Did you know I used to be serious? I did. I stopped, because it made me want to hurt people, it made me want to hurt myself.
And when you're going into sixth grade, you don't want to be hurting people, and you don't want to be hurting yourself. You aren't smart enough, that's the thing, You aren't smart enough to get away with it. You don't understand the logic behind adult lying, so you blurt out whatever, not knowing that they'll be able to pick apart your story in no time.
So it's better to not hurt people. Not hurt yourself. It's better to stop being serious for a while, because it will only get you in trouble.
Funny, though, you can do that. The problem with funny is, it's not a halfway thing. You have to stay in practice. The thing about funny is, it's something you can't fake. You can lie to everyone about how you feel, you can pretend to care what they think. But to make them laugh, you have to mean it.
You wrangle those belly laughs out of people, you can barely laugh along with them, you're too busy watching them and appreciating the fact that this is the only truth in your life.
This is all a lie.
You try to get the tattoo, but the guy explains that as your skin changes, all the words will blur and grow together. "By the time it's healed," he says, "You'll barely be able to read it." Something so appealing about that.
How long could you go, you think, before people noticed? Long enough that they'll see it and accept it? Long enough that they'll think they just overlooked it this whole time?
This is all a lie.
Did you know I used to be serious?
I couldn't help being funny sometimes, it was just something I was, something I had worked on for so long that it had infested me. The jokes aren't always funny, but they're always there, pouring out of my mouth even if no one's listening.
That moment, where people who don't know you, or people who don't like you, they laugh, because they just can't help it. It's an addiction, it's a power trip, it's a fix. Chipped teeth showing and accidental farts and closed eyes, and all the other stuff that happens with real laughter. Those things happened to other people because of what I had nurtured.
But I had also nurtured that seriousness. They never had to see that, though.
So on those nights, when there's no one to impress with funny, that's when the serious seeps through. That's when you're ordering your beer, and the guy next to you says something about how you might as well just buy water. Normally you'd make a joke about liking a little alcohol with your water, or you'd make some self-deprecating remark about the diet you've been on for the last few months.
But no. Tonight, we aren't being funny, and there's no one to impress. So you look at the guy, and you want to make a joke, that's how ingrained it is, is that you want to at least make a hateful joke about how if you drink heavy beer, it changes the taste of your semen, and his girlfriend doesn't like that.
Instead, you tell him to fuck himself and fuck his mother, and then you turn back to your beer and wait for the hit.
You remember in Fight Club, where they were all trying to start fights? It was their homework assignment or whatever. They got it all wrong, being aggressive. You don't get all crazy and flex blood at people. That just sends up alarms, that warns them of danger. The key is to act like you aren't even expecting to get into a fight, like your behavior is totally acceptable.
Most of the time, like 97% of the time, they'll say something first. Something like "Hey," or "What'd you say?" or "Turn around."
You don't turn around, though, because why would you? You said what you needed to say, there's no reason to turn around.
And 97% of that 97% of the time, you'll get it.
That fist, to the back of your head, so fucking hard, it feels like your brain is bouncing around inside your skull. It's awful, I won't lie. If they catch you just right, you get a headache and a sick stomach at the same time, and you kind of have to fight to control your bladder. Usually though, it's just a "thunk" and a sensation of being hit that pisses you off. No visible bruises, no abrasions.
If you act fast enough, there won't be any.
And you'll act fast enough, because this is the moment you've been waiting for. This is the only truth, now, just like making someone laugh was the only truth before, this is what's real. This is some stranger reacting to you in a way that you made them, they don't even have control. This is where there are no jokes, no lies, no nonsense. Your secret space where it's all about hurting.
You get your hurt, and you give some, and if you're fast enough, he won't even get to plow up your face. You go in to work on Monday, nobody even knows. If they notice the scuffed knuckles--and they won't--you just tell them you skinned yourself reaching for a pan from under the counter.
If you aren't fast enough, if you take it to the face, you make up some story. Not like hitting a doorway or falling down stairs--that's all stupid and transparent and boring. You make it something crazy and unbelievably believable, something like how you were playing catch in the park, and you went to dive to make the catch, but you hit that statue, you know that one of the naked guy holding up the planet or whatever he's supposed to be doing, yeah that one, and you dove, and you crashed into that statue and his dick caught you right in the eye. Yep, I got my black eye from some guy's rock-hard dick.
So that when you finish, they chuckle and say, "Only, you man, only you with your luck." And then you tell a joke, just so that they know everything's okay.
Because it's all okay, as long as you keep laughing.
Written for the upcoming (or eventual, maybe) fiction book My Imaginary Life.
Posted under Short Stories on 12/04/10