identity, instead of just being a cookie cutter of American success.” That felt good for several seconds after.
Then on Tuesday his boss told him to go back to the drawing board on his latest project. She stood over his desk with an expression of sympathy he decided could not be genuine. There was something about her round face when she tried to appear kind that made her look like a Precious Moments figurine. He watched her return to her office and decided that her walk could accurately only be called a waddle.
“Could you be any more threatened by me?” he thought. “It’s really worth it to you to pay me overtime, just to lord your power over me? Okay. We’ll do it your way, duck ass.”
It goes on and on. He knows everyone’s motives, everyone’s weakness, everyone’s terrible, terrible flaw. It is a gift and a curse. And a comfort. It is a really dreadful comfort to poor Jon.
On Friday, he goes to see a band he likes in the city. Standing in front of him during the show are a man and woman he instantly dislikes. The woman has long blond hair that is trying to look stylish but really it is not quite there. And the man is wearing one of those baseball caps like Pete Ellison wears. Jon really hates that kind of hat. In a knowing moment, he decides their names are Jen and Kyle.
Jen stands in front of Kyle and she looks back often to laugh about some joke they are sharing. Kyle has an annoying way of bobbing his head back and worth to the beat. A while later, Jon sees that she is taking a picture on her phone of the guy in front of her, holding the phone up high to get what she’s after – the perfect capture of a bald spot in the stranger’s mullet. Wrinkling up her nose in a grin, she shows the picture to Kyle and he really busts a gut over it. Jon finds it quite distracting.
He watches their shenanigans with a sour twist to his mouth. It seems really hateful of them to spend the concert picking on the stranger when they could be enjoying the music. He is all set to size them up, to truth out all of their wretchedness in a clever string of thoughts, when he remembers another concert, only a few months before.
At that concert, he stood behind two women who were wearing exactly the kind of jeans he hates. These two women – Karen and Nancy, he decided – were the only ones standing in the seating arena. They were gyrating slowly in sync to the opening band, each movement causing a curious buckle in the ass crack of their mom jeans. It was happening right at his eye level, so he had to capture it on video. It was what anyone would have done.
Now at the second concert, he recalls that he had done pretty much the same thing as this Jen woman. He pauses a moment, considers it from another angle. The two women, in choosing to stand and dance when no one else was standing, had sort of volunteered to be criticized. The man with the bald spot seemed much more the victim, since he was not making himself conspicuous. And there was something so brash about the way dumb old Jen held out the picture to stupid ugly Kyle, heedless of who else might see. At the other concert, he had passed his video to his friends quite discreetly. And even as they laughed over it, he glanced up guiltily to make sure the women did not look back and see.
He decides to concede a little bit that he is a hypocrite, in exchange for acknowledging that Kyle and Jen are much bigger assholes. On the way out of the club, it happens that Jen winds up holding the door for him and, thinking fast, Jon decides that she is probably feeling bad for being such a jerk. Trying to do a stranger a kind to offset her bad karma, like a company buying clean air credits. Cap and trade. In a more perfect world, she would have got stuck holding the door for the guy with the mullet.