I really dug his turban. And the beard, one of those long elegant face coverings, the kind usually associated with members of his religious group. He was, for some reason, fascinated by this sculpture in the airport. I, too, found the abstract public art fascinating.
We both were leaving from the same terminal, so we continued our chat as we slowly meandered with the hundreds of other passengers through the black crowd control ribbons, towards the security checkpoint. We talked about air pollution and overpopulation. We discussed religion, politics, all of those forbidden fruits one is supposed to ignore in the Garden of Polite Conversation.
It was a great distraction.
I noticed how the other travelers kept their distance from my temporary companion, how that old woman wearing that Star of David pendant clutched her handbag and muttered in Yiddish, how that old, bloated security officer tried to stare through him and kept his right hand down by his sidearm, his left hand on the screening station. I heard the whispered paranoia behind me, people afraid of bronze-colored men with turbans and beards.
I remember laughing at how downright silly the whole scene was, watching this poor man stumble over his words, trying to pretend that he wasn't aware of people's assumptions, the illusions of what evil dresses like, what it looks like, how it wears its beard.
I remember laughing when I realized that, well, how insane it is to travel in a country where 90 percent of the population never felt the need to learn the difference between a Sikh and that Saudi butcher they'd seen on TV.
I've never been able to figure out which is worse - the very real, very human reliance on rumor, legend, and stereotype to create perception or the very real, equally human reliance on perception to create rumors, legends, and stereotypes...
* * * *
I'm an observant bastard, downright scientific in how I approach my study of various terrain. I learned to track animals and cattle as a child. I know how to wait silently for hours on end in cold, camouflaged tree stands, carefully absorbing every broken twig and forest shadow, weapon in hand, ready for that respiratory pause when time stops, when prey becomes food.
As I grew older, even after I swore off hunting, I learned that that ability serves me well in all sorts of situations. Surveillance comes as naturally to me as breathing; I've learned, as Sun Tzu advocated centuries ago, that knowing one's terrain can mean the difference between victory and defeat in any situation.
One should always be aware of their surroundings, of who may be eavesdropping, of who may be waiting in dark alleys, of which hand an opponent favors in a fight, of the smell of certain foliage and substances, of the sounds of pain and joy, of the touch of that which may be considered unwelcome. One should always, too, accept that it is impossible to catch everything, understand that the obvious can sometimes leave one oblivious, that the universe is designed to leave every living thing imperfect in perception as to maintain its own divine, perfect cycles of creation and destruction.
Trust me, one can indeed contemplate such things at the most random times in life. Ask the soldier if he does not think such thoughts in combat and in peace, ask the murderer if he does not contemplate such things, the new mother while holding her child, the farmer who tends to his crops, the scientist who stares into an instrument and sees the building blocks of existence.
The key to this trick is to understand that life isn't simply what we make it; it's mostly how we choose to see it, to feel it, to interact and comprehend it...
* * * *
A friend of mine once needed to schedule an appointment with her gynecologist for a regular check-up. When she tried to make the appointment, she learned that her doctor was out of the country and was referred to another practitioner.
The doctor who examined her knew my friend was only a temp; he made random small talk during the examination.
At one point, he stopped when he noticed some tenderness in a certain area. The patient attempted to explain that, well, that was normal for her, that no, she hadn't been raped, and that Dr. X was aware of the repeated trauma. She even explained what she did for a living, figuring that might better explain the tenderness.
According to my friend's account, he left the room, asking her to get dressed, not to worry, and to wait for a few minutes. It was only while she was dressing that she noticed the Gideon Bible, the types of magazines in the examination room, the copy of a Left Behind novel. She noticed the inspirational framed posters on the wall, of kittens and nature scenes.
She waited for the doctor to return for an hour and a half. At first, she started to panic. Had the doctor discovered something that was overlooked three months prior? Did she catch something at work? Or in her personal life?
The doctor finally returned with a rather strange woman, squat and grandmotherly square, who didn't seem to be a nurse.
The guy had called a damned women's support group. Apparently, the doctor didn't believe her story. She'd obviously been raped. The vaginal trauma. The bruises around her neck. Evidence of some ungodly act of sodomy. And there was no way such a plain-spoken, mousy, intelligent person could work in the industry she claimed to work - didn't fit the psychological profile of those kind of performers.
Somewhere, in the Wild Kingdom of Too - Close - To - Goddamned - Disneyland Southern California, an adult entertainer had to waste three hours of her life, explaining to some counselor that some women actually enjoy a little pain mixed in with their sex acts, who can't get off without certain orifices explored or pressure applied to certain places. And that's just in her personal life.
By the way my friend explained it, the counselor at least tried to be undertanding and finally did believe her. And I think my friend got off on watching a squat, grandmotherly type squirm as she described various tricks of the trade to allow certain acts involving certain ...
Er... I'll spare you, dear reader, the details.
Some folks are Missionary For Five Minutes Get Off Me Go To Sleep people; some aren't. Three words to describe my friend's sexual appetite: Klingon Mating Ritual.
I can tell you that, contrary to what you may think, the No. 1 drugs abused by the adult performers I've met are acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
* * * *
Even an expert's perception can be distorted by the variable mistaken for the control, by the unwillingness to accept that one's worldview doth not equate with reality. Careful observation can lead to a good hypothesis, but sometimes skipping steps to reach a conclusion leads to nothing more than a handful of dogshit.
When patients storm out of an office, convinced that their fill-in doctor is some kind of Moral Majority nutcase or Sexual Liberation as Long as You Enjoy Sex Like "Normal" People Women's Rights supporter, one only hopes the practitioner in question took the time to realize that what one perceives, even as a professional, is often what one chooses to see, feel, or believe. There's no such thing as total objectivity.
* * * *
We're all biased. The choice we have, however, is to choose to hold our breath for that split second it takes to evaluate whether one is indeed aiming at a large buck ... or aiming at a toddler playing in the woods. Our aim in all things is dictated by more than our line-of-sight or our accuracy.
* * * *
In high school, I had a crush on this one girl for what seemed like an eternity. And though her slightly off stepsister had once threatened to castrate me (literally holding a hunting knife to my junk) if I tried to make a move, I asked J. out one Friday afternoon after getting out of detention.
After working up the courage to ask her out, the false bravado one needs to even approach a pretty girl, I was shot down horribly. A subtle letdown, but a horrible one. I wasn't her type. Her boyfriend was an All-District football player, she thought of me only as a friend, and she was busy all weekend.
I beat myself up that whole weekend. I wasn't cool enough, wasn't handsome enough, wasn't good enough. Smart girls don't want to go out with me, I remember thinking, because of my thuggish reputation, my punk-nerd-gone-terribly-wrong ways and my gun and, sometimes, machete-wielding friends.
That Saturday night, my friends and I drove to a buddy's house, watched cheesy slasher flicks and rocked out the basement with three-chord, Dropped-Dm Hardcore Punk and Hip-Hop. We drank loads of this magical, evil elixir called Thunderbird in between shots of SoCo, rolled up twenties and lines of prepack uncut driving friends' affluent prep school girlfriends to strip and do pretty much anything asked of them.
It was a wonderfully juvenile escape from the real world. I even remember screaming off a porch that my heartache wasn't really worth beating myself up.
That Monday, the sweet, innocent girl who'd rejected me was absent from class. I was disappointed when I didn't see her in French - I wanted to rub it in that, ha, her weekend couldn't top mine, that I didn't need her to return my puppy-love and...
And then I found out why she wasn't there. She'd been more than just busy.
My crush's stepsister, you see, the slightly off one, had gone to the father's gun cabinet, locked and loaded every weapon, and had emptied hundreds of cartridges into two sleeping parents.
I remember seeing the crime scene photos - there was barely enough left to fill one coffin, much less two. More pools of blue goo than flesh, more liquid than solid.
Semi-automatic weapons and shotguns tend to leave that kind of mess.
I was 15 or 16 at the time. Both women were a year older than me.
I woke up early this morning. I'd had a nightmare about the crush, about how she'd killed herself on a lonely overpass two years ago, about how a parole board had forgiven her but a community couldn't. I got up, got dressed, and went out for breakfast.
Three college students were trading horror stories about how their high school days at the diner. One girl had, like, been dumped right before prom and had to, like, go stag as prom queen. Another girl had, like, tried to kill herself because some cheerleading coach told her she'd, like, never be a captain of her cheer squad. The lone guy had been dumped at a My Chemical Romance concert because his girlfriend, like, didn't like his pot habit and wanted a straight edge guy.
I thought that their conversation was the silliest thing I'd ever heard. People grow up like that? I thought that only happened in, like, movies.
Perspective. All a matter of perspective. I'm sure their observations and experiences are just as real and painful as mine, but, well, it's easy to find certain things funny when you have very few such things in your line-of-sight...
Exhale, hold, aim, squeeze, inhale. Just like hunting. Remember to adjust for the differences between different human beings, the individual that makes the collective, before making a judgment. Observe the surroundings. Take in as much information as possible.
It may have hurt as much to be the single prom queen or the suicidal cheerleader. Who knows? No point in judging something as silly or serious. To each their own.
* * * *
And someone once asked me why I thought Catcher in the Fucking Rye was a comedy the first time I read it. I had no idea that people took Salinger's work as something deep, meaningful, a representation of high school rebellion and chaos.
Again, perspective. I have no bearing by which to guide my observations.
The person who asked, at a cocktail party, was downright offended that I'd dare laugh at one of the most important novels of the 20th century. This person went on for 20 minutes about how the book had changed their life, how they had felt liberated by the experience, how they were able to relate to the apathy of Holden Caulfield.
And then I explained my high school crush, her suicide, and the image of her parents' mutilated, bullet-ridden carcasses burned into my brain, in graphic detail. Since this guy felt the need to waste 20 minutes of my life, I felt he owed me 20 minutes.
It's funny what makes some folks puke. I guess some people can't take literary criticism well.
Is the ink on that overpriced Ivy parchment in your office printed in angel dust, or did you really think people like me would never find their way into your sheltered world, that we only exist in John Singleton films?
I'm glad I tied to read Salinger as an adult. I still think it's pretty boring. Of course, I have no frame of reference to understand such a book. Where I grew up, somebody probably would've jacked that whiny bitch Holden. Hell, I was too busy getting stabbed and watching friends getting shot at to worry about existential explorations of some dreamworld.
Perception is, I guess, nine-tenths of one's accepted reality. Some people puke up watered-down booze and petits fours at the idea of nonfiction murder; some think Saint J.D. wrote one hell of a silly book.
I have no idea why, but that guy at the cocktail party never called to invite me to dinner. Or to hear stories of his time living in this hostel in Paris, how he'd tried cocaine but never inhaled, the time he'd been captain of his crew team, and that trip to Greece that his parents paid for after he'd defended his dissertation.
I guess he was scared I'd rub off. New perspectives tend to do that. Or maybe it was the cowboy boots. They didn't seem to fit in at the cocktail party.
Or maybe he finally figured out that I had sized him up, through careful observation and analysis, that I'd chose to choose one of my more brutal experiences as both a reality-check and a conversation-ender, a strategically placed reminder that not everyone with terminal degrees in their field grew up the same way?
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...and there's always some Shadow lurking somewhere.
Exhale, hold, aim, squeeze, inhale. And choose your targets very carefully.
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