What I’ve learned from assholes around the world

We don’t have to pay assholes back, or forward.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

A car full of heckling dickheads threw a slushy at me one night. Like you do when you spot someone out for a run. Their ringleader had the wit to shout, “Wet t-shirt contest!” as he hurled the drink.

Direct hit. Almost impressive. Like he’d been practicing for weeks. Or maybe he played baseball. Beats me.

Either way, the splatter was epic. I stopped in my tracks and impulsively turned to flip them the bird. But they were so far down the road, they didn’t see it. Probably a good thing.

Side effects of public humiliation include shock and indignation. Feelings of utter powerlessness have happened. Before leaving your house, ask your doctor if people are right for you.

So I stood there, drenched, wondering why. The sheer stupidity dumbfounded me. First, you can’t have a wet t-shirt contest with synthetic, moisture wicking sportswear. It dries too fast. Idiots. Second, I wanted to ask what kind of adult drinks a slushy. Where the hell do you even get one?

At least do the common courtesy of throwing Starbucks.

Motivations eluded me. Maybe I looked stupid running alongside a major road. Or maybe he was trying to flirt. Impress his friends. Get back at some ex who I somehow reminded him of.

Most likely, he was just trying to bring everyone down that he could. Some people live in a constant state of anguish. Instead of dealing with their problems, they make everyone else feel like shit, too.

Don’t take assholes personally

This first lesson’s easy to forget. I do it all the time. But we have to remember. Assholes aren’t singling you out when they act that way. You’re not special. And there’s nothing wrong with you.

If you could stop an asshole and interview them, they couldn’t give a reason for their behavior. Not a real one. They don’t excel at reflection.

You’re probably the fifth random person they’ve pissed off that day. They target anyone, because they’re desperate.

Assholes feel especially bold behind the wheel. One night, another car load full of drunk idiots almost ran me over in a parking lot. I had to dive out of their way. So I memorized their plate and called the police.

An officer took my statement. He could tell I wasn’t just upset. I wanted revenge. I asked about pressing charges. That’s when he looked at me and said, the way they were driving, they’d be easy to find. So he sent the license plate and description out over the radio. I’m pretty sure they got pulled. Assholes like them always wind up in jail. Eventually.

You can’t always get personal revenge against assholes. Maybe they’ll never get what we think they deserve. But I’ve seen enough to know they’re pretty miserable. Look at some of the biggest, most powerful assholes. Sure, they have money. But they’re not happy. For me, it’s no longer about revenge. I’d just like to stop the spread of asshole.

Assholes deserve your pity

Longterm assholes eventually open up. Like my upstairs neighbor did. For a year, he and his friends got drunk in the stairwell and woke me up in the middle of the night. Every weekend.

He didn’t break down his boxes, so our trash always overflowed. Never cleaned up after his dog. Let his friends park in my space. Watched TV with the sound at maximum, so I always knew when Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D came on. And then he even had the nerve to complain one morning when my alarm clock woke disturbed his hangover recovery.

One night, he finally got drunk and stood at my door, telling me how ugly and fat I was. Oh, and stupid. Trifecta.

And then the truth came out. Apparently, I thought I was better than him because I was a professor, and he worked at Staples. I didn’t say hi to him in the stairwell. I never drank with him and his friends. Because I was always working. Because I had a career, and a spouse.

All of that hurt his feelings.

Wow, I was kind of amazed. We didn’t become friends. Surprised? But it shed light on the nature of assholes. They’re sad little creatures. Pity them. I’m not saying add them to your holiday gift list. But pity sounds about right.

Assholes have no standards

We think assholes only prey on people with insecurities. Sure, they probably prefer someone who won’t fight back. But I’ve seen assholes aim at a surprisingly wide range of the human race.

I’ve seen assholes at zoos, taunting lions and tigers. Once, I saw a middle-aged man banging on the glass at a gorilla exhibit. A crowd of people stood staring. Occasionally, he would turn and smirk at everyone.

We all knew that gorilla could take him apart like a Mr. Potato Head. This asshole had thick glass to thank for his life. Somehow, he derived a sense of power and pleasure from the situation.

That’s one truly desperate asshole. Imagine his life. He’s failed so hard, the only thing he has left is proving his superiority over an animal.

Assholes always wind up picking on the most defenseless. But they don’t start there. They work their way down the chain. Look at the comments page on any blog, YouTube channel, or Twitter feed of a successful person. Among the praise, plenty of trolls.

The asshole has a wide and varied diet. They have to, because hunting other people is all they’re good at. Half the time, they even fail at that. So they have to work harder and harder to feed their own damaged egos.

Don’t spread asshole

I’m still thinking about that asshole at the zoo, banging on the glass. The gorilla paid him no attention at all. Almost like he knew what the guy wanted. A show of aggression. Entertainment.

Distraction from his own sad life.

The slushy asshole only had one purpose. He saw me doing something healthy and productive, and wanted to stop it.

The complete disregard for my humanity sank in as I walked home. These assholes had ruined my run. I could already feel the sugary, food-colored syrup drying on my limbs and chest.

But then I realized. Why let them? I’d been looking forward to my run all day. So I wiped myself off, changed, and tried again. Part of me worried about a second encounter. But it didn’t happen.

For days, slushy flashbacks made me feel resentful toward everyone, even strangers. My guard was up, ready for the next asshole. I probably treated people meaner, paying it forward, even when I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.

Then I realized again. Assholes are like zombies. They want to infect you, turn you into one of them. So that you, too, can spread misery.

Assholes may not have the power to articulate it, but they want to create a world that excuses their behavior. Justifies. Reinforces. It’s hard to be an asshole when everyone else is pleasant.

Maybe we can’t do much to get revenge on assholes. But we can try to slow the spread. I’ve lived too much of my life preparing for the next asshole. Not anymore. I’m going to focus on quarantine.