This story is about me. The title, unfortunately, does not refer to me. I don't remember when this was exactly, I have such a horrible fucking memory, (it must've been in grade school, grown-ups don't seem to say stuff like this, I don't think; I mean, I haven't heard anyone say this for years, but then again, I live on the East Coast now, and it doesn't seem like people in the New York/New Jersey area generally care as much about being “nice” or about other people being “nice” as they did on the West Coast, but on the other hand, most of the West Coast “niceness” is all bullshit anyway.) but I do remember that the first time I heard someone (probably a boy, maybe not) say, “she's the nicest person in the whole world!,” I knew he wasn't talking about me. I also pretty much knew (or felt) that no one would ever say that about me. I'm not 100% sure why. I know I wanted to be nice but I just felt rotten. I don't mean to say that I felt hatred or anything like that, for anyone, ever. I really did want to be nice, but maybe it was more like I wasn't sure how to be nice, or maybe what it even meant.
I think I've tried to be as good a person as I can be, but I've always believed there are these “against-the-rules” things, acts, behaviors, that don't hurt anyone personally, and all rules are man-made anyway and most of them are pretty arbitrary, so what the hell does it matter if I knowingly returned an unwanted product to the wrong store or if I took a felt tip marker from work? (My kid needed it for a project!) And I've justified this attitude by giving it the name “fluid ethics”. (I did not, though, raise my kids like this. I kept this dirty little secret to myself, teaching them that “honesty is always the best and only policy", but secretly hoping they will come to the same conclusions about life, which clearly makes me a huge fucking hypocrite.) There's a distinct difference, to me, between those acts and a deliberate something that would hurt an individual, emotionally or physically, which is “bad”, with no grey area. If a cashier somewhere gives me an extra ten dollar bill and I know it and I keep it, they could get in a lot of trouble, so I will always give it back. Screwing a huge chain store of dollars with my fraudulent return will hurt something, but hopefully not someone. (Once many years ago, I walked out of a pizzeria where I'd had lunch with my son without paying and when I realized it, I told him and said we were walking all the way back to pay.)
So, yesterday, I left work to take the deposits to the bank. Standard procedure, I don't do it often, my staff usually goes, but I thought I would give them a break. They were doing other things anyway. Even before I got to my car, I decided I would, after going to the bank, make a quick run into (extremely well branded 70-ish-year-old fast food chain). I was hungry. I was craving a cheeseburger. I've been going to the gym, getting fit, eating better. I deserve a treat! I had to pass it anyway on the way back!
No one would notice how long I was gone, since they were busy with new displays at the paper clip store, (I manage a store that sells fancy European “paper clips”) plus they knew I also had to pick supplies up at the local wholesale paper clip supply store. (More paper clips!)
So, no worries, it's just a quick stop. No need to feel guilty. Except, I do. When I pull into the parking lot, there's a line of cars, kind of longer than I had hoped. I get nervous. Should I just park and run in? It's hard to tell, but it looks like it might be faster. So I pull into a spot. But maybe the line inside is even longer? And what if someone who knows me sees me in there? I back out of the spot, looking behind me, being super careful, but knowing that I'm going to hit another car and then have to explain to my boss what I was doing in a fast food parking lot, running into cars, while I was on the clock. (“My doctor told me I was, uh, anemic and I forgot to eat anything at home before I left and I was feeling faint in my car and needed to pull over, and then, thank goodness, there was a perfect place! I figured I'd get myself some tasty burger and then head back to good ol' work!”) I don't hit anything and maneuver my car back into the drive-thru line, which is even longer now. I look at the clock on the radio, so I can start timing the whole thing, to see how much extra time I've been away, and gauge just how suspicious it may look. Of course the line moves as slow as possible, but when it's finally my turn to talk to the speakers, I yell out as quickly as possible, “two cheeseburgers” (one is just not enough, but I know I don't really want two. But they're like a dollar each.) so quickly it's almost like one syllable, because I want to be as considerate as possible to everyone involved, keep it moving, folks, but maybe it said it too quickly and the guy in the window doesn't understand me so I have to repeat myself, which just wasted another 1.5 seconds. So I move my car up to wait again, and now I start judging everyone else in line, not just ahead of me, but, insanely, behind me, and everyone that works inside also. Well of course it's taking forever, what the hell did they order in that car? Pigs. How many people are there in that car anyway? And doesn't everyone know how unhealthy this crap is? Is there even anyone AT the window taking their money? Why do so many people even go to these places?
At this point, my heart is beating pretty fast with the notion that I'm almost out of there, with no major incidents. In fact, no incidents at all. I pull up to the “get your food” window and wait way too long for two little fucking cheeseburgers, which at this point I already know will not taste all that great anymore because now I've started to think about how I shouldn't even be spending the money, since I had already brought my lunch to work, and would be eating it in like an hour. I know it's only two bucks, but I had just read something or heard something about someone who said that they had saved every extra cent they earned to put away for their child's future. Well. I don't do that. I barely make enough money to pay my bills, or so I say, but I buy myself clothing (inexpensive) and I do shit like this, buying food I don't need, so I am NOT putting every cent away for my child's future. As a side note, two years ago, she wondered why she wasn't allowed to work; now that she's 14, I'm not hearing that anymore.
So finally, the gracious server gently hands me my bag. I gently peel away from the window and head to safety, i.e. the main road, where I'll be able to feel that I'm finally in a legitimate location. La la la, I'm driving to the store, legitimately, to get supplies for my store after making a perfectly legitimate bank run, but before I can turn onto the road, I must wait for all the speeding cars to pass, as I am a very, very safe driver. Overly safe. As I wait, I sightlessly grab the bag that I threw onto the passenger seat, open it, stick my hand in and the first thing I feel: french fries. Well. I'm pretty sure I neither asked for nor paid for, french fries. I peek in and am relieved to see my two lovely little beef bundles all cuddly down in the bag, and yes, right next to them, hot and salty, that bag of fried and unexpected potato strips. The next two things happen virtually simultaneously, a beautiful (in a way) combination of mind and body: My mind understands that they are not mine, I didn't pay for them, and that I should back up, turn around, park, go inside and give them back, and my hand grabs five (or ten) of them and shoves them in my mouth. As I then pull out onto the now clear highway. On my way down the road to my next stop, I make every attempt to eat as many of them as possible, thinking if I can eat the whole bag before I get into the next parking lot, it'll almost be like I never had them at all! But I also can't stop thinking that it would really make perfect sense now for me to get into some kind of car accident or something. And here comes another thought, that even though there are far, far, far, far worse things people do (duh.) I also know there are people who would never, never, never, never do what I just did.
Knowing that fact (if it is, in fact, a fact) implies to me that I'm not as good a person as that other, hypothetical person, if you do believe that there are gradations of good and bad, i.e., there are really, really bad evil people and there are really, really good, ethical, selfless people and then there's a whole fucking mess of us in the middle. Unless there's not, and there's no grey areas and it's just good and bad and if that's the case then I sure the hell know where I fall.
So I think I try to be good. When I believe it matters. At least I think I do. Try I mean. But maybe it should always matter. And I'm not sure what this really has to do with being “nice” anyway.
Maybe it's just a losing battle.