Schadenfreude (Part 1)


My first instinct was that the fellow was full of shit, and, using all the tact and diplomacy instilled in me by my classical university education, I expressed to him my opinion.

‘You’re full of shit.’

He smiled the smile of one who smokes too much and brushes too little.

‘You’re definitely right about that. However, with respect to the matter at hand, my experience is without parallel. You’ll soon find out that out here, in the real world, all we have are our smiles and our cries. And you, my young friend, have just been had.”

Drugs are a wonderful thing, and while I was definitely on them at that time, I still had enough cognitive ability to determine that this man was a few cents short of a dollar. Nevertheless, the confidence with which he had delivered his imprecation cast a rather sinister vibe over what had been a pleasant evening. By the time he was done laughing at a joke that he seemingly had told himself in his mind, my friend came back from across the street, from where he had been trying to coerce the fried noodles vendor into letting us “try before we buy”.

“The man lacks business sense”, uttered my friend. “Hey, who’s this clown?”

The old man’s face lit up at the mention of what was apparently his professional title.

“The name’s Alvarez, young shrew. I’m a wandering merchant, writer, poet, and sorcerer. I make a living on making other people’s living much less liveable. I also enjoy fucking with people. Take your friend here. You know him, as I now do. A charming young chap, full of energy, with the momentum and fury of a twentysomething who thinks the world is at his feet. He takes important things for granted, and underestimates those around him. And I just cast a spell on him.”

My friend and I also enjoyed fucking with people, and since the night had been rather dull, I smiled to Joey so as to communicate to him that we should let this fool continue.

“And which infernal beast’s powers did you unleash upon me, again?” I asked

“Your smartassery betrays a certain nervousness, friendo. You know what I told you, but for the benefit of your buddy, I shall repeat myself: You, sir, will never laugh again. I have taken from you the gift of laughter. You will smile, you will smirk, you may even tee-hee. But as the Devil is my witness, your days of laughing are over.”

Joey, who, while an all-around great guy, was never too sharp in the wit department, staged a valiant effort to prove him wrong.

“I don’t know, man. Your face is pretty funny, it kind of makes me feel like laughing. Right, T?”

My laugh sounded forced, but I chalked that up to the fact that the comeback was not particularly funny. Joey went with it, though, as a good friend should, and told the old man that that was that and that he had best now shut the fuck up. The conversation had definitely run its course, and I was of the same opinion: we had to ditch this buffoon and get back to our evening.

As we strutted through the streets of our fair town, bored and without women, I found myself pondering the unthinkable: what if such a thing was possible? Were curses real? If so, as curses go, I reasoned I had gotten off rather lightly. He could’ve cursed me with a limp dick for the rest of my days, or an inability to smell anything other than shit. Internally, I scoffed at the strangeness of the encounter, replaying it over and over and trying to put back together the train of thought that had led to him deciding that this was a suitable punishment, for a transgression I was not aware I had committed. The night drew to a close, and my friend and I uttered the standard drunken proclamation of friendship and loyalty, and before I knew it, I was dozing away in a deep and dreamless sleep.


After a few rounds of peekaboo with my alarm clock the following morning, I woke up, feeling not unusually shitty. Go-time: my job wasn’t going to do itself, after all. Of course, one of the literally thousands of other people with the same functions and training as I would probably do it, but since I have expensive habits, such as wearing shoes, and refrigerating my food, I needed that sweet coinage. As I left through the apartment lobby, my nostrils were greeted by the usual potpourri of Indian food and potatoes which seems to have been built into the walls of this building. I reflected on whether or not it was racist to discriminate against a particular ethnic group’s food. Do stereotypes still apply to eats?

The bus provided me with basically the same conundrum. Here’s a fun game next time you’re on a rush-hour bus and are bored: try to figure out who’s holding the smelly lunch. Public transit offers a plethora of such fun activities, and is also good for those of us inclined to people-watch. The scene that day was fairly average. There were a few high school girls seated in the corner, from which I had to avert my gaze lest my spidey sense start tingling. An old man, seated in the designated old man seat at the front of the bus, cane in hand and doing that thing old people do where they move their mouths even though they’re clearly not eating anything. An assortment of my fellow Gen Y-ers, each trying to bury himself deeper in distractions, and a pretty, slightly hipster-like girl reading Wuthering Heights, which you may recognize as the thinking lady’s Fifty Shades of Grey. The only moment of note was when another old man, who was standing, fell on his ass after what can only be an Asian lady driving an SUV cut off the bus right before an intersection. The seated old man laughed wholeheartedly at him, which I found to be in poor taste. He got his comeuppance when he dropped his cane and fell from his perch trying to reach it, which elicited a counter-laughter from Geezer II. Again, a lack of grace, but under the circumstances, I could see why.

Work greeted me with the usual cacophony of ringing phones and bits and pieces of the conversations I would soon be having myself with the dear patrons of the institution I work at. Newspaper in hand, and not nearly enough caffeine in my veins, I hunkered down and readied myself for the blitz of monotony that was heading my way. There were days where I felt I was in some kind of corporate version of trench warfare, manning my machine gun and holding the line against the onslaught of often monotonous, usually dim-witted, and always easily accomplishable requests that were thrown my way. Don’t misunderstand: I’ve never been one to disparage my work, and it certainly is challenging. The thing is, once you’ve done it for a few months, it becomes challenging in the same way as taking ten shots to the nuts in a row is challenging. It’s a question of endurance, and patience. Job ain’t got shit on those who do what I do, and yes, that’s a Biblical reference, for all the heathens in the house.

The seconds turn into minutes, the minutes into hours, and the hours back into seconds. My boss comes around to tell me I’m doing okay work today, then to tell me I’m sucking ass, then back again to tell me I’m rocking it. Apparently I’m good at this, which I suppose is a good thing. Today is a doozy, though: we’re in the shit alright. The enemy has secured a number of complaints, and is lobbing them at a ferocious pace at our already decimated line. My cubicle-mates are falling on all sides; I can hear the shouts of dissatisfied customers blasting out of their headsets. We’re getting flanked, my connection to the printer is blacking out: it’s all I can do to hold my position, firing out service requests and updating profiles as fast as my 90’s-era PC’s will allow. The enemy charges the line: somebody forgot to mail out some updated info. All hell is breaking loose, I’m running out of ammo. Affix bayonets, give’em the steel. I repel the assault, exhausted and on the verge of breaking. And then, just as the last ounce of hope leaves my carpal-tunneled body, lunchtime comes around.

Fortunately, the weather still permits me to eat outside, and I have found a bench which is most pleasant. To be honest, I go there for the tourists. I’m entertained by their entertainment, and I especially enjoy watching the Asian tourists get up in there with their cameras. I’ve been to photoshoots where less time was dedicated to a shot, and here they are snapping up a pigeon picking at a Junior McChicken wrapper, like some kind of modern-day Mona Lisa. The pigeons themselves, bobbing their heads around like assholes and trying to chew on cigarette butts are also a source of enjoyment in their own right, but I suppose that’s just the kid in me. I swallow my ham-and-nothing-else sandwich, and quicker than you can say “indigestion”, it was time to parachute back into ‘Nam.

Another day, another dollar, as the saying goes, and as I type away distractedly, I cannot help but notice Striped-Dress Girl by the water cooler, being chatted up by some dude. That loveliest of girls, whom I dubbed Striped-Dress Girl (or SDG) in honor of what she was wearing the day she dropped out of heaven and into the cubicle a few rows down from mine, was standing idly, being chatted up by some guy with too much gel for what hair he had. I activated auto-pilot, agreeing with whatever the hell the vendor I was currently on the phone with was mumbling about, and observed the interaction.

The only thing better than watching a fellow man spit tremendous game at a pretty girl, is watching one perform poorly, and this was definitely a shining example of the latter. Though I could not hear what was being said, SDG’s body language was that of someone who would rather be anywhere but where she was. Gel-Man continued his posturing, oblivious to, well, everything. Supremely confident in what I assumed was whatever shit he had recently purchased and was bragging about, he seemed to be busting out the big guns. He was bombarding her with words, barely giving her a chance to interject, bobbing around in a way that conjured the image of the pigeons beside my favorite lunch spot. SDG, who was apparently polite and accommodating on top of being gorgeous, smiled understandingly. Just as Gel-Man dropped what must’ve been a joke, she turned her eyes, right towards me. Contact. She smiled, I’m pretty sure I did too. That was all I needed, really. She turned back to Gel-Man and managed to break free from the barrage of words he had subjected her to, heading back to her desk, and I turned back to my screen in time to hear the vendor hanging up on me, catching the endnotes of what must’ve been either “dipshit” or “idiot”. It’s a good thing I’m good at this job. What a tremendous day.

Day turns into night, and quittin’time comes around. The whole ride home is me thinking about SDG, running scenarios in my head as diverse as a first date to me saving her from a lion. Before I know it, I’m home. This one is over, and after a healthy dinner consisting mainly of bread, I settle in front of the TV for a little edumacation. As I flip to the Laugh Channel, I smirk, reminiscing about the old man’s curse: he had been right, I hadn’t laughed a single time today.


The rest of the week was more or less a copy-paste of the first day in terms of what actually went down, though my mood was subject to its usual variations. I cannot help but think of that encounter with the old man: I still haven’t so much as giggled in the last five days, and this is after seeing, on Thursday, the seven year old kid who lives across the street literally shit himself, on purpose, to spite his father, who was forcing him to quit playing basketball and come inside to eat his dinner. The look on that man’s face when he caught a whiff of that stink-nugget, and the ensuing scene, would’ve made a rock, an actual rock, laugh, yet I stood there motionless, puffing away at my cigarette as if I had been watching a C-SPAN televised debate about whether or not to hold an exploratory committee to discuss appropriating funds to finance a research about the influence of televised debates.

I recognized the scene as funny. I knew this was my kind of humor. The kid running around only made it funnier. And yet all that came out was me whispering to myself “Man, that shit’s funny.” A terrible truth dawned on me: it seems as though I was becoming mature. I guess poo jokes wouldn’t cut it anymore. A sad state of affairs, but so goes it. There comes a time where a boy becomes a man, and all of a sudden, he has to start laughing at adult things, like improbable romantic scenarios whereby one finds himself with two dates on the same night at the same restaurant. I guess it was time to grow up. Shit happens.

It was now the weekend, which means people will call you in order to go out and do things with them in order to pass the time before it’s the week again. On the menu tonight was a dinner at my old friend Pat’s house. He had invited me because it was his first time hanging out with his new friends from work, and he was kind of unsure about them, and also because he knew me, and also because he trusted me, and also because I’m a people person. Those were his words, and the Pat-ness of that sentence is what makes Pat Pat. He’s one of those people who can never finish a damn sentence, always finding one more thing to say and never getting to the point. I guess that was his way of persuading people to accept whatever he was asking for: keep tacking stuff on until facial expression changes from ‘no’ to ‘alright, on the condition that you’ll stop talking now’.

Being a tremendous friend, and an overall great guy, I acquiesced, and that’s how I ended up sitting at a table surrounded by eight people, five girls and three guys, whom I didn’t know, and who were making no real effort to hold any kind of pleasant conversation. I had been under the impression that Pat was working at Starbucks, but I guess I got that twisted: the way these people were talking, I was meeting with the Communist Underground, a clique of Iphone-wielding suburban kids ranting about how much they had loved “the combined works of the inimitable Karl Marx” and the “revolutionary curriculum vitae of V. Lenin”. Adjectives and thesaurus-use aside, and being a history major myself, I tried to partake in the conversation, only to find out that I was wrong on everything. I guess it was my fault. I said the wrong thing too early in the conversation, making the obviously outrageous claim to the effect that a corporation is not necessarily an evil entity. My cred had not been established, I was dismissed as a capitalist pig by a heavyset girl with a two-sizes-too-small Che Guevara shirt on. I’m surprised they didn’t go full-on hipster protest on me and stage an Occupy T.’s Chair movement. Oh well. As they say, if you can’t spot the bourgeois stooge at the table, then you’re it.

I listened, mostly in silence, as they spoke of the need to ‘revolutionalize the proletariats’ and ‘declass our social-economic value matrix’. I had started the night sipping whisky; I quickly moved to full gulps. By the time the heavy-set girl, whom I had mentally dubbed Big Red, proclaimed her admiration for ‘Moses Zetung’, I was well into drinking straight from the bottle. It was around the time that I drained the last drop that the Central Committee turned the spotlight on me once again. Big Red called the session to order.

“And what does the bourgeois think of our plan?”

“Sounds Perestroika-licious to me.”

One guy smirked, but the response was more tepid than I had imagined. Chairman Big Red took the floor once more.

“Just because you don’t understand what we’re talking about doesn’t mean you’re entitled to discredit entire theories, comrade.”

“Just because you read the Wikipedia synopsis of Das Kapital doesn’t mean the half-sentences you’re spewing are any kind of theory. Comrade.”

Biting, but I felt she was game. Now we had ourselves a debate, I thought.

“I’ll have you know I’ve read books you’ve never even heard of, including the classic itself. Now, if you’ve got nothing reasonable to add to our discussion, I would suggest you leave.”

I was wrong.

“I would, but I’m quite amused by the grimace formed by Che’s stretched-out face. Just because you’re a Communist doesn’t mean you can’t wear clothes that fit, you know. From each according to his capabilities, to each according to his shirt size.”

Yes, I had gone for the low blow. Chalk it up to the inebriating influence of my man Jimmy Beam. The same guy laughed, and Pat, whom I could clearly see by now would rather suck up to this new clique than stand up for me, shifted uneasily on his seat. The girls exchanged offended scoffs, making the same sounds as they looked at each other. I looked to my fellow men for some kind of support, but only the one sitting across from me nodded his head in approval. The other two were no doubt interested in banging some of these girls, and averted my gaze as they toed the Party line. Diplomatic isolation was all but certain, but I knew I couldn’t fold.

Big Red erupted into an indictment of my reactionary, passé, and assholish ways, accusing me of taking the food out of the kids in Africa and of corrupting the youth of the nation, before likening me to the man that had caused her parents’ divorce. She stood up to deliver what I anticipated would be the mother of all rants, and I braced myself for this Kamehameha of fury. I think we were all taken aback when she burst into tears instead. Big Red’s political adjutant, a pretty girl who was sitting beside her and had been nodding so furiously, for so long, that I felt her head must’ve been on a swivel, pointed accusingly at me, and delivered the punishing blow instead. Now, I’m writing this for the kids, so I’ll simply say that she alluded that my mother was a woman of ill repute and that my male genitalia was nonexistent. My witty response came in the form of a flood of vomit all over Pat’s new Ikea table.

Once the last bit of the flavorless chicken parm had cleared my throat, I took a breath, and turning to Pat, I thanked him for a lovely evening and informed him that I felt I had overstayed my welcome. I bid goodnight to the Politburo and made a beeline for the door, stopping only to get back up after knocking over the lamp beside the door and falling on my ass. I made a point to compliment the lamp on my way out, because I’m nothing if not a class act. The cold air did its magic and sobered me up enough that I was able to navigate the straight line back to my place without getting into too much trouble, and I passed out in front of the TV while watching M*A*S*H* reruns.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: You don’t know what you got… | Food for thought
  2. Trackback: Schadenfreude | Food for thought

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