"So, I was waiting in line at the bookstore." Ben begins to recount his story with a sort of delivery that indicates that I'm not going to like the punchline. "And the guy in front of me steps up to the cashier and places his books down. When the clerk routinely asks how he's doing, the guy becomes all enthusiastic and his voice booms as he says 'Great! I'm having a pretty great day and how are you doing?' Upon hearing this, I think 'what a prick.'"
"You didn't say that out loud, did you?
"No," Ben continues, "but in my mind, it's my instant response and I'm not sure whether it's because I'm jealous of this guy's genuine happiness or because this sort of enthusiasm makes me uncomfortable. All I know is that I've got all this ill-will aimed toward this person. So, he finishes buying his books and turns around and I realize..."
"... That he's a priest. And, of course, he smiles at me and I have to come to terms with the fact that I've just called a priest a prick simply because he's enthusiastic."
"Who are you? Larry David?" Even I see general misanthropic weirdness of this scenario.
"Well, did you at least take it back?" I ask.
'Taking it back' is our overly used superstitious habit of trying to cancel out all potential tragedies and disasters with a three-word phrase. In this case, the tragedy would be Ben going to hell. 'Take it back' is our Pavlovian response to questions like "what would you do if I got hit by a car?", "will you love me when I'm 600 pounds?" or "did we run out of ice cream?"
"I didn't 'take it back' per se, but I certainly felt horrible."
We don't reward enthusiasm well.
Like the other day when we spotted a stewardess (her uniform and travel suitcase gave her away) walking downtown with a smile -- the largest Ben had "ever seen in his life" -- plastered on her face. And this smile, it was completely fixed. She moved her head side-to-side, looked down into her purse and even asked for directions all whilst beaming this oh-so-unholy smile.
While most people would see this smile and feel warm and happy and renewed in the goodness of man, I just remarked that I felt creeped out and thought that if she had a son, he'd probably resemble Chucky.
It's that sort of attitude that makes me resolve to be a better, nicer person.
And, it all begins with baby steps:
1. I will turn my frowns upside-down (and look sincere in the process),
You know the sort of comatose smile that child beauty pageant contestants wear? The sort of painful smile accompanied by glazed eyes and quivering lips? That's exactly what my forced smile looks like. The problem with my forced smile (other than that anguished look) is that I'll often forget I'm attempting to smile and mouth will frown, but my teeth will still be visible. So, I won't look happy, content or friendly. Instead, I'll look like a serial killer with lock jaw.
Whoever said it takes more muscles to frown than smile was a liar.
2. I will not get worked up when watching The Real World.
Or any other MTV show that predominantly features promiscuous girls and dumb-as-doorknobs guys. Yelling "skank" and "whore" at the television set will not change the culture nor will it make Amayas or Tonyas or Trishelles or Caras cease to exist.
I'm not sure if this will make me a better person, but it will certainly make me seem like a saner person.
3. I will stop watching The Real World or any other MTV vehicle.
4. I will stop coining new phobias based on other people's behaviors.
I once spent a twenty-five minute bus ride trying to think of the words that would form the phobia best described as the "fear or disgust related to the sound of someone clipping their finger nails while riding the bus." Because of my Greek vocabulary inadequacies, the best I could come up with is "clippanailaphobia," or the slightly more etymologically proper "clipponychophobia."
Completely unrelated, but frightfully amusing is "hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia," the fear of long words.
5. I will stop imagining amusing scenarios in which certain phobics can not attend their support meetings because they can't walk past the sign on the door.