Thursday, June 26, 2014

L'il Shooters

I've already talked about the process by which yours truly woke up one day only to discover that I'd inadvertently been transformed into a card-carrying nerd. As such, you'd do well to assume that my pre-University love life was virtually non-existent and can easily be summarized thusly:
  • At around age five or six my heterosexuality was presaged by an episode of Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter. This was confirmed several years later thanks to Erin Gray as Wilma Deering in Buck Rogers.
  • In Grade Two I became smitten with a scrawny, dark-haired girl named Ann who was missing her two front teeth. So enraptured was I by this siren that I invited her over to my place one day after school to help me color my favorite Batman coloring book page. Unfortunately no sooner then we'd both sprawled out on my bedroom floor she began to willfully and almost maliciously color outside of the lines. Then, when she proceeded to render the Dark Knight's tights in a day-glo orange, I put my hand on hers, lowered her crayon and then politely asked her to leave. With that our whirlwind love affair was over and our relationship from that point on was "chilly" at best.
  • Around Grade Five I developed a crush on a girl who shared her first name (if not the exact spelling) with a certain Star Wars Princess. Now, I don't know if it was her nebulous connection to "a galaxy far, far away" or the fact that she was legitimately cute, but I was enamored with her at first sight. Even though she was always polite and kind to me I'm pretty sure her feelings weren't mutual. The point is moot anyway since I was far too chickenshit to ever express my feelings to her.
  • In Grade Six a girl told me that another girl "likes me". I didn't act on this hot tip either because I was too scared, too stupid or too "m'eh" to follow up on it. Many years later I'd be faced with a similar situation and my reaction then would indeed be telling.    
  • Around this same time I started lugging around a massive torch for the daughter of some family friends. I remember my distinct horror when she spontaneously walked into my room and saw that I still kept my stuffed Snoopy, Garfield and Papa Smurf proudly displayed on my bed. MACHISMO FAIL.
  • In Grade 11 the old "wrong girl likes me" scenario reared its addle-brained head again. An aggressive-but-cute, mini-skirt-wearing Cadet started hanging out by my locker every morning and calling my house. This really did scare the crap outta me because prior to this I'd been brainwashed to think that (A) Only guys are supposed to ask girls out (B) Girls who break this taboo must be "loose" (as if that's a bad thing) (3) You shouldn't get involved with someone unless you really, really like them. Yes, I know how idiotic this sounds. Trust me, if I could go back in time and set young me straight, I would. For starters, I'd debunk all of this bullshit Puritan / Victorian / Catholic crap I'd inherited from my parent's sexually-frustrated generation. "Go ahead, have some fun, you crazy kids!" I'd opine to younger me. "Just be careful, set realistic expectations and, for the love of everything holy, DO...NOT...HURT...HER. If you hurt her, I'll kill you myself." Honestly, this small piece of advice would have done me a world of good. 
  • The real girl of my dreams in High School was a smart, sassy, no-nonsense chick with a shock of Captain Caveman hair and a penchant for playing the drums ("SQUEEEEE!!!"). In a blatant attempt to spend more time with her I offered to drive her home from school every day but even with these numerous chances I never drummed (Hah! "Drum", geddit?) up the courage to ask her out. In fact, all I could come up with were stupid music-related questions like " you think that Terence Trent D'Arby could be the next, um... Michael Jackson?" What an idiot. Anyway, by the time I did screw up the courage to ask her out she was already going out with some other putz. *cue sad trombone sound
During all these trials and tribulations I never once thought that it was the girl's failing for not liking me. I knew that, at best, my appeal was limited. I was scrawny, nonathletic, bespectacled, geeky and had appallingly-uninspired fashion sense. Worst still: I was a sheltered and insular only child with woefully inadequate social skills. Again, I always recognized these as my own personal failings, not anyone else's.

In fact, I didn't get bitter about this until my woefully-poor track record with the opposite sex followed me  into my first year of University. This was clearly evidenced in the following heavy-handed poem that I wrote around that time:

Subtle Observation

I am content in the knowledge
   That the one you have chosen
           Has brought so much amusement
                  To so many.

(shaken heads)
(pointed fingers)
(suppressed laughter)

So it stands revealed:

You were not perfect after all.

Sure, I wasn't the best conversationalist in the world, but I was still a decent, nice person. In the immortal words of Roger A. Graham:

I'm so sad and lonely
Sad and lonely, sad and lonely
Won't some sweet mama come and take a chance with me?
'Cause I ain't so bad.

I started to get angry, depressed and kinda resentful as I watched one pretty, sweet, smart girl after another debase herself in a desperate attempt to snag the fleeting attentions of some rampant douchebag. 'I don't get it,' I'd lament to myself, usually while overdosing on depressingly-toxic levels of Leonard Cohen albums, 'I'd treat her like gold. Why would she pick him over me?'

Deep down I still knew that the onus was on me. Whatever you wanted to say about those guys, they were supremely confident or gave the air of supreme confidence. I had all the charisma of Eeyore and that followed me around like a permanent raincloud. Eventually my solitude became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But even at my lowest point the concept of violently lashing out at another human being never once crossed my mind. Which begs the question: what was the difference between me at that age and a kid like Elliot Rodger who, back on May 23'rd, totally snapped and killed six people and injured thirteen more before finally turning the gun on himself.

Well, this is only guesswork but let's see if I can inventory some the things that I had going for me that maybe Elliot didn't:

(1) I had absolutely amazing parents who were never in absentia. They were always there for me and everything I said and did was influenced by their powerful moral barometer. No matter how busy they were they'd always take the time to check in on me, to ask me how my day went even though my responses were fleeting. The unspoken message was always clear: these people actually give a shit about me.

(2) Even though my parents were really cool people and I usually got along fine with them they were never my "friends". It wasn't their goal to be "buddies" with me and seek out my approbation and approval. Quite the opposite: they were keen disciplinarians who I feared, respected and was always loathe to cross. Since there was always one or more of them around they never felt the need to overcompensate for chronic absence. Having said that, they were supremely generous and giving people, likely because they wanted to make up for all the creature comforts they didn't have as kids.

(3) As a kid, the burden of guilt was always on me. One time back in Junior High I didn't feel like doing a project so my teacher actually picked up the phone and called my parents. Even though I could only hear half of the conversation I knew that, like Lucy, I'd have some serious splainin' to do when that phone hung up. My parents didn't get defensive and push back against the teacher or demand to know why he'd failed to motivate me. Nope, they sided, rather logically, with the educated adult professional and not the cocky, self-centered kid who somehow thought that he could get away with it. Now, they didn't always assume that I was lying or that all adults were infallible but they knew me well enough to recognize my own unique brand of bullshittery and call me out on it. There were always consequences. It's called tough love, modern day parents. Look into it.

(4) My dedicated, omnipresent parental units made sure to impart in me an empathy for everyone and everything. I couldn't even hurt a fly. Like literally, if I found a fly indoors I'd capture it, take it outside and release it. This dovetailed with an almost pathological desire to be liked. Rarely would I ever lose my temper with another human being, almost to a fault. To this day, I'll never go aggo on another person. Instead, my frustration towards idiots tend to manifest itself in the random destruction of some uncooperative inanimate object. I get this directly from my mom who used to verbally lash out at things by saying "Look, look! The Devil's in that now!"

Okay, that sounded kinda bad. For the record, Mom didn't actually believe that stubborn door locks or malfunctioning toasters were actually possessed by Satan. Or, at least I don't think she did. Hmmmm...

(5) Related to this last point, the cold, antiseptic interface of social media didn't exist when I was a kid. If you wanted to be an asshole to someone you either had to do it right to their face, bitch 'em out over the phone or talk shit about them behind their back to whoever was within earshot. Nowadays you can easily annihilate someone's reputation via a series of malicious texts, Facebook posts or Tweets. And the scariest thing about this is that you never have to witness first hand the pain and misery you cause to your intended target. In fact, if you're particularly bloodless bastard, your conscience won't even feel a twinge. Indeed, inflicting anonymous digital harm on someone isn't just cruelly effective it's virtually consequence-free. Which leads me to believe that the first victim in a technology-obsessed world is empathy. 

(6) Sadly, mine was a gentler, more naive time. Not by much, mind you, but by just enough. It's almost comical to look back on alarmist Eighties-era news report claiming that the action movies I watched or the abstract, pixelated video games I played were "too violent". This is especially true when you compare those  antiquated, almost quaint pursuits to the today's cinematic torture porn or console-based killing simulators. Now, don't get me wrong, I would never, ever blame a mass shootings on violent media but I am calling out dumb, permissive, soft-as-shit parents who let their kids marinate in solution-based violence as soon as they can hold their heads upright. I'm no child psychologist but I can't imagine how exposure to this at a tender and formative age could do anything but irreparable harm yo your kid's psyche. Yet time and time again I hear stories of numb-nut, trying-too-hard parents unquestionably giving their kids the latest Grand Theft Auto or obliviously taking them to see Silent Hill: Revelation 3-D. Cripes, people like that need to be sterilized.

(7) "Guns? Where? Where!?!" In the United States, where firearms are more commonplace then Pokemon cards, a whole lotta folks are pretty durned obsessed with an antiquated Second Amendment which they believe gives them the right to pack more heat then Neo in The Matrix. After some independent research, I discovered to my shock and awe that a lot of these people maintain an over-compensatory stockpile of military hardware not for hunting or home defense but in case they need to overthrow the freakin' government if and when it gets too corrupt. Notwithstanding the compelling case that the government actually is totally corrupt, this still doesn't explain how a bunch of camo-wearing yahoos are supposed to go toe-to-toe with F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets, M1 Abrams tanks and highly-trained troops armed with frikkin' lasers. Which begs the question: is this sort of rampant paranoia worth the sheer proliferation and easy accessibility that kids seem to have to guns? Sure, NRA types like to cite the odd, rare example where a "good guy" with a gun stops a "bad guy" with a gun but are these same people aware of just how many "bad guys" out there apparently don't give a shit (see SOCIETAL FAIL below). Sure, we've got a bunch of penis-deprived neckbeards exercising their "open-carry" rights by "guarding" department stores, restaurants and coffee shops with AR-15's strapped to their backs but do they realize how many normal people they're terrorizing by doing this? Sorry, but until you can guarantee the mental health of every single private sector gun owner in the United States, hardware like this should only be the possession of the military or law enforcement. Personally speaking, the only weapons I ever saw as a kid were BB guns and my dad's 10-gauge shotgun which was permanently ensconced on the basement wall. For all intents and purposes, that sucker was purely ornamental.


I really wanted to write this entry from a positive perspective. I didn't want to point fingers at Elliot Rodger, shine a light on his self-absorbed "manifesto" or turn his clearly-suffering parents into pariahs. I also didn't want to speculate about our own recent regional rampage or give that particular nut any more publicity. Instead I really wanted pay homage to the resources that were there me me as a kid. Resources that allowed me to turn out reasonably well-adjusted despite growing up under vaguely similar circumstances.

I'll leave it up to you, Gentle Reader, to discern the lessons inherent in my story and determine what if any of it still applies to our wacky modern-day world.

EPIC OBSERVATION Louis C.K. explains in his own inimitable and characteristically-hilarious way why we're all becoming emotionally dead inside and and increasingly callous to our fellow human beings.

EPIC LOGIC  Some mo' science, courtesy of political comedian John Oliver:

SOCIETAL FAIL There have been one-hundred and twenty five mass shootings in the U.S. since the start of the year, including one that just happened two days ago in Miami. Nope, no problems here.