We’ve all dealt with assholes, and I mean the metaphorical sort, not the anatomical aperture. Most of us have, intentionally but often unwittingly, been one at various times. Some parts of the world are unquestionably home to a higher proportion of obnoxious, rude, or just plain dismal people than others, with most of these cities being, in my experience, in the northeastern U.S. It’s sort of the Asshole Belt. I love the big city in whose far outskirts I grew up, but I won’t pretend that Boston, or large swaths of it, isn’t a teeming display of drunken, racist louts who in the main would rather see the Red Sox beat the Yankees than save the life of a randomly selected newborn baby.
Yet the sneering, overt assholism of Boston, along with New York, Philadelphia, the entire New Jersey Turnpike, and many proud communities I’ve omitted for want of an attention span, if nothing else leaves no room for mystery. If a guy reeking of Budweiser and a series of poor life decisions tells you to get the fuck out of his way because he’s late for his flight, you may wish ill on him and hope that either he misses his plane or it crashes into the ocean en route to whatever asshole-peppered destination he hopes to reach, but you won’t scratch your head over why he acted as he did. He’s just one more person who unabashedly takes out the stressful comings and goings of his life on total strangers, and in some ways it’s even easy to root for him, the thing about the plane crash notwithstanding.
Here in my adopted hometown of Boulder, Colorado, people are, at least on the surface, generally very friendly. As a rule they are educated, fit, well off and from somewhere else. When you think for a few moments about this, you realize that this is a perfect storm for engendering high-caliber assholism: There’s no real accountability to one’s neighbors or the town as a whole, you think that keeping your 10K time close to 40 minutes at age 40 renders your shit odorless, and you’re happy to propound the implicit idea that your advanced degree from a first- or second-rate institution renders you an expert on all matters scientific, political and psychosocial.
Viewed in this way, the citizenry’s friendliness is plainly revealed to be nothing more than ingratiation. Rather than seek out conflict with strangers when the potential for a fracas arises in some way, your average Boulderite smoothly attempts to disarm you with a powerful admixture of bonhomie, entitlement, and bullshit.
This surely sounds very abstract and after many paragraphs I’ve said nothing you can hang your hat on, so I’ll give an example. I was seated recently in the cafe area of a King Soopers grocery store that houses a Starbucks. I occupied one of two comfortable easy chairs, while the other was empty. A small table sits between the two chairs so that patrons can place things like coffee cups, newspapers and cell phones within easy reach. I had done just this, minus the newspaper. Presently a gentleman about my age sat down and signaled me to get my attention (I had headphones on). I turned to him and smiled. He smiled back. He asked, pointing to the table, “Is that your phone?” I told him that it was. He said, “You might want to move it because my son will be sitting here in a few minutes and will want to put his food there. Just giving you a heads-up!”
He said all of this as cheerfully as if he’d complimented me on the shirt I was wearing. And I nodded back, still smiling as well, and slid the phone a few inches closer to “my” end of the table to close the transaction. But I was nonplussed. A number of impressions and questions immediately jumped to the fore of my conscious and ominously judgmental mind. Is this guy, who hadn’t bought anything, really going to sit there and hold a seat in a watered-down but high-occupancy Starbucks for his kid? Would it have been a tragedy to wait until the kid actually arrived to submit requests regarding my phone? And perhaps most important, was the kid himself incapable of asking a stranger to create a little room for his meal? Just how old was this lad?
As it turned out, the kid was about 15 and armed with a tray of boneless chicken parts and when he arrived he and his daddy smoothly traded places. They exchanged a few words — I couldn’t be bothered to listen closely enough to know what was said — and then daddy left, leaving his benign-enough looking progeny to sit and consume what may or may not have been a Boulder-certified (organic, gluten-free, overpriced, locally grown or raised) repast.
This is the kind of assholism that’s difficult to combat. It’s oily, slippery, elusive. No one tells you to go suck a body part or gives you the finger. Passive-aggressive tactics are far and away the preferred ordnance in any conflict. Why honk or shout from you vehicle when you can just tailgate and cut someone off instead? Why make threatening gestures from the safety of your vehicle when you can just stare straight ahead and let your animated cell-phone conversation at 45 mph serve as notice that you stone cold don’t give a shit about other drivers?
People like to take shots at Whole Foods customers and rightly so, but this is as limited in scope as it is facile. Jovially adversarial and cheerfully obnoxious people are as much a fixture here as the Flatirons and just as visible. One more story should cement this for you:
I was doing some writing at the Baseline Whole Foods a little over a year ago, and had plugged my laptop power cord into the only outlet serving the modest strip of tables in that part of the store (which has since expanded considerably). I was the only customer seated at any of these tables. Erelong, some guy wandered in carrying a radio and immediately began shooting me troubled looks. That’s the best way I can put it: not angry, disgusted, fearful or cold — just troubled. He left and returned a few minutes later with a chair and an extension cord. He told me that he did chair massage for his clients several times a week and needed an outlet so he could plug in his radio during his sessions. He did offer with a dour expression to use the extension cord and plug himself into an outlet a ways down the wall from where I was sitting (his expression when he said this suggested that he’d just offered to dunk his freshly shaved nuts in a bucket of hydrogen peroxide but really hoped to avoid it) if I didn’t want to move, but — and this was the kicker — he added, “I’ve been coming here for quite a few years.”
Really. So he’s been coming and using a place of business for a long time to carry on his own business, presumably without giving Whole Foods a penny for this dubious arrangement. That he was charging money for something only an idiot would pay for was beside the point; he clearly expected me to cede my seat because he had seniority. I relished the idea of inviting him to go fuck himself but as it happened I had somewhere to be in about 30 minutes anyway, so I just left. I still see him there and elsewhere and am quietly plotting some kind of passive-aggressive form of revenge, such as hiring him and then showing up having not taken a shower or wiped my ass for a couple of weeks.
The whole milieu really is odd. Maybe it’s what each of us is raised around that matters, but somehow, assholes who beat around the bush, or strive to justify their assholery, are a lot more noisome than the straight-shooter strain of douchebag.