The minute he opened his mouth I decided in my core that I hated him. I’m not talking about deciding he might not be my best friend after having a brief discussion with him either. I’m talking about loathing. Before the first word had even escaped his perfect-teeth-filled mouth.
I like to think of myself as non-judgmental and open to new people. That’s how I like to imagine myself. I’m a people person. People are my thing. “After all” I think to myself, “I was the fat, spectacled kid of arts people” … as though this somehow implies a birthright to compassionate acceptance and understanding. Every now and then, however, I meet a person who so instantly sets my heckles up that I have to work unbelievably hard to be civil to them, for no apparent reason. When this happens, I find myself affronted by not only the person in question, but also by the fact that I am capable of feeling so instinctively, and yes, judgmentally, revolted. “How can I hate a person I don’t even know?” I’ll wonder to myself in shock, “I’m not like that”
Anyway, I knew, with instant-hate-guy it wasn’t just a “personality clash” – I don’t have those. Like I said, people are my thing. This guy however, grabbed me by the arm when I walked past his little stand in a shopping mall. I swung around expecting to see someone I knew, and there he was – selling me something. Now, it’s easy to assume that I had an immediate and iniquitous response to him because he was a salesman, and a lot of people don’t like salespeople, especially when they’re expecting to see a friend. However, I like sales people – many of my closest friends in the world work in sales. As for the sales men and women that I don’t know, I consider them to be a captive audience just waiting for me to regale them with my wordy stories – terrific! So it wasn’t that.
No, I stood there watching this man as he prattled on animatedly about his product, and all I could do was stare at him in silent animosity. It wasn’t what he was saying – I wasn’t listening to that – it was how he was saying it that set my teeth on edge.
I had a sudden and repellant flash back to my 4th year of primary school and a little boy called Frank. I saw Frank’s screwed up little face just a few centimeters from mine as we stood in the middle of the playground. I watched again, through my own 10-year-old eyes, as Frank screamed “I HATE YOU, YOU FOUR-EYED FATSO!” at the top of his lungs, over and over. I could smell Frank’s devon-sandwich-breath and see the wads of spittle flying from his enraged little mouth and onto my BMX-Bandits t-shirt. I felt that bewilderment at how someone could hate me so very much when I didn’t do anything at all to them. And I remembered my Father explaining to me about bullies when I cried to him about it.
Then I realised that this pitch-em-til-they-drop wheeler and dealer in front of me, 20 years later, was exactly what I imagined Frank to have grown into. I narrowed my eyes so that I could really focus on Mister Grownupfrank in front of me. Sure, he was smiling warmly, “but” I thought to myself, “it’s TOO warm! It’s so warm it’s smarmy!”. My hatred for his smarmy smile was only outdone by what I now decided to be an “arrogant glimmer” in his eye as he spoke … For sure, this man was the sort of popular kid that would have hated me back when my greasy glasses slid down my fat nose and I did class presentations by way of interpretive dance … “Yeah, I bet he’s just like that” I thought, clenching my teeth.
I can’t say how long I remained, scowling, in front of the salesman. What I can say, is that it was long enough for me to internally play out the scenario where I finally gave Frank the verbal dressing-down he had had coming forever. It was long enough for me to imagine the gratitude of the thousands of little spectacled, fat kids that would somehow be saved from torment thanks to me giving Frank what-for. It was long enough for me to pause in the fantasied glory and realise that … Mister Sell here could actually have been a little spectacled, fat kid himself, for all I knew …
Yes, perhaps he was … only he was probably a nice, well-adjusted fat kid now that I thought about it – if his toothy smile was anything to go by. He probably wasn’t the sort who holds life-long, hypocritical grudges against other kids. Not, like me. I felt silently shamed. All the righteous, innocent victim juju that I so love to brandish drained away.
“Oh” I thought to myself, “so it seems I’m like that!” I’m begrudging, pudgy dancer AND belligerent bully. I’m Frank’s angry interpretive dance in specs.
By the time I snapped back to reality Mister Grab-my-arm was standing there staring silently at me too.
Mortified, I bought 2 of his thingamajigs.
As I walked away with my plastic bag of guilt I realised that I had no idea what that poor man had even been saying. I wasn’t even certain about what, exactly, it was that I had bought 2 of. A few steps later I realised he could just have been an excellent salesman, and perhaps I’m not only the grudge-holding, spectacled, fat kid who is also the angry Frankenbully, but I just might be an idiot to boot.
I have both those items sitting on my desk here, still in their boxes and still swathed in my self-reproach. Two little reminders about righteousness. At any rate, I learned in that one interaction that I actually do experience personality clashes. There had clearly been personalities clashing everywhere that day. And all of those personalities were mine. Terrific.