Humor: Kevin Purcell on A$$holes


Everyone knows someone who is an asshole. Even if you don’t “know” them, they’re not that hard to spot on the street. They sort of announce themselves by spitting on sidewalks, letting the shop door close on you, screaming at their kids in the Kohl’s or parking in the handicap space. Well, I should soften that a bit since, now that I think on it a second or two, I may have raised my voice beyond the conversational tone in a Kohl’s once or twice. But in my defense, it was in a Kohl’s. Irrational price-cutting makes me jumpy. How can everything be on sale all the time? Does anything have a “regular price” at all? Where’s the logic in a system like that? The order? How can plant my feet inside an idea that has no center, no point of reference? I’m in there struggling with the question of whether or not the free second pair of pants with the purchase of one pair of equal or higher value is optional or compulsory and the kid wants me to know he’s hungry. Can you believe that? Hungry. I’m trying to reconcile the likely collapse of modern capitalism as a system incapable of sustaining itself and he wants to talk about food. You’d have screamed too.


Oh, and also, I just considered: the people parking in the handicap spaces may actually be handicapped. So in that case, not assholes. Well, maybe assholes, I don’t know. You don’t want to give a whole subset of the population an automatic pass just because life has dealt them an extra set of challenges. You give them a bit more leeway maybe, but hey, it’s not handicapped, it’s handicapable, am I right? Equal treatment is the goal, isn’t it? Same standards as everyone else, Grandpa. I’m not saying you can’t be cranky about walking around with half a titanium pelvis thanks to your days fighting to keep the reds out of Saigon, I’m just saying know your enemy. Maybe I hit the wrong button at the ATM and it took a little longer than you felt like waiting. Openly challenging the validity of my parentage isn’t really the answer. There’s a line, man.


I think the main reason assholes are both ubiquitous and notoriously difficult to spot is that there’s no such thing as a self-identifying asshole. I think the most advanced and objective thinkers among us will cop to “sometimes being kind of a dick,” but that’s really not the same thing. We give them credit for recognizing some spot-specific aberrant behavior, but assholery is worn like a cloak of invisibility, which is ironic as I have yet to meet anyone who wasn’t a self-proclaimed expert on the subject of asshole-spotting. Wander into any clutch of small-talkers and offer up a story about the guy who runs his sprinklers when it’s raining. The knowing-approval-nod rate will approach 100%, I guarantee it.


This is the trick, though: assholes can be everywhere and nowhere at the same time because the asshole you’re thinking of is you. Yes, you. You’re an asshole. But it’s OK because I’m an asshole too. Everyone is. We all have to be. Someone somewhere has, does and will not only think of you but loudly and publicly name you as one. You’ve changed lanes without signaling. You’ve failed to show the requisite level of interest in your cousin’s new baby. You still have that packet of “thank you” notes unopened and forgotten in a drawer you never open. You crept out before the sun came up and never called him/her back.


Look, don’t be angry. And don’t feel bad. It’s not a value judgement, it’s just a question of mathematical probability. We try to be paragons of fairness and consideration, but who are we kidding? We can’t maintain that level of engagement indefinitely. There isn’t enough caffeine in the world. It’s true that if you acknowledge, it will make you feel bad. A little. For a while. What I’m saying is, if you go beyond that… if you actually embrace it… Just try it once, see how it feels. Not all the time because eventually you may grow to enjoy it and everyone knows the only thing worse than Asshole is Smug Asshole. But you know, maybe next time you’re on the freeway, just try thinking: this line of traffic isn’t for me. It’s for other people. The shoulder here is wide open. And I’m just going to exit anyway. You know, eventually. Understand that liberation, if only for a minute, of stepping outside the expectation of social convention and basic good manners. Just make sure you get back in line before someone else decides to dabble in psychopathic road rage and you’ll be fine.

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