Friday, February 5, 2010

Dealing with People

With the exception of you of course, most readers of Der Viator fall into a certain category. I’ve been told that both adults with a college education and twelve-year-old boys tune into this site on a regular basis, the former perhaps hoping for some historical insights and the latter searching for scatological references. (Sometimes I can satisfy both readers in one fell swoop when I discuss, say, Martin Luther’s "theological" breakthrough while he was sitting in cloaca.) But I’m talking about a different type of reader altogether, one who could use some guidance, a person finding the obstacles of life sometimes too difficult to negotiate. For this reason I’ve culled a number of experiences from my checkered life to share with you, the purpose of which is to give you some self-confidence and peace of mind. Consider my advice the Cliff Notes for that fat and unreadable novel called Dealing with People.

First off, a handy technique when people ask you something dumb is to turn the question around on them. They won't know what to do or they'll quickly realize their mistake in having posed the question in the first place. For instance, let's say you're urinating on someone's rosebushes in the middle of the night because after the bar closed at 2 you and your buddies decided to talk about girls and tattoos in the parking lot. Finding no restroom in sight and not wanting to unleash the beast in a lit area that has cameras peering down from light posts, you walk down the street. Out of nowhere the owner of the property comes up to you in flagrante delicto and barks in a meanish tone, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" With an authoritative voice you respond quickly, "Doing you're think you do heck the what?!" And you look the crazy old man in the eyes with all earnestness. You see? Turning the question back on people will make them think, and your assertiveness also leaves an impression. You're sort of forcing them to come to terms with with their idiocy, yet in a gentle way that makes them reflect on their untoward behavior.

I'll give you a couple more examples just for good measure. You open your apartment door just enough to see your ugly upstairs neighbor losing his cool.  His pounding on the door bestirred your tranquil soul and interrupted your delicious read of Poe's The Cask of Amontillado over chamomile tea.  "Will you turn down that frickin' music," he bellows.  "It's past midnight!" Only fleetingly do you consider leading him to the basement, chastising his audacity with a crowbar to the skull, and walling up his corpse brick by brick in that hollowed-out area next to your storage space.  But you come to your senses and instead respond thus: "Midnight past it's, music that down turn please you will!"  Final example.  Your A-hole of a boss spews his usual crap: "Look, if you can't get to work on time, you might as well not come in!" You take a sip from your Starbucks cinnamon dolce latte and retort: "Time on work to get, can't you!" Now, I should explain that it took me years to develop this ability and it's paid off in at least three encounters in my life; as it turns out, the three examples I gave above were those instances.  I practiced everyday as a kid in my bedroom, listening to myself played backwards on a tape recorder over and over and over.  Who needed sports or the glee club or a girlfriend?  I kept myself busy enough.

Another way to deal with rude people is to shower them with compliments. You'll either throw them off guard or win them over with your mellifluous words.  Here’s one example. Last week I stopped at an Interstate rest area to freshen up before I was to teach a class at a satellite campus up north.  (Readers will recall that I'm a part-time itinerant instructor for "Hexington College.")  A guy walked in as I was shaving and made a comment about my patriotic toiletry bag that I had hung over the liquid soap dispenser. While I’m not unpatriotic, I bought it at Walmart because it was on sale, not especially because of the stars and stripes all over it. Anyway, as the guy was making his way to the urinals and already reaching for his zipper, he said: “Proud of your country, huh?” Sensing a tone in his voice and anyway not appreciative of an unsolicited comment from a stranger regardless of attitude, I immediately gave him a compliment. “Wow! What acute observational skills you have?” He didn’t seem to understand that I was paying him a compliment or perhaps he didn’t hear me correctly. So I gave him some more positive feedback, hoping to get a smile of appreciation. “I really appreciate your comment. That was so nice of you to direct your attention my way.”  I think I scared him a little.

Okay, I concede that I can be a bit caustic, but sarcasm is also a handy tool in dealing with people.  There are different schools of thought on sarcasm.  The hoi polloi practioners of sarcasm like to be obvious about it.  Yes, it's important for them that the person to whom the sarcasm is directed, as well as any third party who might overhear such sarcasm, have no doubt about their light-hearted mockery.  These people probably have bumper stickers on their car; they're compelled to let others know their partisan bias.  I'm a different beast.  I prefer the butt of my ridicule not to know I’m being sarcastic, not so much because I don't want them to feel the pangs of ridicule but because it requires greater skill.  I enjoy the challenge of serving up a sarcastic comment that is far-reaching as an insult and yet the intended target is clueless.  I like living on a razor's edge.  Yes, I prefer hardcore mockery, however subtle, over "light-hearted" versions.

What I call "impromptu script-writing" can also provide a helpful strategy in dealing with those pesky homo sapiens. Here's how it works. When someone is getting into your business, start up a conversation with the individual. The only catch is that you're doing all the talking.  That is, you supply the person's responses and counter-responses to everthing you say and in the process portray the person as unreasonable or arrogant.  Honestly, I've never used this technique to ward off people; I've employed it thus far as a defense mechanism with my wife. "Why do you always buy creamy peanut butter when you know I like the crunchy? How long have we been married?" Now, just before my wife can get a word in edgewise, I make a preemptive strike and answer for her. "Look, how am I supposed to remember all these things, huh? Why don't you go to the grocery store and get what you want? You're acting so ridiculous right now!" My wife often has a bemused and disgusted look on her face as I engage in these constructed dialogues.  She's not particularly keen on my impromptu script, especially when I go on and on for minutes.  Anyway, trying this tactic on rude people you meet is worth a try.

I would like to close this blog entry with yet one more tactic in dealing with people.  I don’t want to overstep the bounds of propriety, but this last piece of advice tips into the scatological, I'm afraid.  (Besides, I have an obligation to the aforementioned 12-year-old readers of this blog.)  However, for the present purposes of providing helpful counsel to readers, I’m about to employ a word that I’ve virtually banished from this blog. If someone around you is being stupid, emit foul gaseous waste from your rectum, that is to say, fart. Why? It speaks volumes and make many points in an instant: The stench reminds the person that life can be unpleasant. It puts things into perspective. The initial sound of the fart in a public place resounds like a shock wave and immediately grabs their attention. A Norwegian proverb has it that farts are man's best friend because it reminds him of his mortality and it takes him off his high horse, something even human friends don't always do. It doesn't matter if you're a prince or pauper, a corporate executive or swing shift manager at Popeyes Chicken, we're all just an anus on legs spewing filth and making life difficult for others.  Besides, while some aspire to be the smartest guy in the room, I usually want to be the only guy in the room.  Farting, as it turns out, can achieve this objective.

If all else fails, you can try one more last-ditch effort to ward off rude people around you.  If someone causes you grief, start eating your own feces. Yes, feces--and make sure it's (they're?) your own.  It will totally throw them off. They'll usually leave you alone at the spectacle of you stuffing your face with excrement. This isn't for everyone. I myself haven't worked up the courage yet, but that doesn't mean it won't work.  It's all about timing and opportunity.