Saturday, July 15, 2006

If The Shoe Fits. . .

Soon after But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . . was published, I received a phone call from the Buyer in our corporate office who had placed it in our stores. Deanna had read Central, liked it, and seemed quite energetic in her support for the Vent collection.

But, there was some hesitation in her praise for But Then Again. “I liked it. I really liked it,” she said. “But . . .”

Here it comes, I thought. The denouncement I’d been waiting for, ever since I wrote the first Vent set in the bookstore. Like Jack Webb used to say every week: “The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” but my motivations were always a bit different.

I believe in protecting the innocent, but the innocent are rarely the subject of a Vent. Innocence and Vent-worthy are mutually exclusive states of being. Perhaps one could argue that by exposing and ridiculing the guilty, I’m protecting the innocent, and if anybody puts that on a t-shirt, I’ll wear it proudly, but beyond the role of championing the innocent, I’m a much stronger advocate of covering my own ass.

This was my fear when I took Deanna’s call. Finally -inevitably I suppose- the higher-ups had discovered that one of their own had not only identified the elephant in the room, but had taken a picture of it, commissioned a million wallet-sized prints, and distributed them to everyone in the world. I held my breath and waited for Deanna’s next statement.

“Steve,” she said. “Remind me to never piss you off.”

Now, if more people thought like that, my life would be a lot easier.

I remembered this yesterday afternoon. Synchronicity is an amazing thing. Things fall out of mental RAM, but when one incident pulls something out of deep, dark storage, there’s usually another one to cement its place back at memory’s forefront. I was helping a customer –a regular- who had approached the counter hesitantly, as if she wasn’t entirely comfortable asking whatever question she needed answered. She prefaced her request with a string of qualifiers and apologies, a sure sign that somebody’s about to ask for a book by color, or some other obscure identifier.

No worries. Her question was succinct and easily answered, and we proceeded quickly and with zero frustration. At the counter, I questioned her earlier reticence, and her reply nearly floored me.

“I’m always afraid to ask a question because I don’t want it to be stupid and I definitely don’t want to be in a Vent.”

Ahh, a fan.

We shared a good laugh, and when she left, I thought about Deanna’s call, and the laughter continued. I had told this lady that she’d have to travel a far piece to even make the semi-finals for Vent consideration, and then I remembered the final paragraph from the author’s note in But Then Again.

And finally, to any readers who might recognize themselves in the subsequent pages, I promise nothing you’re about to read is specifically about you. After all, you’d never do anything worthy of a Vent, would you?

Wow. I always wanted to quote myself.

The point is: If you read a Vent, think “Hey, Steve’s talking about me,” and are correct in that assumption, that ought to tell you something. If you’re willing to take credit for asinine behavior, what are you saying about yourself? By identifying with the ignorance and stupidity of an anonymous yahoo, aren’t you validating my position?

Case in point:

Yesterday evening, the magic of coincidence appeared once more. I was talking to a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, and she informed me that a mutual acquaintance had attempted to engage her in a recitation of all the wrongs and injustices I’d perpetrated against her. My friend begged off, taking the Swiss’ position in the ongoing war (but not really, since she immediately reported the exchange to me).

Part of this acquaintance’s litany included several Vents, which said combatant maintained were written with the specific intent of belittling and ridiculing her. Again, my friend demurred (and again, not really, because she was already familiar with the entries in question). My friend came to the same conclusions I’ve listed above: Why claim it, if you didn't do it?

Which again, proves my point.

The prosecution will stipulate to a certain propensity to asshole-ish behavior on his part. It’s an integral part of his genetic make-up, and the biggest reason you’re reading Steve’s Vent instead of –let’s say- or But (and this is a crucial but), it’s all fun and games and laughs and chuckles until you find yourself in the crosshairs. It’s reassuring to see someone else squirm at the end of an accusatory finger. It’s scary to have that same finger pointed at you.

I should know; I’ve been on the cuticle end of quite a few digits over the years, and many times rightly so.

And as for any alleged subjects of over 100,000 words of venting? Take a deep breath and have a seat. Comfortable? Good. Read the entries again. Still want to take credit for inspiring my muse? Do you want to publically proclaim your status as a Poster Child for Inanity? Are you comfortable as the owner of a lifetime pass on the short bus?


Then go right ahead. Nobody’s stopping you.

Especially me.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .