L'esprit de l'escalier

In some ways the most interesting people to deal with, for me, are the ones whose two most pronounced feelings towards me are, so far as I can tell, disdain and fear.

They are interesting, partly, because whenever I see them, it's a surprise to both of us -- we rarely plan to meet up, these people I scare and disgust -- and the way they choose to cope with the situation is by very, very studiously ignoring me. You know, the kind of ignoring that takes way more concentration than actually paying attention to someone -- making sure you're always keeping them in your peripherals so you can make sure you never actually have to focus on them.

There's a girl I had a crush on for like ten minutes a year ago. I don't know her very well. She seems very nice. Point of fact, I really don't know her at all. She's charming, and that's usually good enough for me. The barebones backstory here is that, the day after I met her, I asked her out via facebook message; she responded guardedly but not forbiddingly; and then I didn't respond for like a year, during which year we basically didn't interact with one another because MEN ARE FROM MARS AMIRIGHT, though when we ran into each other was generally polite and decorous, if sort of tense, because MEN ARE FROM MARS AMIRIGHT. Then, one day, I had a very bad day indeed, and a very unpleasant conversation, during which conversation I had a couple of beers. When I got home, I saw that she had liked something I had written on the facebook machine, which she had never done before. And I thought to myself -- though I reserve the right to disown this whole line of thought with the benefit of hindsight -- well, that was nice of her and makes me feel good; I will write her a message to make her feel good about herself! 

The effect of the message I wrote seems to have been precisely the opposite of that intended. Though I will not analyze why this is the case, I will include, in its entirety, the message itself, to enable the armchair diagnosis (and assuage the curiosity) of the reader:
Hey [redacted]. I'm writing to say that, when the above exchange happened, almost a year ago, I was asking you out because I totally thought you were rad, and also completely adorable. I didn't respond because it made me anxious, because I thought that it was totally sweet and also completely unexpected that you did respond, and frankly I just kind of savored it and didn't want to screw it up. I am writing now to say that -- while I don't think you should ever go out with me, because you are way too pretty for me, and I'm not stupid -- it remains the case that you are totally rad, and every time I see you I'm like, wow, she's awesome and adorable, and also says really interesting things. All I'm trying to do, here, is acknowledge your objective level of radness. Well played, and be well, and good day!
I imagine you can see how the good-hearted but somewhat vertiginous and swirling motives in back of this missive could, depending on the recipient, make it fly astray and hit the "I am confused and he is a stalker what the fuck" part of the brain instead of the "Aw what a nice little unremembered act of kindness and of love" part of the heart. 

Anyway, the upshot of this message is that I cannot have an interaction with [redacted], now, that does not result in:
  1. Her just stone-cold, straight-up ignoring me
  2. My feelings being hurt
  3. Me giggling uncontrollably right after it's over
Once, for example, while she was studying in the lounge, I walked in through the door directly behind her and said "Hey!" She reflexively said "Hey!" back. But then, when turned around and saw it was me who had said "Hey!" the automatic affectation of good humor and camaraderie just instantly crumbled out of her face and her posture, and she swiveled back to scowl at her laptop with an unbreakable focus until I left the room. I had had every intention of sitting in the lounge and reading (in the chairs, incidentally, directly in the path of what would have been her sightline if she had looked up from the screenglow) but it seemed too much like social terrorism, so I just pretended to look in my mailbox -- which has not actually contained mail for something like two years -- and bolted. And then, I collapsed into a chortling heap in the hallway. And, at the same time, felt like a real piece of shit.

Today, on the other hand, I was sitting in the lounge reading, headphones over one ear the way I do sometimes when I would rather interact with people than a musty old book, when she walked in. I gave her the ol' reflexive "Hey!" greeting and it was met with -- or rather, I guess, decidedly not met with -- the contemptuous silence one associates with the caste system in India, or the treasurer of the A/V Club trying to get a ride home from the homecoming queen. 

So why is this funny, to me?

Because this reaction -- this posture of obviously counterfeit zenlike disinterest -- presents to the ignored party an absolute ocean of possibilities, simply because, when it's so obvious that someone is paying painfully close attention to you, but so obviously does not want to be paying any attention to you, and is not willing to seem to be paying any attention to you, you can do ALMOST WHATEVER YOU WANT with absolutely no consequences, and with absolutely no reaction from the ignoring party. It's a social carte blanche, and they're just giving it to you, begging you to take it, with no conception of its pricelessness. As long as you don't ask that person a direct question -- "What time is the talk later?" -- or indicate that person's concrete state of being -- "Your fly is unzipped, you dumb bastard" -- you can get away with everything. If they refuse to look at the register, it's the perfect crime every time.

In the maybe three seconds it took her to run the gauntlet from door to mailbox to door, I thought of the following things that I really wanted to blurt out, apropos of nothing:
  • "I like hamburgers better than I like hotdogs, but today I want a hotdog!"
  • "I smell amazing because of clean laundry!"
  • "It's such a nice day, it makes me want to fucking blow my brains out!"
I didn't say any of these things, because I am not the worst person -- I am merely a terrible person. I let her off the hook kind of easy -- just said "Bye!" in the dopey, mocking voice of the untipped bartender -- because I don't want her to dislike me more, or to think I'm scarier, than she already does. But I resent her resentment and I'm afraid of her fear, so obviously I dwelled on the situation for some minutes after she left, chuckling to myself merrily and sadly, self-loathingly and misanthropically. And, while I was sitting there, unable to read for the mild adrenaline rush that comes with a good, solid spurning, I came up with the following other things I could have, and in some ways would have really relished, said to her, all of which, I imagine, she would have just pretended not to hear, because people are crazy and interacting with them is a nightmare clusterfuck of anxiety, unspoken rules, and implied boundaries that are deep and black as the Styx:
  • "The Ultimate Warrior died, but he'll live on, in the hearts and minds of millions."
  • "Haven't wet the bed in a while, but I can't imagine the last time was the last time."
  • "If I had a million dollars in ones, I would make it rain on the Quad."
  • "It's hard not to admire Oprah, but what has she really done for people of color?"
  • "Artie Lange, R.D. Laing, K.D. Lang -- wow, that's weird."
  • "I can eat a whole box of popsicles, but maybe not all in one day."
I will be coming up with more of them throughout the afternoon, because people are crazy and interacting with them is a nightmare clusterfuck.

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