20 May 2007

Jerk Appreciation Day

Soda Jerk ca. 1940: While most believed that Soda Jerks were
trained to be complete assholes, the truth is that they were hired for
their natural penchant for blatant assholery.


Ever heard of rice? They eat it like crazy in Asia. They even make "milk" out of it. Word on the street is that a little farm girl offered some to the Buddha during his ascetic period and it was so tasty that he said (and I quote), "Fuck this 'starving' shit. Suffering is for the birds. Rice milk shots for everyone!" And then they all got enlightened. The end.

But wait - one more thing about rice. I've found that it is the training food of the future. I've been using it to train for my backpacking trip to Yellowstone, and let me tell ya, it works. All ya gotta do is load 40 pounds of the stuff on your back, and your legs will be as burly as oaks in no time. I filled my backpack with a Buddha-load of rice today (1 Buddha-load = 40 pounds or roughly 385 East Indian pala. -Ed.) and then commenced to haul my hiney up and down every hill I could find in Carkeek Park. It was awe-inspiring. I swear that I sweat out my entire body weight and achieved pure freedom as an Emissary Of The Light. Then I woke up and dragged my 260-pound rice-burdened ass home through the pouring rain.

I hear the only downside of training with rice is that you get huge, but you occasionally experience "rice rage". We'll see about that.

Speaking of things that are good for you but cause also cause you pain, I've developed a whole new appreciation for difficult people, or "jerks" as some refer to them in the vernacular. Perhaps you've met some. Perhaps you've been one. I know I have, so it is not without a certain affinity that I offer "jerk" as an omnibus term that includes people like me. (I foresee a new best seller: "Jerk Like Me", by T. Gunn. -Ed.) I realized a little while back that were it not for the jerks I've known, I wouldn't have some of the truly wonderful things that I have in my life right now. I'm going to take this opportunity to redefine the word "jerk" for myself like this. Instead of it being a pejorative, I'm going to give it the neutral definition of "anyone who gets your attention much as you would get a dog's attention by jerking on its choke chain". It is not pleasant attention-getting, but it is potentially useful attention-getting nonetheless.

This begs the question "what the fuck are you talking about?" Bear with me. As my Spanish teacher used to say, por ejemplo:

When I worked at Perkins-Coie, the mammoth international law firm in downtown Seattle, I used to share a work space with a woman who drove me nuts. Our personalities were as compatible as water and flaming trucks of dynamite being attacked by Mongol hordes with flaming trucks of dynamite. And I had to sit with her in a tiny room every day and listen to her blather and prattle while doing the most demeaning work known to man: litigation support. Just as my frustration with her was driving me to the point of double murder/suicide (meaning I would kill myself, rise from the dead, and kill myself again while she prattled on unawares), she brought in a newspaper clipping and showed it to me. "There's a story about a really cool company that just opened, and I think you ought to work there." The story was about AtomFilms. So strong was my desire to work there, and so strong was my compulsion to flee this woman's presence that I harassed AtomFilms until they gave me a job. (No, really, I did. There was no open position at the time.) So in a way I have her to thank for my job at Atom, which lead to - well pretty much the rest of my copywriting career. Thanks, Horrendously Annoying Lady!

More recently, there were the people who moved in upstairs from us at Uwajimaya. We'll call them The Thumpingtons. These people were so noisy that you could swear that they were made of solid lead, suffered from fainting spells (or at least leapt into the air and belly-flopped on the carpet for no reason), and flew into apoplectic fits where they threw their furniture across the room. (Their furniture was also ostensibly made of lead from the sounds of it. -Ed.) We let 'em know that we could hear everything that they did, not in a "shut the fuck up" kinda way, but in a more friendly "you are compromising your privacy by all that goddamn noise you make" kind of way. That freaked 'em out pretty bad (I'd say from the looks of them, they were born freaked out. -Ed.) and caused them to increase the noise forty-fold. Mrs. Thumpington started vacuuming with a power saw (from the sounds of it), and Mr. Thumpington attached a motor to the davenport and started ramming it into the walls (again - from the sounds of it). So great was our noise-induced distress that we decided to do the unthinkable. We called John L. Scott President-Award-Winning Real Estate Moghul Gloria Lee and got her to sell us a house. Now each night when we come home to nothing but birdsong and the wind in the cedars as a soundtrack (and neither crashes nor thumps emanating from the ceiling), we thank Scott and Tami Thumpington of the Uwajimaya Village Apartments for motivating us to achieve our dream of perfect tranquility through home ownership.

I've got a ton more, but I'll save all of them for another time. But suffice it to say, if I'd've been dismissive with these people and just shunted their presence in my life off as annoying jerkitude that I couldn't bother with (or worse, tried to engage it and do battle with it), I never would've experienced the gifts that they offered me.
I honestly bear no grudge against these people, these "jerks" as I've said. I truly feel that I owe them a debt of gratitude for all the good they've done, although I don't know what form the repayment of that debt would take other than to stay as far from them as possible. "Look, we don't get along, so I'll do you and me the favor of giving you a two-state-wide berth." So I've unofficially declared May 18th as Jerk Appreciation Day for every person I've ever known who gave my life a yank in a positive direction. (And why not? It's the same day that Mount St. Helens blew up and the anniversary of my high school graduation. Not to say either one of those things was a yank in the right direction, either academically or geologically speaking. Although there are certain fans of vulcanology who might disagree.)

When I saw the Dalai Lama in San Francisco last month, he had something interesting to say about jerks. The Chinese government has done some unspeakably reprehensible things to his people over the years, and someone asked the question of how he found it possible to still sit down and negotiate with them. He said - and this is an imperfect quote, mind you - that he always approaches the situation this way: he truly believes that the people he is negotiating with are his friends. He says that he knows this because as human beings, they have the same fundamental needs and desires as he does. But, he said, although I truly believe they are a friend, I never forget what they are capable of.

That's compassion tempered with wisdom, to be sure.