Foreword: Feel free to skip this part, or read it after. This story is a bit of an odd duck, doesn’t quite feel like a whole story to me. It feels like it needs context. Sure, it’s only one scene, but I’ve got even shorter stories that feel like they’re complete, resolved. Thing is, how do you create context for what is essentially an act of emotional tourism? What would his personal life matter, if this just live entertainment for him? Maybe that guy really had an arc earlier or later in his life, but I struggle to see how this could be a part of it. It isn’t important enough for him.
OK, so I’m sitting by this guy on the bus right? He goes:
“There ain’t nothing in this world more important than yourself.”
This wasn’t the first time somebody sitting by me decided to start up a lecture, with me as the sole audience. I feel like you can’t call yourself a bus rider until you’ve had someone give you an uncalled-for diatribe. Sometimes the “lesson” is so poorly given and ineffectual that it’s fun to listen to, I mean, that’s the sadist in me speaking, but the sadist in me at least knows how to have a good time.
Anyway, like all diatribes, this one was obviously meant more for himself than it was for me. I could be a mannequin, and the guy’d get the same sort of ego-boosting-satisfaction. Or extreme regret, I had no idea, these people would always leave my life within the hour. People with their minds all chewed up with thoughts so powerful that they have to talk to total strangers gives away at least some degree of desperation, so I always listened politely. I’d hope for the same if I was in their mental state.
“Seriously, nothing at all.”
I tilted my head slightly, feigning a look of honest reflection.
“Cause when somebody fucks you over, any sacrifice you made for that person’ll just bite you square in the ass.”
There it was. There’s the pain point. Couldn’t stop myself from prodding further.
“Speaking from experience?” I asked.
He straightened up a bit at that, tilted his chin a bit like he was popping his neck. For a guy talking to a stranger, he was pretty defensive.
“Yeah.” He said, “But that doesn’t matter now. Water under the bridge.”
I nodded, not buying that for half a second.
“Had an ex a year ago,” I said, “she was cheating on me the whole damn time, so I guess I see what you mean.”
Not a real ex, by the way. Yeah, alright, it’s a bit sociopathic to feign tragedy, but you gotta grease the wheels if you want to get anywhere, and this guy came to me. I think I’m entitled to a bit of leeway.
“Damn, see? That is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. You just can’t be sure someone’s really on your side.”
On your side- not a relationship thing. Missed the mark there. Still, feel a little bit guilty manipulating a guy that’s complaining about being manipulated.
“Yeah, I guess.”
Gave the guy a chance to leave things, so he could believe he’d taught me something.
“It can happen anywhere, your personal life, your job, your-”
“Yeah. That’s what happened to me. A co-worker, one that I had trained, starts spreading a rumor that I’m stealing some inventory.”
“Hell no, she just starts bringing it up because there’s a transfer open at a location closer to both of our houses, and she knows I’d get it ‘cause of my seniority, you feel?”
“So she stirs up a bit of drama, what did you do about it?”
“I don’t hear about the damn rumor till after she’s gone. I went to her farewell party, shook her hand and shit, even pitch in on a gift with some of the guys- she never says a word to me.”
“Wow. Talk about cold.”
“Right? There’s a joint thing that’s happening tomorrow, so I’m gonna have to see her again. It’s messing up my nerves. I don’t know how I’m gonna get through the day without snapping.”
“You know what I’d do, I’d be as nice as can be- all smiles and rainbows to her.”
“Let her off scot-free?”
“No no no, let the guilt start building. If you’re lucky, she’ll confess spreading the rumor to you.”
“Huh? Well, I already pretty well know she did it. Kinda late for an apology anyway.”
“Right, that’s when you tell her you knew all along. Twist the knife, as it were. Let her know that you’re such a nice guy, all she would’ve had to do was ask. But don’t act buddy-buddy anymore after that, cut the conversation off. That does way more damage than an insult because this way she can’t rationalize some kind of high ground. Rips from the inside.”
“Wow, speak from experience?”
“Nope, just shooting the shit.”
“Damn. If that’s you when you’re not even trying, remind me not to get on your bad side.”
“Ah, that was just a bit of me having fun, playing the bad guy for a minute.”
“Nah, I get it. Helps with, uh, catharsis or whatever, right?”