The Life & Loves of a Failed Misanthrope # 2
Drummer Bob came in again yesterday. I noticed he had shaved.
He said, “At least it’s not raining” in his glum tone of voice. Then he added, “I probably shouldn’t say that. That’s all I need is rain.”
I suggested he get an umbrella. Bob never wears a hat and he is generally under or over-dressed for the weather, then complains about it. He said he had never owned an umbrella.
In a flash, I realized who Bob reminded me of. He was Eeyore!
He said he just woken up and then explained that someone had given him some hash to help him sleep and it had knocked him out. He took out the hash and showed it to me. I was surprised when he said it was legal now since, as far as I know, in the US hash is a class-A drug.
A little later Sharon came in. Sharon (not her real name) is a certain female physical type that seem to almost come from the same split egg: small, wiry, and prematurely aged, probably from drug, alcohol, and tobacco abuse. These wiry women—who range fromtheir twenties to their sixties—all tend to have similar faces and hair as well, always died, often changing colors (Sharon has recently gone from blonde to brunette). They are jittery and loud and love to shop.
Sharon looks like she is in her mid-fifties but could be ten years younger. In the past, she has been over-friendly with me, in a way that almost guarantees I don’t want to be her friend. She tries too hard. “Hello my love, how are you today?” she used to say, then ask me how “the book” was going, even though I knew she had no idea what book I was working on, or even if I was (often even I don’t know). I would try to force the words out, one at a time, hoping that some enthusiasm and ease would eventually creep into my voice. But usually it didn’t.
Sharon would try too damned hard. I know that when people are just talking to try and feel at ease, I find it hard to cooperate, because their efforts make me feel not-at-ease, so that’s what I convey back to them. I am learning that the best approach is to ignore these attempts and initiate my own—to ask them about themselves and take charge of the exchange that way, rather than being on the defensive.
From these previous encounters, Sharon has picked up that I don’t “like” her (i.e., her gratingly ingratiating manner). She has stopped asking me how I am or about my writing. So this time I asked her how she was. Since I knew she hears voices, I asked her about that.
Sharon told me she has been hearing voices for 54 months now, without stop.
“Right now?” I said.
She said she was but she’d have to tune in to hear them because of all the surrounding noise. Sometimes, she said, they come from the dead. Sometimes they come from the living. She mentioned hearing the voice of a Native woman who went missing a few months back and is presumed dead. She said that she is prisoner in someone’s basement. Sharon also believes that at least some of the voices are being electronically induced.
Many of our customers are clearly crazy, but Sharon isn’t one of them, so when she talks about these things I listen. There isn’t a great deal that I can say in response, however. Her problem is outside my jurisdiction as thrift store owner. I could suggest she read Prisoner of Infinity, but since it’s on display right next to her and my wife has certainly told her about it, it would seem to be over-selling myself.
I told her about a movie I’d just seen, Mad to be Normal, about R. D. Laing. In it, there is a character who hears voices that tell him to do things and he obeys just to keep them quiet. This character spent five years counting to a million to satisfy one voice.
Sharon said her voices tell her to do things too, such as quit smoking. “Oh,” I said, “so you have angelic voices too?” She didn’t seem to want to consider it might be good advice. She said none of them were friendly.
She went to look through the women’s blouses then, leaving her purse on the counter. A friend of hers shouted to her. Sharon came back and said she was always forgetting things. I suggested she could train her voices to remind her when she did, hoping it wasn’t in bad taste. She said they sometimes did.
That was yesterday. Today was garbage day. The stuff that piles up in the store is literally never-ending, and garbage day is the only day that, for a few hours, the store seems tidy and more or less under control. It’s the same day the Harvest Church picks up all the excess clothing we have bagged up for them; they have a free store and apparently they also send stuff to Central America.
We have been told that as of next week we can no longer use blue recycling bags but have to use plastic recycling bins. Probably the idea is to reduce the manufacture of plastic, or maybe it’s a scam so people have to buy special recycling bins. The most likely result is that people—including us—will start using black garbage bags instead, meaning it won’t go to recycling but to the dump along with everything else. Progress strikes again.
I managed to get a whole load of bags filled with all the unsightly stuff that had been lying around too long. I put them on the street corner, having to make my way around the customers every time. There was an even more massive pile than usual for the truck to pick up. Our garbage belongs to the whole town. I am the town garbage man. An honorable station, with no perks or status, like being a shaman: no one in his right mind would ask for it.
That reminds me, a raven came to our doorstep yesterday morning. I said to my wife, “Somebody must have died.” So far no word on that. Maybe he was coming for Halloween and got the day wrong?
Another thing about customers is they have an almost mysterious ability to place themselves wherever I need to be, or between me and where I need to be, at the precise moment I need to be there. Of course, I know that they are there to shop, and I am there to keep the space in order so they can shop. So we are on the same side and my annoyance is illegitimate, unjustified, and irrational.
But the false self doesn’t listen to reason (except its own). It is always under siege; its door is never open, even when the sign says it is.
As anyone reading this can tell, I am divided. I am at the thrift store to sell stuff to customers and make money, but it’s not only, or even primarily, about money. It’s a way to connect to my fellow soul-beings and uncover a little more of what it is to be human. But the constructed identity—being a system of defense—always puts itself forward first. It needs to feel needed. And what it encounters, perceives, is an endless stream of stupid, desperate, oblivious humans. This perception becomes like a force field around me, keeping the world at bay—and also other souls.
This force field isn’t really who or what I am. It very rarely relates to any reality, or to any specific person or soul in the space, only to the idea of a “consumer throng”—a “humanity” in general.
The moment someone approaches me, is suddenly standing there in front of me, the hostility (generally, though not always) vanishes and something else comes to the fore, often as not without my conscious volition or desire.
There is a soul-to-soul encounter, vanishingly brief and fleeting, even quite trivial. Eyes meeting across an abyss, the wide open face of a smile that I know, each time, exactly mirrors whatever I am transmitting. The warmer the smile that comes back at me, the more I feel my own warmth emanating outward, and vice versa.
I—or that inner smile that can’t be kept under wraps—is communicating what (I feel) the soul before me most needs to receive: that they are loved and appreciated, not judged or condemned (as they may have been feeling when they were in my way). That I am enjoying their presence in that moment, unexpectedly; that in a strange way, I am unable not to enjoy it. Because they are my species.
This is a love that cannot be denied, contained, suppressed, sublimated or strangled because it expresses our true natures, the part of us that comes through, no matter how hard we try to stifle or distort it (and I certainly try).
When I tried to describe this to my wife, she said she doubted if many people felt like they had two or three loving encounters in any given day. That gave me pause.
Maybe the treasure is right in front of me and I am not seeing it? Maybe I am getting to meet “humanity” one soul at a time, to exchange deep love and understanding in the most general, nonspecific sense of, Here is a soul who is suffering and needs to feel loved and accepted for who they are? Maybe this is how, little by little, I am discovering my own humanity, which is to say, the soul of me that connects to every other soul out there, living or dead?
And the false self misanthrope, meanwhile, which I suspect is the only aspect of the soul that can despise, is gradually being sandpapered into non-existence, by the endlessly abrasive environment of unwanted soul to soul encounters?
Death by a thousand smiles . . . .