You know, when I get down to thinking about the daily routine of life, about the little chores, I have to admit that I am not as protected as I would like to be – even people like me need to do daily chores. And what can leave a person more open and less protected than daily chores? They are the great humiliator of the ugly. Everyone has to do them and all you’ve got to vouch for you in these situations is your physical appearance, because the places you go to do them don’t know about your wit, or your giant brain and great inner worth. All they know is what they see. And so, as I said, I want to be honest - what do I do?
It’s very simple - I really am very sharp and on the ball - I’ve managed to work some little things out. For example then, I go shopping during the times when they give elderly discounts, in the middle of the day, when regular people are working and the elderly come out because they have nothing else to do. I prefer the elderly because loneliness has made them kinder. They are more inclined to be kind to people like me because they are so lonely. And I’m more inclined to be kind to them in their loneliness because I am ugly and I think we understand a little bit of each other’s lives.
You know it’s so shameful, I have to stop right there, I was going on and on about wanting to be honest, and there I go again - I’m lying. But I have to fight the desire to lie and act and I need to try and tell you the truth – I’m not kind to these people at all. I thought I could just get away with lying about my relationship with the elderly because, as I was sitting back thinking about it, it made so much sense to me – we really should go together, we really should be the perfect match. But it’s just not the case. I mean, it’s true, I do shop with the elderly, just like I said, and I do it for just that reason, but not because their loneliness has made them kinder, rather it has made them weaker and I don’t fear them, I don’t fear their fangs, which have been worn down to stubs, I don’t fear that they will mock me, or laugh, like schoolchildren do, or teenagers – I don’t even want to get into teenagers, they are the cruelest and not people at all, and some of them never will be - or even adults (the ones who were teenagers); but I am not kind to them. Hardly ever. I just let that sentence continue on to say we should understand each other, but I don’t. I never could, I’m too self centered. I could never understand anyone else.
Just yesterday I was standing in line behind this old man at the supermarket. I was really hungry because I hadn’t eaten for some time, I always leave things to the absolute end, until I can’t take it any longer, because I really hate eating, and I go as long as I possibly can without it, in protest, though in the end it always gets to me and I give in, which just makes me feel viler for being so weak and pathetic, and so there I was absolutely starving from hunger to the point that my hands were shaking from weakness and hatred of my weakness. I was standing behind him, and he was old, he was so old he looked as though someone had dug him up from a graveyard where no one had been buried for at least three hundred years and as a result of his extreme age he was struggling to formulate sentences and communicate and also to make his body parts listen to his commands, if he could even formulate those clearly. His fingers shot out in all directions as he tried to get some coins out of his wallet, which was the colour of the earth that had been dug up with him. It looked as though he were about to burst into tears because of the extreme shame he was feeling on behalf of his body – though to be perfectly honest I think this is a permanent look on the faces of people of his age and needn’t be taken too seriously, unless, of course, I have mistaken the look, or rather, have understood it perfectly, and it really is a permanent stamp of shame and tears. He was standing there and his hands were shaking, and I was standing behind him and my hands were shaking and for a moment I almost thought – we are like brothers, both of our hands shake – and I felt great sympathy for a second. He finally succeeded in extracting three twenty five cent pieces (the elderly are always so stubborn when it comes to carrying change) to cover the charge of the loaf of bread he wished to purchase. He looked almost proud that he had accomplished the deed against all odds but the woman behind the register looked less impressed. She took the change roughly from his shaking hands and returned him the needed three pennies, which he failed to get hold of and dropped on the counter. The woman picked them up again and handed them to him even more roughly and this time he didn’t even get close to getting hold of them and promptly dropped them again. Then the woman picked the pennies up and – would you believe me if I told you? It seems so improbable in our day and age – threw them down on the ground, as far away from her register as possible. The old man was shocked and I was shocked but – he said nothing except to gurgle a few incoherent sounds after which he no doubt felt exhausted, picked up his loaf of bread and moved along. The woman turned to me and began to ring my purchases in. Obviously she was in a hurry, she was ringing my stuff in devilishly fast, and obviously she had no patience for old men whose hands shake, but I thought – am I appalled, am I hurt for the old man, we were almost brothers, though he was hundreds of years older? And then this is what I thought - nobody wants an ugly hero, heroes are not generally ugly people. But I couldn’t decide how I felt about the feeling in my stomach of revulsion until she looked in my general direction (people rarely look straight at me) and said, ‘I can’t stand the afternoon shift with all these old people.’ That decided it for me. She was ready to be my friend if I was ready to support her action against the old man and understand why she did it, namely, her irritation.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘oh, yes.’ And we both chuckled.
And you know, I intended just to show you right now how I don’t have any understanding but it turned out even better, as I was writing it up, remembering what happened it occurred to me – I do understand people just fine, I understood her. And I understood him. So I have no excuses then. And I’m very happy right now with the way things turned out. So you can also see that my life is not one long unhappy day. Even if you never go anywhere more exciting than the supermarket it is possible to understand people.