I was on a bike path in Los Angeles, when I decided that I did not like people. I swore an oath to detest them forever, and called it my misanthropic stand. What, exactly, is a misanthropic stand? Well, if I were a candidate for US President, engaged in a debate, and the moderator asked me where I stood on the people issue, I would respond: “The people issue? Well, frankly Ms. Ifill, I don’t give a damn.” Answering with a popular (if overused) movie quotation would elicit a laugh from the audience even as they were being damned, and simultaneously excuse me from utilizing a sensitive verb like hate, which seldom goes over well in a political context.
But this sense of misanthropic stand is easily understood. The more important meaning is a private one—one that I hesitate to share, as it could provoke certain legal actions against me. However, since I have already mentioned it, I might as well continue. The second meaning of misanthropic stand can be deduced from two simple statements: a). There is a window, with a sill, in my kitchen, overlooking a street along which an astounding number of idiots stroll. b.) I am a flower enthusiast, and as such tend to keep four or five potted plants on said sill at all times.
Knowing, as you do, my views on people, the conclusion should be elementary—you couldn’t send Timon into the rafters of the Parthenon with a lot of heavy pottery and expect him to behave, could you? So I stand weekly (usually on a Saturday when the idiots are happiest) at my kitchen window, waiting for the perfect ass to pass, and when he does, I dislodge a potted poppy or portulaca and proceed to dance a gleeful jig as it crashes on and about his unsuspecting head.
While my little diversion may initially seem insensitive, it is in fact quite beneficial. You see, this minor atrocity is a necessary pressure release, without which my baneful behavior would undoubtedly double if not treble, eventually threatening the entire California coastline with whirlwind effusions of cataclysmic nihilism. Periodic steam relief allows me to remain an oily smooth misanthropic machine, whose tempered loathing is both roborant and paregoric, concurrently steeling and numbing me against the repulsive masses. All I ask is to be allowed my weekly cranium cracking. With the sacrifice of a few, many are saved.
But, as you may have guessed, I have not always been so. It was on the aforementioned day, while cycling the strand, that my faith in humanity (meager as it was) suffered a fatal blow. And I’ve been dropping dahlias ever since. But you grow impatient.
I had mounted my bicycle that afternoon not for the purpose of improving my cardiovascular conditioning, or to achieve some particular destination, but merely to slough off the weight of my ideas through rapid movement and physical exertion. My budding dialectic had sparred viciously with Leibniz all day, and my temples had begun to throb with each Teutonic clout. I hoped by cycling to evade the philosopher’s relentless attacks, if only for an hour or two.
And so I took to the strand where Tuscan villas abut pseudo-Victorian gingerbreads, and streamlined Decos neighbor jagged postmoderns, all of this conglomerate disparity fronting the vast sameness of the Pacific. Along I pedaled, anxious and agitated in the glare of the architectural mélange. Soon my heart rate escalated to the level of a pinned bunny rabbit, and my muscles crimped up for lack of oxygen. A sad state for a man of twenty-four, and yet I was infinitely pleased. Leibniz had not dealt me a thump in nearly fifteen minutes, and the oppressive mantle of all general thought (save a vague fear of pending thrombosis) lay discarded in the sand, tossed aside like a knight’s panoply after battle.
All around me the throng thronged. Children on skateboards darted between wobbly cyclists; men and women jogged in unison; beach bound surfers sprinted barefoot across the hot pavement. Together we baked in the same brilliant sun, beneath the same azure canopy, beside the same tumbling waves. We were as one in our quest for corporeal (and in my case phrenic) wellness. I felt as if something was opening up inside of me, slowly unfurling like phlox petals in spring.
The perambulous population was suddenly appealing. A fellow on roller-skates seemed almost embraceable despite his unseemly rolls of back fat. An elderly woman in leopard-print leotards was now charming, and of unimpeachable taste. Even the little imp who was at that moment depositing Sahara-esque quantities of sand down the back of his sister’s bathing suit was, in my eyes, no less than delightful. Ah, how wonderful was this varicolored pageant of humanity! If I were to start a Utopian community like Bronson Alcott, these lovely people would be the first I’d admit.
But then, just as I was about to invite everyone into the next juice bar for a round of sugar-free smoothies, a snarling cretin on a moped erupted into the strand. He was moving at a frightening velocity—a frothing, spandexed Jehu, whose flailing right arm seemed possessed of an imaginary horsewhip. Three rollerbladers were in his path—youngish men, sipping bottled water and chatting on phones. As Jehu barreled by, he fixed them with a furious glare, and roared: “ASSHOLES!”
Everyone on the strand suffered a terrible affright. Women swooned; men cursed; children cried. The abused rollerbladers collapsed in a mass of twisted legs and spinning wheels. As they attempted to extricate themselves, I approached with an offer of succor—a Samaritan gesture to which they responded in perfect chorus: “Fuck off, dickhead.”
Well. With these three discourteous, not to mention inelegant, words, my fledgling utopia was duly crushed. Brook Farm? Fruitlands? What rot! I turned toward home in a state of horror, avoiding the gaze of each corrupted passerby. On one side of the strand, beach houses butted and clashed like angry beasts; on the other the ocean roiled up, spitting brackish foam at the discordant menagerie. I rode until my lungs begged respite, then pulled off the path. I closed my eyes, and channeled Leibniz, trying to settle my nerves with hard logic.
After a lengthy contemplation of the principle of pre-established harmony, I opened my eyes to find myself ensconced in a cool, melancholy night. Vague voices trilled on the breeze and I followed them to a bar where people stood outside, smoking and laughing. One of them, a girl, noticed me and came over.
“Want a mint?” she asked, smiling.
“A what?” I said.
“A mint. You look like you could use a mint.”
She smiled on, although I had yet to reciprocate; and what’s more the smile was gracious, not forced or dripping with mock concern, the way most people approach the terminally sad. Was it possible that she not only sensed my despair, but also somehow understood it? Were we experiencing a moment of desolation empathy? I stared into her silvery eyes and wondered if perhaps I had been terribly wrong all these years, if perhaps there truly was such a thing as I have heard called love.
“Yes,” I told her.
Yes I said yes I will have a mint Yes.
The girl placed the mint in my palm, blew me a kiss, and disappeared.
Now the mint was in my mouth and love was in my heart and I pedaled rapturously away, sucking and loving and loving and sucking and believing in everything all over again and promising that from that day forth I would be a new man and court friends and find love and live live live and so I pedaled faster and faster and soon I was home and lovemint drunk and I couldn’t think of anything to do but howl and spin and fall dizzily into my sheets, though before I did I thought I’d better wash the salt and sweat from my face and so I went into the bathroom and scrubbed and when I looked in the mirror to see how clean and new I was I saw only my lips and my mouth and my tongue and they were all bright bright shockingly bright blue.
-- Dan Morey lives in Erie, PA where he relentlessly pursues the longnose gar,great northern pike and mighty bowfin in the weedy waters of Presque Isle Bay. His writing has appeared in many publications, including The Broadkill Review, Work Literary Magazine, Far Enough East, Drunk Monkeys and Splitsider. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.