Is it true that we’re searching for our superiority, or inferiority, in even the most casual conversations? I don’t know, and some would say no, and others would say hell no! “I’m just asking you about the latest wheat and grain prices on the commodity markets.” So, why do we loathe speaking to you, what makes me so uncomfortable, why do I leave our most casual conversations feeling incomplete and inferior to you, and why do I enjoy casual conversations with Betty Beetle so much more? The thing is that those of us that have stumbled upon this psychological truth wish it weren’t the case, and now that our mind’s eye is open to it, we wish we could turn it off, and enjoy the fruits of casual conversations again.
Working as an ice cream truck driver one day –a ding ding man, a good humor man, or whatever you would called me in your locale– I was pulled over by a couple of bandannas, beneath hats that were turned backwards, and sunglasses. I braced for the worst. I envisioned this encounter to be the modern-day equivalent of bandits pulling over a stagecoach. I flirted with the notion that the only reason they stopped me “just to talk” was to allow their stickup man enough time to sneak around the back of the ice cream truck and complete the robbery. As a result, I divided my attention between them and my mirrors, watching for any movement to occur behind my truck. When that didn’t happen, I began to wonder if they were feeling me out, to see if I was a soft and easy roll. All of that may have been unfair, but I have always been a nerdy guy, and these guys appeared to be so cool. I could find no reason that these would want to stop their truck in the middle of the road and “just talk” to someone like me.
In ways I didn’t understand and still don’t, and as I’ve been told by many “You probably never will,” I knew that these guys were cooler than me. They had this aura about them I call cool, but others, far smarter than me, call radiating self-possession. They spoke in an ethereal manner that suggested that they were probably potheads, and as one attuned to pop culture, pop culture references, and pop culture characterizations, I knew that meant that these two guys had to be way cooler than me. If they were, in fact, thieves, and I was the aproned shopkeeper –to complete the “old west” analogy– their cool points would be through the roof.
In a just world, where proper metrics are applied, I should’ve been the superior one in this encounter. I wore better clothes, and I had the better education, but these guys had intangibles that I couldn’t even imagine attaining. They appeared to have the looks, a sense of cool about them, and an aura that suggested that they were fun loving, party-going types, characteristics that threw all of my metrics right out the window. They weren’t stupid, however, and that fact was made evident minutes into our conversation, but there was no way their education was as expensive as mine. And if they were potheads, they probably spent a lot of time equivocating moral issues, and those that equivocate –I had had pounded into my head in school– have a fundamental flaw about them that they spend most of their time trying to hide. So, in my world of proper metrics, I was: check, check, check, superior.
Except for one tiny, little nugget I neglected to input into the equation: I was wearing sunglasses, and a bandanna beneath my backwards facing hat. The only difference between the three of us was that I didn’t wear this gear on a day-to-day basis. My getup was worn for the sole purpose of concealing my true identity. I was so embarrassed to be a ding ding man that short of wearing a fake beard and a Groucho Marx nose and eyeglasses, I had every inch of my identity covered.
They didn’t know any this of course. They must have thought I was a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses brutha, and that may have been the only reason they decided to stop and chat with me in the first place. It may have been the reason they were so relaxed about their status, and my status, and the superior versus inferior roles in our approach to one another. When this idea hit me, I felt superior, until I realized that if I was superior, I wasn’t doing anything with it, and that fact had led me to being so embarrassed that I was now wearing a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses. I wondered if I input that new information into the paradigm if it might make me inferior to them. There are a lot of points given, in this paradigm, for knowing your limitations, and learning to live with them, until you’re so comfortable with who you are that you’re radiating self-possession. I realized that in my bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat, and sunglasses façade, I was going to get no points in any of these categories.
The bandanas, with hats on backwards, and sunglasses wore no shirts, and they were riding in a beat up, old International truck, that rattled in idle. They were construction guys with dark, rich tans that made their teeth appear whiter when they smiled and laughed. My guess, watching these two twentysomethings speak, was that even though they appeared inferior, that they had no trouble landing women. My guess was that among those girls that knew them well, there was a whole lot of adulation going on. I didn’t know this to be a fact, of course, but guys like me –that were always on the lookout for what I’d somehow missed in life– were always looking to guys like these for ideas.
They laughed a genuine laugh at some of the things I said. I remember that what I said had something to do with the business side of being a ding ding man, but I can’t remember specifics. I do remember their laughter, and I do remember wondering if they were laughing with me or at me. At this point in my life, I had just escaped a high school that contained a large swath of people that were almost always laughing at me, and I remember having some difficulty shedding that shield for the purpose of having what appeared to be a casual conversation among men that reminded me of all those people I was now rid of.
Something I did not expect happened to me in the midst of this conversation, however, and it happened soon after they told me they had to go. This something caused me to miss them before they drove away. I enjoyed speaking with them, and I realized that they had no pretensions about them, and that they may have been just a couple of good guys, and that I liked being the guy they thought I was. The latter point was the something I didn’t expect. I wasn’t all that sure what it was that I liked that they thought they saw, but it caused me to watch them drive away until they were gone. The idea that most people speak in superlatives was not lost on me, but most people that knew me well expressed the idea that I may have been one of the most uptight, frustrated, and angst ridden individuals you’ll ever meet, and my costume may have supported that characterization more than I care to admit. Very few of these people have ever accused me of being too relaxed.
I didn’t think this at the time, but I know now that my inability to enjoy a simple, casual conversation with some pretty decent fellas –that just happened to drive up on me– was plagued by my inability to leave high school, and as those smarter than me have said, “You never leave high school.” Another something that I discovered, a something I had never considered prior to these two driving up on me, was that I was still playing that proverbial king of the mountain game, a game I often lost in high school, and I was still so locked into a defensive position that it had ruined my life for years.
Is it true that we’re searching for our superiority, or inferiority, in even the most casual conversations? If it is, where was I in this casual conversation with two guys that wore a bandanna, beneath a backwards facing hat and sunglasses? That was never established in a substantial manner, but the takeaway I had from this particular encounter was that I didn’t care, and that may have been what I liked, and what I missed, and what caused me to watch them drive away, until they were gone.