Yesterday I almost beat my barber to death with a blow dryer. I held myself back because there’s no beer in prison, and because I suspected in some vague way that it might be wrong. I’ve known the fellow for years, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about movies, and his kids, and the weather, and semi-automatic pistols while he gave me a severe buzz-cut. I could have paid a chimp and gotten the same haircut, but he’s a good guy who reminds me of the guys I grew up with.
As my buddy trimmed my sideburns yesterday, he decided to talk politics. He further decided to expound about a jagged rainbow of social problems, and he did it with such malice that I felt sick. I might have yelled at him, or even punched him if he wasn’t holding a pair of scissors an inch from my jugular. Please note that I’m not saying which side of the debate he stood upon. I don’t want to talk about the issues. I want to talk about murder.
When he’d finished I said nothing. My dad always told me that no one ever changed somebody else’s mind about politics or religion by talking to them, so save your breath. I hurled a venomous glare at my former friend and hoped my 20 dollar bill gave him paper cuts. I took a distracted left out of the parking lot and cut off a dump truck. Then I drove around without a destination for an hour, wondering how someone I’d liked for so long could turn out to be such a spiteful, terrible person.
I don’t have a priest or minister to turn to when the universe has turned to crap and I don’t know how I’ll ever again relate to my fellow man, not even when I’m miserable because the universe is busy hiding cruelty from me like putrid Easter eggs. In these cases I turn to the wisest man I know, Fat Mike, the owner of Fat Mike’s Rib Shack. Seven blocks later I pulled into Fat Mike’s parking lot, right between a Christian bookstore and a head shop.
I found Mike preparing for the dinner rush, which meant he was sitting in a duct-taped executive chair with his bare feet up on the counter, a paper plate piled with ribs balanced on his round belly, and a red plastic cup of sweet tea in his hand. He waved the tea at me as I walked over, dribbling some barbeque sauce on his purple Hawaiian shirt, and he said, “Hey Bubba. Cheer up—you ain’t making decisions where people might die today, and nobody’s shooting at you. It’s a good day.”
That failed to cheer me up. I explained about my friend the barber and about my existential crisis, while Mike peeled a rib with his teeth. When I was done, he swallowed and said, “That’s a tough one, Bubba. I don’t have a great answer, but here’s what I do. Actually, what I do depends on how good I feel at the time. Now if I feel really bad, say I’m hung over, or doing my taxes, or my wife has locked me out of the house, I just say to hell with the bastards. I go ahead and hate them worse than diarrhea and just accept that there’s people in the world more useless than a monkey fart. Then I go on about my business.”
Mike pitched a denuded rib bone at a gray trash bin and missed. As the bone skidded into the corner, a yellow mongrel dog charged out from under the counter, snatched the bone, and trotted back under the counter out of sight. Mike said, “When I’m feeling better and everything’s all right, my car’s washed and my grass is mowed, I look at it different. I figure this is the world I’ve got and these are the people I’ve got, and I can’t change any of them. I might as well try to make something good out of sharing the planet with the miserable toe-suckers. I don’t let them stomp all over me, but lots of misery in my life has come from trying to change shit I can’t do anything about. Rib?” He held out a dripping beef rib, and I said no thanks.
Shrugging, Mike gnawed off some rib meat and chewed while he said, “When I’m feeling really good, like when I win a $50 scratch-off or find a station with real cheap gas, I figure that I don’t know what some vile turd’s life’s been like or how he got that way. Hell, I’ve got a nephew who’s a tumor of a man, a real cast iron ass-crack, but I remember him being a toddler, playing in my lap, a sweet kid. And I know how he got to be a louse. If I met some horrible asshole and knew him the way I know my nephew, I might look at him a little different—maybe.”
Mike stood and dumped the plate of rib bones in the trash, and I heard a whine from under the counter. Using a paper towel to wipe off each finger, Mike said, “When I feel great—I mean fantastic—like I’m headed to Disney World tomorrow, or my wife bought me a table saw for Christmas, I remind myself that I don’t know what that rancid piece of crap is thinking. For all I know, he may think I’m the nasty jerk, because he’s ignorant of stuff I know. And he knows things I don’t know. Hell, maybe I am the nasty jerk, and I don’t know it. Probably not, but it makes me stop and think before I condemn the guy to shovel shit in hell.”
“So there you go, Bubba. That’s how I handle it, from nasty to not quite as nasty,” Mike said as he strolled around the counter and put a hand on my shoulder. It almost felt fatherly until I realized he was steering me towards the door and out of his hair. As he pushed open the screen door for me he said, “And one last thing I guess. When I’m feeling honest, as opposed to feeling good, I have to admit that no matter what lousy crap that person has done, I’ve probably done just as bad at some point, if not the same dang thing.”
Mike let the door slam behind me, and he said through the rusty screen, “Or maybe I’ve done stuff even worse. How do you think I can stand to put up with you?”