Biff America: Hurling the anonymous insult
Carl and I are friends. That said I’ve never been to his home or met his wife and I am not certain of his last name – perhaps that’s the reason we still like each other.
Despite knowing so little about him, whenever I see Carl my day is brightened. He is just one of those people who never complains and always has something good to say. Most of my encounters with Carl have been at various stores and restaurants he has worked at over the years. His most recent gig is in a local store I frequent. I often plan my visits to coincide with the days he works.
Whenever I walk in he greets me with something like, “Biff, my brother … welcome.” We do our traditional fist bump and I go about my business.
It was just after such a greeting and after I did my shopping and approached the register when Carl made his admission.
“I have something to confess to you,” he said.
I was getting ready to be told the store had raised its prices or had under charged me the last time I was in when Carl dropped the bomb.
“About eight years ago I saw you at an event and I yelled, “Hey Biff, you suck!”
When I started laughing and said, “That was you? I thought it was my wife.” Carl added: “I was out here on spring break and you were emceeing some event for Mardi Gras. I was pretty buzzed and I saw you on stage and I verbally accosted you for no reason.”
I tried to assure Carl that, not only did I not recall the event but that, in my line of work, it comes with the territory.
“That’s not all,” my contrite friend added: “After you finished, you walked off the stage, and on your way out you passed by my friends and me and you asked me if I wanted your drink tickets. Here I had just told you that you sucked and you were offering me free drinks.”
Of course I did not remember that incident and I suggested to Carl that he wasn’t the first or the last to offer that opinion and I told him he was completely forgiven. But I had to ask: “Was I really that bad?”
Carl assured me that he wasn’t really paying attention, but it just felt good yelling that at me unnoticed. “The room was packed, you couldn’t see me, I was buzzed – it was fun being mean anonymously. Years later, after I moved here, and got to know you I have always felt guilty. Last week I made up my mind the next time I saw you I would tell you.”
I told Carl that, for his punishment, I might write a column about the event.
“Don’t change my name” he said, “I want to send it to my brother.”
Again, I consider Carl my friend. And moreover, when I was at that age, and even now, I have done and do many things that I too am not proud of. But part of Carl’s explanation struck a nerve with me – “It was fun being mean anonymously” – isn’t that the truth?
I think there are varying degrees of conflicts – clear, translucent, opaque.
Clear is when you confront someone face to face or in print using your real name. This takes courage and can be a healthy exchange of ideas and disagreements. Translucent is when you are seen but not necessarily identifiable, perhaps behind the wheel of a vehicle or skiing. Perhaps you cut someone off, assert yourself, or don’t give someone a break. This is less courageous than “clear” and often – if a vehicle is involved – more dangerous. There have been studies that suggest people are more inclined to drive aggressively if their vehicle is equipped with tinted windows – it’s easier to be a jerk when others can’t see you. In other words: “It was fun being mean anonymously.”
Opaque is when people really allow their fault-finding flags to fly. This is ugly and obvious in online forums and chat rooms where the issue at hand is often ignored while ad hominem attacks reign. It’s kind of funny: You have two or more people, all with fake names, insulting other people, also using fake names. It’s like the Civil War brothers fighting brothers and not knowing it. I try not to look at online forums because, when I do, it makes me embarrassed to be a human and sad for the offenders as well as our species.
I’ve learned over the years that most anger originates with self-loathing and is eventually turned inward. You cannot be a jerk to others while liking yourself.
I didn’t bother going into all that with my buddy Carl. He was a kid when it happened, a nice guy now and – unfortunately – a good judge of emcee talent… .
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8 and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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