Have you noticed this? That people who are really deeply good at what they do and are doing it to the Nth degree are so often serious assholes?
If you’ve been to, oh, I don’t know, let’s just say….Brooklyn, then you know of what I here speak. Awesomeness overshadowed by self-awareness of awesomeness, which then tips said awesomeness into the realm of insufferability. We’ve come to accept it with writers, painters, movie directors, but in my life I see it a lot with small business owners. The ones who are doing the most awesome shit are so often also the most stuck-up and annoying.
My work is to be at once awesome and not assholey, and it’s harder than you can possibly imagine.
Seriously. The struggle not to be an asshole takes up roughly half of my mindspace on any given day. I come from a family comprised almost solely of giant assholes, and I live in today’s giantly assholely world. I am both made of and swim around in assholely molecules every minute of every day.*
Despite that, I think it’s fair to say that I am not, on balance, an asshole. I think about this all the time, and here’s what I’ve figured out: I think (I hope) I have struck this weirdly awesome balance in my life: I am at once the most intense and angry person I know as well as one of the most sweet. Can this be? Can I continue like this? I really want to, I really like this balance. Not letting the anger overtake the sweetness, not letting the sweetness trickle into treacle.
I am deeply hard, I have harsh political views, I am sometimes overly brash in my resistance to compromise, and being forced to bear witness to most people’s lives, beliefs, and activities engenders in me feelings ranging from disinterest to literal revulsion to screaming rage.
On the other hand: I work hard at cultivating loving relationships with those I love; at deeply enjoying the pleasure of being alive; and at opening my heart to the many breathtaking wonderfulnesses my life provides.
I like talking about it, and trusting good friends who will tell me when the balance is a little off. I like that I can sometimes sort of put my sanity into other people’s hands, letting them feel the heavy weight of it and asking them plainly: “OK? Sane?” And they can nod and smile and reassure me that my anger is healthy,** or take my hand and ignore me when I blow up and take a walk and tell me I’m being, quite literally, insane.
A lot of this is related to work. Let me tell you a story.
There is a bakery in the town in which my commercial kitchen is located. I have heard many, many stories about the baker who owns this bakery. For example, a few months ago I linked to a police report about him wandering around a street festival without trousers, with his junk all on display. (That really doesn’t bother me, I’m just painting a picture for you. I like people’s junk being on display, actually. It sort of adds value to my day to know that weirdo bakers are getting drunk at small-town street festivals and possibly scarring children for life with their wrinkly junk.***)
In every story I’ve ever heard about this baker, the phrase “what an asshole!” is invariably used. The story about the time my sweetheart tried to get a vegan hot chocolate. The many many stories from my sous chef, who continues going there seemingly only to collect bizarre stories (I should state that she is too sweet to actually call him an asshole, but that’s her sentiment, I can tell). The friends of mine who ordered a wedding cake from him and somehow things got so angry that they asked another friend to pick up the cake because they knew they would get into a fist fight if they saw him. Etc. Ad infinitum.
I had never been to this bakery. I bake my own bread and work around the corner, where there is always good, free food waiting for me. But on a recent weekend I was poking around town with a friend and he wanted to get a coffee**** and a sandwich on good bread, so we ventured in.
Within two minutes I was so incredibly angry that my friend and I spent the next few hours analyzing the interaction second-by-second, with me tracing each strain of anger back to a specific ill-placed word, dark look, snobbish turn of phrase, infuriating sentence.
My friend wasn’t particularly bothered. He was happy that some sort of eggy sandwich he got was appropriately-sized (“Only one egg!” and I should state that he charged him .25 more for an egg that wasn’t born in hell, which is, I suppose, good on balance.) and he also ate the second half of my sandwich, which was incredibly tasty (I’m a half-sandwich eater, OK?*****).
That’s the thing: everything was good. The food was just lovely. Made with care, if not exactly love. When ordering my sandwich, I misunderstood the vegan options on the menu and apparently ordered wrong. I was sternly told that my off-the-menu sandwich creation was “not recommended” and looked upon like a speck of dust who couldn’t put together a good sandwich if my life depended on it. The baker went on and on about why that sandwich wouldn’t be good and why I should order the sandwich on the menu—which is what I was trying to do.
In the end I got all icy and sternly said: “Just give me the best. vegan. sandwich. you. can. make.” and he respected that, both the iciness and the request for quality, as I had a feeling he would.
I won’t go into the many more details of insultingness and irksomeness. It was a feeling that permeated the place.
“He’s a good baker, he’s just not good with customers,” said my friend. He didn’t get why I was annoyed.
“Well he shouldn’t FUCKING DEAL WITH CUSTOMERS if he’s going to insult them all day long.” I replied.
This is, of course, why I do not have a shop that is open to the public: I am not good at dealing with customers. I would critique people’s orders, talk down to them, get visibly annoyed by their food stupidity. I know this about myself, and I sequester myself appropriately. I am largely cloistered. I rarely answer the telephone. This is good for me. I have found a way to navigate through my annoying snobbishness and holier-than-thouity to a decent career doing what I love. (The internet is my medium, I bow to its barriers.)
The thing is: the baker was toeing a line I very much like: he runs his business with principles other than money making at its heart. Clearly he cares more for quality than kindness, and I completely respect that. The place reminds me a lot of my beloved Bloodroot: resolutely individual. Going to Bloodroot for the first time can be frustrating because there are no waitresses and the ordering system is quirky, but the owners are aware of this and walk everyone through the process. Unlike almost every restaurant in the world, they treat you like a person, not a “customer.” I love this. It is the world I want to live in.
You’re not treated like a customer at the bakery, either. You’re treated like a potential enemy who must be conquered. This I do not love.
The baker is an artisan: I’m sure he works with razor-thin margins, I know he bakes everything from scratch, I’m sure he puts in the effort to make everything he does worth doing. People do not like this. They like and want cheap shit, and when you give them something other than cheap shit they are confused and quickly become annoyed, as do you after you explain for the six hundredth time why you cook the way you do, why things take a little longer because you make them from scratch, why your bread won’t last for weeks and weeks.
This work of quality artisanship is very, very annoying. You’re taking one little string and trying to pull the entire world over to you with it. Sometimes it breaks, and that makes you angry.
We make our choices. I understand mine, I understood Bloodroot’s, and I understand the baker’s. I don’t understand McDonalds, I don’t understand Starbucks. I like mine, I like Bloodroot’s, and the baker’s make me angry.
Balance is the thing, I suppose. Balancing our love of artisanship and all that it entails with a love of life that prevents us from succumbing to assholery. I guess I’ll keep on keepin’ on, trying to balance my beloved anger with sweetness, keeping my head down, working hard, trying to have compassion for those also on my path.
*I just had a long conversation with myself (in my head, thankfully) about whether or not calling people assholes is sort of anti-gay, just as I try not to call people pussies unless they are, you know, doing something awesome (I went through a phase of calling people “fucking cunts” when they did awesome things, but somehow it didn’t take, I have no idea why.). For some reason I have absolutely no compunction about calling people dicks since I very much enjoy insulting men, but calling people assholes seems a teeny bit insulting specifically to my beloved fags. After I went around and around this in my head, I finally came to the conclusion that it’s OK to call people assholes because let’s face it: shit comes out of an asshole, that fact cannot change.
(And here my partner is reading my blog in his bunk on his bus on his phone right before bed, and is dying a little bit inside because of my bathroom humor. I can hear his sigh these many states away. Alas! We can’t all be Mr. Integrity!)
**Which brings me to my Best Facebook Status Update of the Week. Are you ready to be blown away? Here goes: “My anger is a guava kombucha: sometimes healthy, sometimes explosive, always pink, always on the verge.” yesssssssssss.
***I think we can all agree that calling people’s bits “junk” is sort of rad for reasons no one can really explain, no?
****I’ve started saying “a coffee” instead of “a cup of coffee” or “some coffee.” I like it and feel it somehow sounds more European. Don’t you think? (I don’t actually drink coffee myself, but jump in on people’s conversations about which of the 40 coffeehouses in my town has the best coffee all the time. You didn’t need to know any of this.)
*****This is the post full of things no one cares about or needs to know!
******If you are wont to compare my writing style to that of the dearly departed David Foster Wallace because of all my parenthetical asides and footnotes, PLEASE DO.