A few weeks ago, at the coffee cart where I get my coffee every morning, an elderly man in a wheelchair sat hunched over a pool of newly vomited milk. I presumed, as I still do, that he just had milk—or, possibly but unlikely, an au lait or latte, both French concoctions incorporating a lot of milk—as it was virginal white. There were a few chunks of residual breakfast, nothing to be stunned about. The elderly man looked like Irving Zisman, Johnny Knoxville’s old man character in Jackass, so for two seconds the possibility of being pranked inhabited me. A closer look established that it wasn’t Knoxville under a mask, but a depleted old man under the mask of skin, his skull scurrying from within towards the slit of death. An elderly woman tasked with driving the wheelchair, who shall herein be presumed to be his wife, looked both saddened, horrified, and irritated, if such a lifemask of competing feelings may exist. Now enter their dog, laxly leashed to one of the wheelchair’s handles, who knew in its canine intuition that something bad had happened, but simply could not resist abashedly lapping up the warm vomited milk splattered on the ground with Pollockian vigor. Art may indeed be the snapshot of pure abandon. This dog too looked sad, and so I was met, gladdened even, with six sad eyes, each set poking out the costume of being alive, bracing this earth, its spin so slow, sauntering shadows seem to never move. And so I moved for them, and walked away.
One quiet afternoon during the summer of ‘94, just a few months before I would leave for college, my father found a large pile of dog shit, slightly diarrhetic in form, on our lawn. We lived on the corner of a cul-de-sac and received a lot of foot traffic, which one could reasonably correlate with being consistently dog shitted on. I was in the backyard digging holes for plants, per my father’s fierce instruction, when I heard him scream sabotage! in his paranoia that these dog shits were intentional. Being “oriental” in an opulent white neighborhood, as irrational and small as this sounds, informed such intuitions of distorted perception. There was a part of me that wondered if we were indeed victims of a hate crime. My father asked me to come over and take the shit from his hands, which he had inexplicably picked up. It looked like Tikka Masala. I refused. He said I was just like my mother.
On January 28, 1994, Beastie Boys released “Sabotage,” the first single off their album Ill Communication. The video (an homage and/or parody of ’70s crime television) was directed by Spike Jonze, received a lot of air time on MTV, and partially conceived the ironic-douche brand. I doubt my father ever heard the song, so it is merely serendipitous that he chose that one word to convey all his complicated feelings that afternoon. Here, he said, still holding out the shit for me. I can’t stand it, I know you planned it, I mockingly replied, knowing he wouldn’t get the reference. You could say my father and I endure ill communication. You’re just like your mother, afraid to get your hands dirty. The conversation sort of tailed off, as I walked away to finish digging holes for saplings which are now enormous trees, their staunch roots dug deep in place of faith, as if holding on to anything.
In the past, whenever I was called an “asshole,” by exes or friends during their sincerest moments of non-rhetorical pity, I would silently disagree, with a kind of austere righteousness common in religious people. Today, at Safeway, I had a series of thoughts which made me realize that I have an asshole in me; that is to say, while I am not a “full blown” asshole at large, my personality suffers so. I was in the check-out line and noticed that the man in front of me had deformed hands. He took longer than usual in placing his items on the belt, and I found myself becoming very impatient. He was likely a veteran, and though I appreciate his contributing to our national well-being in a war in which he injured his hands, I simply wished that he existed elsewhere, in another line, that our fates had only intersected at my freedom. Behind me, a black woman was trying to contain her five kids (aged between 2 months and 14 years) with a verbal ebullience and decibel level common to her race. When I saw her holding food stamps, I sarcastically thought “fucking awesome,” imagining how nice it would be if the government paid for my food as well. “You’re welcome,” I thought, playing back years of income, property, and sales tax stripped from under me by a faggy socialist state. The eldest child, the 14-year-old, caught my gaze and lowered his eyes in embarrassment. I felt like an asshole when I saw how modest, how sad, their items were: milk, bread, eggs, and cheese. Meanwhile, our cashier here had a speech impediment, which I attributed to some mental retardation. “This is exactly why I shop at Whole Foods and not Safeway,” I thought, the latter being of more ghetto patronage. Outside, last night’s sticky piss turns rancid under the sun. The slurring cashier, perhaps over-compensating his cognitive deficiency with an attempt at some personality, engaged the deformed veteran with trite small talk about ham, which really fucking pissed me off. Why does this woman keep having children? Has she not heard of condoms or a calculator? What kind of grocery store hires retards? Did this man enjoy killing gooks in delusional patriotism? Karma is lovely. I found myself trapped in such thoughts, in the hell within myself convinced it was America, eyeing the wine and popcorn shrimp that I laid on the conveyor belt, now approaching their ultimate purchase. I swiped my card with ease, went home, and finished the wine and popcorn shrimp naked the way an asshole might do so alone on a Saturday while watching the entire third season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, whose asshole-y protagonist gets zero critique from me. I graciously laugh with him, never at him. I only hope you do the same. Thank you.