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Per capita people

Monday 6/19/23

There’s this woman on Facebook I can’t stand, which is a statement that comes with a caveat, because I can’t stand anyone on Facebook. Any time I look at the site, I have one question that I want to ask: Is there a single genuine person left in the world?

The other day I was thinking about a man I once saw on my street. This was way back—more than a decade ago. I’ve never forgotten him. He got in a verbal altercation with a woman. City spat. There are many, but this incident stood out from the regular contretemps crowd.

She said something antagonistic after he had caused some offense. I hadn’t been paying a lot of attention up until then, but it probably had to do with where he parked, as is the case with many of these dust-ups.

The guy responded, in the most casual, everyday manner, “Shut up, you dumb cunt.”

Wasn’t the middle of the day, but call it four o’clock in May. You know how bright it is then. Everything was plainly visible and out in the open. A well-lit scene, with the drama front and present.

She said, “Excuse me?” with this tone of incredulity, but it was as if she didn’t recognize the guy’s words were for what they were because her first concern was how everyone in the world should automatically regard her and she was fixated on the man’s sin of omission in that area rather than the content of his real transgression.

So he said them again, and once more they rolled off his tongue with the same insouciant ease.

“Shut up, you dumb cunt.”

The comma was a big part of the infraction, ironically enough, given the words that followed. You really noticed that comma. Almost as if it were an after-dinner mint that he took an extra suck on before tucking it into his cheek and speaking once again, confident in the freshness of his breath and the equanimity of his state of mind. It made it much worse if that’s possible, and it was, the idea that he was completely in control.

He wasn’t governed by his emotions. Raw anger wasn’t raining down as though loosed from a mephitic cloud. The way he spoke was a choice, not a reaction. He’d expressed what he wished to say the way he wished to say it.

People walking along the street saw and heard him. He didn’t care. He said what he did like you’d answer someone who had asked how your weekend had gone. Then he got in his car and drove away. Not even fast, and also nonchalantly. Wasn’t some burn-rubber-in-rage moment. If I had heard the strains of yacht rock coming from his car radio, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

I must admit: it was his comfort level with confrontation—which was genuine—that I kind of respected. Not the language. Not the message, certainly. I mean, at the same time, a word often has the power that someone else decides to give it, unless Shakespeare’s doing the wordsmithing, and this guy wasn’t exactly Shakespeare.

But he also wasn’t unoriginal. It depresses me that I have actual reason to recall him to mind simply because rarely do I encounter anyone—in life or on a screen—about whom this may be said in a world in which life increasingly is the screen, and individuals and their lives no longer exist.

The woman on Facebook I can’t stand with a caveat is a per capita person. A per capita person isn’t a real human being. They represent a certain number of other human beings. There’s a ratio. One such person represents a million people. That sort of thing. Because they’re so typical. Unvarying. Predictable. Un-alive save that okay, sure, there’s a pulse, but a clock has a sort of pulse if you put your hand over its face and what’s really the difference beyond the fact that a clock keeps better time?

She has all of the let-me-show-you-what-a-good-person-I-am stuff: the BLM graphics, plenty of memes from COVID about how she saved lives by staying home on her couch, the rainbow Pride filters, the “I stand with the Ukraine” badge at the bottom of her profile picture. I don’t think she’s had an original thought in her life. I don’t think she’s ever actually cared about anything. I don’t think she could. I think she’s a robot with less soul. Because a regular robot does develop a soul in time.

I try not to look at this woman’s page. I could have unfriended her. But as she’s a per capita person, I might as well then unfriend everyone out of principle, because they’re the same. If I unfriend her and no one else, let alone legions of people, I’m being hypocritical.

This is how the world works now if you’re going to be in it, so I try to stick it out with something like this, which itself has a per capita quality. A single thing like Facebook represents 100 other things that operate around the same premise. It’s also one reason why I wish the world could go into a closet with an extension cord it had handy in the house and hang itself, but the world is just too big for that.

A flood might solve something, but if it did, and you survived, you wouldn’t live long enough to experience the better world that was to come. Everything has to be rebuilt and built better. Takes a long time. Longer than your lifetime, for those changes to become the new and better norm.

Which means that floods have very little value for a person, whereas you’d like to think that on occasion they do, knowing how necessary a purge is every now and again.

That puts floods at the level of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes don’t offer any benefits for you.

People don’t like snakes, but they control the rodent population. There isn’t a lot in the natural world that does jack shit to the good for humans, but floods and mosquitoes have that in common, unfortunately, much as I hate to see floods in that category.

I don’t go to her page so much as she posts her parrotings constantly—on behalf of whatever the trending cause of the moment is—and they pop up in my feed. I’ll grant that odors are incapable of passing through a computer screen, but you also can’t tell me I’m not experiencing a whiff of cat urine each time I see that mug of hers. And it is a mug in all of the dismissive implications of the term.

Box-shaped, but with curved corners, not sharp angles. A face that qualifies as worthy of the term “mug” has this dump truck driver quality that seems to gruffly declare, “Okay, I’m here, Mac.” Cheeks a 1940s butcher once would have loved to find on a cow. When I first saw her inevitable COVID signage and boastings of sedentary prowess, my thought was, “The life you save by getting off that damn couch may be your own.”

Lately she’s been posting a lot of photos of sea otters. If we could learn to be like them, she says, the world would be healed. Namaste. For they are so gentle and loving. They embrace the moment, otters. They live a life of contentment, realizing the value of the simple things, which results in otters having full hearts and an insatiable zeal for child-like games. She has a lot of photos of sea otters. A sufficient number that I’ve wondered how many full pages she’s utilized from the stores of Google images and how many pages Google has.

If you were a baby seal, and your parents had some advice for you at the start of your life, you know what would be the first thing that they said? Well, probably remember to surface, or something like that. You’re not a fish, even though it sometimes seems like you are when you’re swimming underwater for a while. Pride comes before a burst lung.

Then they’d tell you to steer clear of otters before getting to sharks, because otters will rape the life out of you. They’ll actually rape you until you die, and at least with a shark death is quick.

That’s what otters do. They love it. These aren’t good guys. They do it in groups, too. It’s sport to them. Having a laugh. They may also eat a little bit of you—they have a thing for eyes—as you’re in the act of dying, if they’re feeling peckish or merely for further amusement.

The otter isn’t troubled by matters of conscience. You can say that no animals are, to which I’d respond that I don’t really agree, but if there was an animal that couldn’t give a fuck about something like this, it’s an otter.

People are similar in terms of an absence of conscience. I figure Jiminy Cricket has been out of work for a long time now, drinking from a paper bag in the street and caring less and less each day if someone brings a heel down on him. But otters will rape you until death if you’re a baby seal, then they’ll pose later that same hour for some jackass’s photo, which will go up on Facebook as part of the all-pervasive and unchallenged otter brand.

* from "The Truth About Otters"/Become Your Own Superhero: Intrepid Exceptions to Modern Fiction


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