Listen . . .
In a doctor’s office sitting area, while you wait for the test results that’ll explain exactly what that thing is hanging from the end of your Johnson like a cliff diver waiting for the tide to come in. Sitting on a bench in the mall, waiting while Grandma receives yet another in a weekly series of blue rinses that will transform her carefully permed and teased hair into an aerodynamically sound and architecturally impermeable helmet.
Listen . . .
In the queue at the buffet, watching a gargantuan diner stretch the spatial boundaries of the wire basket strapped to the handlebars of the motorized scooter your tax dollars paid for, because God forbid Gigantor might have to make two trips to the steam tables, because despite their best efforts to violate the laws of physics, there’s only so much room on a standard-sized dinner plate. Or in the check-out line of the local bookstore, while the overworked and underpaid employee explains for the seventeenth time that there are reasons authors have first and last names, books have titles and shelves are arranged by category or an archaic system known to the grand viziers of the publishing industry as “Alphabetical Order,” and not according to who Oprah shared couch time with yesterday.
Listen . . .
What should you listen for? Well, other than the sound of your pulse thrumming through your skull while your blood pressure soars to heights guaranteed to pop an aneurism in the most structurally cohesive artery, you should listen to what people around you are saying. If you’re a writer, consistent eavesdropping can hone your dialogue skills to an edge keener than most twelve dollar, twelve bladed disposal razors. Even if you have no literary aspirations, you should still practice surreptitious snooping, if for no other reason than to get a couple of cheap yucks.
To be honest, writers enjoy cheap laughs as much as anyone else.
There’s a side benefit though. By listening to those around you, you’ll discover a hidden truth that might do something to ameliorate the insanity that threatens to overwhelm those of us still maintaining a fingertip grip on coherent thought and behavior.
Nobody sets out to be a villain.
I’m not talking about the Joker strapping The Batman to a giant roulette wheel with a bomb attached to Double Zeroes (although I have seen several women strolling the mall who seem to share makeup tips with the Clown Prince of Crime). Exaggerated wickedness like this resides exactly where it belongs: In comic books and Dubya’s White House.
True villainy is more subtle, and much more prevalent.
I doubt a thief rolls out of bed in the morning and makes a conscious decision to steal just because it’s wrong. I’d be very surprised to discover a domestic abuser who’d confess his or her abuse by admitting they were trying to accumulate sufficient negative karma points to score themselves a Fast Pass to Hell. There’s no way you’ll convince me that the walking witless whose numbers seem to be growing exponentially sit down with a bowl of government surplus Corn Flakes and decide to be Rain Man for the day, besting Cliff Robertson’s Oscar-winning performance of Charly by a country mile.
Listen . . .
You’ll hear the answer. You’ll uncover the secret. You’ll unlock the vault of reason that explains how so many people can perpetrate so many wrongs and still sleep at night.
Rationalization, rationalization, rationalization.
It’s the “IF” game. I wouldn’t cheat on my husband IF he’d wash the occasional dish. I wouldn’t beat my kids IF they’d stay quiet long enough for me to watch wrestling. I wouldn’t steal from the Wal-Mart IF I could find a better job than jockeying lottery tickets at the local Quickie Mart. I wouldn’t act like such an imbecile IF-
Nope. You can’t answer everything by listening.
Everyone’s the hero of their own story, and this is the fact listening will prove. Every conversation you hear will be peppered with more “I’s” than anything, except for “ums” and “y’knows.” People take the axiom of “everything happens for a reason” beyond its etymological limitations and twist it into “there’s a good reason for everything I do.”
Sorry. Huh-uh. Not buying it.
You can’t justify abuse. You can’t justify neglect. You can’t justify mental or physical battery any more than the Nazis could justify Dachau. You can explain it. You might even be forgiven for it, but don’t expect me to sing along with your chorus of IF.
As for stupidity? Give me time; I’m working on it.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .