Monday, April 18, 2011

Dumb as a Stone

Yesterday I had an early morning appointment with the dentist.  Afterwards, I was so hungry that I was starting to feel like a crazed animal, so I popped into a nearby Hardee's for a lil' egg sammich.

Because it was still quite early in the morning, the place was PACKED with old people.  Not the kind of old people who are nearly helpless and shivering like chihuahuas in their wheelchairs, but the spry retirees.  The kind who use phrases like "tough broad" and "Don't you worry your pretty little head."  The kind who are actually surprised to find out that infomercial products are scams.

Yeah.  That kind.

As I scuttled away with my food to an isolated table near the window, a white-haired, ruddy-cheeked man approached a group of his buddies standing near the soda machine.  "Hey Jerry!" the man hollered.  "You know, my wife is as dumb as a stone!  We were at church the other day, and she says, 'Where did those cones come from?'  And I said, 'They're from a pine tree, ya dummy!'"

He then immediately broke out into loud, belly-shaking har-har-har laughter, where the eyes squint and the mouth gapes open and the top teeth are showing, and the har-hars fire out at a steady, swift, hammering pace.  His friends did the same.  Har har har har har!  A chorus.  As if it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. 

Then, this man went to the next group of his buddies, sat down with them, and loudly told them the exact same story--verbatim--as if it were a rehearsed stand-up act.  "...ya dummy!"   Har har har har har!

What is wrong with that man? I wondered.  Why would he brag to his friends about verbally abusing his wife?  Is he going to go around to every single table and repeat this same lame story?  It's not even funny.

I thought about the different attitudes towards marriage that might have influenced this man's generation, but then I remembered that both men and women, young and old, do this same weird thing:  They talk shit about their significant others in public.  Like, they announce it within easy earshot of numerous strangers--in restaurants and stores, at parties and club meetings, at work, at school. 

And not just old married people who've had 40 years to think of all the reasons they hate their spouse.  Just last week in my anthropology lab, this arrogant little shit who I can't stand, who's probably all of 22, and who I shall call "Vinny," was loudly talking, in a room full of a dozen people, about some anthro book he recently read.  In a slightly hostile, condescending tone, he reported that the book was helping him understand why his girlfriend "does all the crazy things that she does." 

I wanted to say, "If she's crazy, why are you with her?"  But I didn't.

And women do this weird thing, too:  Oh, my stupid husband [blah blah blah], my idiot husband [blah blah blah]. 

My question is, what are people thinking while and immediately after they say such mean things about their partner in the open?  Are they waiting for peals of laughter?  Or for sympathy?  Do they feel regret, like, I really shouldn't have said that...or what?  Why do they think this behavior is okay?

It's one thing to vent about your romantic troubles privately with your best friends, but, to me, it's quite another to insult your partner as a comedy act to groups of people.  Why do it?  In "white Wisconsin" culture, people choose their mates of their own free will.  There are no legal betrothals, no forcing anyone to marry someone they neither love nor respect.  Referencing the Dumb-as-a-Stone Man, let's say his wife really does have your general, run-of-the-mill stupidity as one of her main character traits. 

He's the one who married her. 

He's the one who voluntarily agreed to spend the rest of his life with her.

He's the one who signed the marriage license and certificate and let it go to the courthouse for processing.

What does that say about him?

I was once married to a person whose intellect I did not respect.  Yes, I made a terrible mistake.  And yes, I did something to correct that mistake--I got out of that relationship fast.

So if you stay with someone who you think is "crazy," "stupid," or "dumb," what does that say about you?  That you have no taste in people?  That you can't sniff out a lover's basic character?  Or that you were so desperate to get laid that you didn't even bother to take the time to get to know him or her?

What does that make you?