Probably my churchy upbringing, but I often view some of the people I’ve known as sort of human parables. Or maybe koans, a term I picked up after I ditched The Church, The South, and The Shebang. One that I think of that way, but am still trying to figure out, was Irene Peasely, who I was around for about a year–a long time for me to be in a single school.
I had couple of enemies in school. Some were fun. I enjoyed having some villain to fight against. Some were actually, actively, rotten and had some scrapes. But the one that really worked on me was Irene Peasely. I never did anything to her, but she hated my guts. I didn’t hate her. I didn’t give a damn about her one way or the other. Which was probably the problem in the first place. She was, to put it bluntly, one ugly bitch. Ugly as home-made sin, my Mama would have said, but never about another person. And she was clumsy in her moves and gauche in her speech, totally clueless misfit. And her personality was just awful: dour, negative, mean, snide. Oh, and really stupid. And as poor as us. She didn’t really have any friends, I don’t think. Ate lunch with other little ugly lump girls at a corner table. Anytime she was around me she was nasty as a wet tomcat. Ugly bitch. For some reason I got bothered by her. And what I finally figured out was, it just wasn’t fair. She got screwed by life right out of the box.
I’m well aware that I have been given more than others, very fortunate through no fault of my own. And there’s no need to get into the “Given by?” question. Doesn’t matter if you get your birthday gifts from God or Darwin or the stork or the Truth Fairy. You find a nice present on your desk or mailbox, you might be curious about where it came from, but it doesn’t change the fact that now you’ve got something you didn’t have before.
And I’m painfully aware I’ve done very little to give back or pay forward or pass on or whatever you want to call it. I’ve said all along I was a brat and I guess I still am. Partly, I’m not sure what I should do. I give money to homeless people on the street. I try to be kind to people who I don’t have a good reason to be mean to. I coach a little. But I really can’t say I’ve done much with what I inherited. Just cashed it in on the spot market, unlike girls in my position who played their looky-loo career into a fragrance line or gym or workout video empire or what have you. I would have to say I’m an Unfaithful Servant.
I always sympathized with that servant when we heard the parable over and over in Sunday School and the occasional sermon. The way I sized it up, he got screwed. I became comfortable fairly early on with the idea that the almighty merciful God can fuck over his most devoted servants without even apologizing. You look at Job, think it over. This guy has his family killed off, loses everything (like anything else would mean much after that), is suffering from boils and cankers all over. And why? So God can win a bet with Satan. Who’s got to be a welsher anyway. But Job hangs tough and keeps the faith, so God gives him back even more than he had before. Happy mother-jumpin’ ending, there. Don’t worry about your kids dying in agony… here’s even more kids for you; thank me later. I can’t believe Jews would write this thing. Go tell a Jewish mother you’re going to kill her kids, but it’s OK because she can have more kids later. So anyway, it’s not like God plays it straight with people.
Another one I secretly sided with was the Prodigal Son’s Brother, by the way. Here the guy keeps the faith and all, but he still gets jerked and sees everything lavished on his wastrel fuckup brother who bounced off on them. Another divine screwjob. So it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to see the Servants bit as totally bogus. Big Boss Man gives one servant, like his butler, ten talents and he goes out and invests it (all the profit going to the boss, of course). But he only gives two to the gardener or whoever. So he buries it to protect it and gets it taken away from him and given to Mr. Portfolio because he didn’t show a return. Nice. Anybody ever think that when you have only a little money, you might not be as happy to put it into the stock market or whatever? And maybe if you’re not some hotshot day player, so even your boss doesn’t trust you with money, you might not have the skill sets to double it up? And if you lose it? Play the wrong mutual fund or racehorse and be standing there with your empty hands hanging out? Well, look what happened when he still had the money to give back. Not unreasonable to expect boils and sudden infant death.
But I started noticing some real life laboratories on that whole concept and got pretty confused. The whole use of the world “talents” to describe the capital of those Hebrew slaves wasn’t lost on me (in fact got drilled in a lot when the topic came up and I was around). So it hit me about my sophomore year in high school that I was getting all sorts of help to improve on my talents. Coaching, more playing time, better gear: anything to help make me perform better. By college it was really impressive, like one of those jet fighter pictures with this big team of guys posing beside it because they were the ones keeping it up there flying around and killing folks. I had a support team and pit crew. But the kids without a lot of natural talent got diddly squat. So the gap between me and them got wider and wider as we got older. This didn’t really seem fair.
And not just sports. Pretty girls get noticed, get attention from guys that makes them better at attracting guys and dealing with them, get better jobs, just in every way tend to get returns on that birth talent of skin-deep appearance value. People don’t seem to get the obvious answer when they ask me how I got the first (and last) paintings I ever did shown in a gallery in Paris, or walked into Hollywood and got a job reading scripts and making notes, or get good seats, or free stuff or whatever. Which is, “When I ask men for things, they almost never say no.” This isn’t fair. It’s like the guy with ten talents doesn’t really have to do anything to get more, just walk around flashing his roll.
It was actually the Irene Peasely thing that made me start asking Daddy about the whole Faithful Servant set-up. He couldn’t come up with anything worth hearing, but of course his concern and universal caring slopped out all over. And really, what could he say about Job? Have faith and God’s ways are mysterious and known to no man, much less pre-adolescent brats? I nodded sweetly, then went and asked Mama. She said that bearing life’s trials is like homework that makes us better people. What I was noticing was that trials and tribulations tended to make people worse. So, not buying any of it so far, I asked Flora Lee about it. She was no intellectual heavyweight, but a damned good big sister with a sort of instinctive wisdom about the ways of the world. Until she found cocaine, that is, but that was later on. (She unfound it after a few years and got back to being herself, in case you were worried about her.) I told her about Job and the Unfaithful Servant and Lot and the Prodigal’s Bro and all that and she just kept listening. So I wound it up and said, “It’s not fair, Flora.”
She told me, “Cammy, there isn’t anything fair about it. Not with the World and not with God, either. He’s just one more guy, doing as he pleases. If you’re lucky, remember that. You’re lucky. That’s all it is, nothing personal. No reason not to try to make things even better. But just don’t make it worse for anybody else.” And I’ve really tried to stick to that, myself.
Then I asked her about Irene. She knew her and agreed that she had as little going for her as anybody we’d ever met. She said, “How do you treat her?” I said, basically, that I didn’t. I ignored her, didn’t want to set her off because when she started whining and bitching and calling down she was even more pitiful. And even uglier, stupider, and more obnoxious. She said, “Well, why don’t you just notice her a little?” She didn’t mean trying to be friends or be nice or anything, said that would backfire if I tried it. And then she would really hate my guts. So I tried just kind of meeting her eyes when we passed in the halls, saying hi if she came in the girls’ room when I was there. If she went off, I’d just say, “Irene, that is just mean talk,” and walk away. Once she dropped all her stuff in the hall and I picked some up and handed it to her. And we got to be great friends and I showed her how to become more attractive and guys started asking her out.
Yeah, right. I don’t think you could even get away with that on the Disney Channel. But the thing is, I didn’t make her more unhappy. I treated her like a person, not some furniture in the school. And believe me, there are plenty of girls like me who do exactly that to girls who aren’t pretty or talented or have money. She stopped storming at me, but I could have provoked her to, easy. I signed the back of her class picture and she signed mine. Just names, no messages. But better. And the best part was, I didn’t have to worry about her any more.
I heard she got married, by the way.
Had a bunch of ugly kids.
So I guess she won.