I was standing at the post office and it was awful. It was too cold, always too cold. And the line was long and winding and restless and there was only that one guy working, and he’s the worst kind of person because, well because he’s competent for starters. And for two, he’s nice. And so I was antsy, man. I mean, this guy didn’t even have the tact to let us stand there with the forms we’re not sure how to fill out and the pens which ran out of ink and the huge deflated cardboard boxes in our arms like Roman shields, this guy didn’t even let us hate him.
So instead we turned on each other. We sized each other up — we looked at that one dunce talking on the cell phone and we psychoanalyzed his conversation and — don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming Doug, I think that was the postal employee’s name, I’m just trying to get to the bottom of what happened in there – we wanted this loud pompous ass on the phone to talk even louder so we could be like, Why are you talking so loud, ass hole. And we looked at our watches a million times, except nobody wears watches anymore, do they? We looked at our phones instead and all the while, time dripped along like wet sand in an hourglass and the sun's rays were clawing through the windows but they were no match for the air conditioner, were they, the AC which clunked along miserably and blasted us with ice cold air in that institutional icebox, and we stood there and we shivered and thumbed our phones up and up and up until there was nothing left to refresh, saying to ourselves, Refresh, motherfucker.
I tell you I couldn’t take it. And I looked helplessly at Doug, who was softly answering questions and smiling despite all of us wanting him to fuck up so we could roll our eyes in unison and so someone could say something about how ridiculous it is that our hard-earned tax money is funding this excuse of an institution, employed by this incompetent creep, this poor hump of a sorry ass, Doug. But instead Doug just smiled and directed customers towards appropriate sections of the store and said, Can I help who’s next? And, I tell you, it’s enough to make me — me! — want to kill.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, I take a good look at the fat amoeba standing in front of me, the islands of sweat on his back spreading despite the sub-polar conditions. I mean, no offense, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: I’m a nice person. I give to charity and I sign petitions and I must be the only person in this Godforsaken country who wipes up public toilet seats after I dribble some piss on them accidentally. Most people are content to leave their piss on the seat, for God knows what reason, maybe to mark their territory like mangy mutts. I could go on, you know, but I’m not an egoist. It's like my uncle used to recite, before he got taken to the psychiatric ward, which I’d tell you about except my uncle’s life story is a whole ‘nother jar of macadamia nuts. Another time, yes, perhaps another time, but for now let me tell you that he would chant:
I’m as humble as a bumblebee / and lest I stumble let me be.
The old dolt. How my mother despised him. Anyway, where was I? Ah, it was torture I tell you, in that post office! With this guy’s fat just hanging around his waist like a young boy’s bowl cut. And every time he opened his arms, it was like opening the top of a tupperware stuffed in the way back of a neglected fridge, such, I tell you, was the smell escaping his pits.
But there was more to him than this. Something which held my attention more than any other slovenly chubster you see shuffling through life — after minutes of intense staring and absorbing this oaf’s sour smell, it came to me like a bolt of lightning down my spine and through my loins: this was Tommy Ackler.
Tommy Ackler: the man-child who roamed the halls during my bitterly repressed high school days, taking up half the right side of the hallway and torturing those of us who couldn’t fight back.
And who among us could fight back? For Ackler was an all state wrestler in the two hundred pounds and up high school division — just the sight of him in that flimsy onesie is enough to, to — he was all muscles then, and he was a tyrant. I mean, the things he’d do, oh! He'd wait until you would have to use the bathroom and then he'd just stand outside the stall, all his body weight pressing against the stall door so you couldn’t get out and he'd say, If you scream I’ll end you, and who could argue with that, and we’d just spend all day there sometimes, me and him, the smell! That horrible high school bathroom smell, the combination of poop and marijuana, and I’d get a phone call to my home later that day and my dad would beat me with the switch, he’d make me grab the switch myself and then he’d beat me, asking all the while why I had skipped class that afternoon. And what would you tell your father? The truth? Ha! Have you ever been pinched so hard, so hard on your nipples outside in the front courtyard of your school, so hard and so long that you couldn’t breathe or think, until, well, I might as well tell you, in confidence, that I wet myself on more than one occasion.
Listen here: have you ever wet yourself in front of all of your peers? Huh? Have you? Have you ever been too ashamed to go home and so you waited for an hour at the bus stop and took the city bus to the laundromat downtown and asked the old Asian receptionist for the key to the bathroom and you went in there and took off your damp boxers and put your jeans back on, with the urine-caked zipper rubbing up against your scared, shriveled cock, and then you returned the key to the expressionless Asian lady and asked her to make change for your twenty dollar bill because that’s all you got and the machines were coin operated and you had to wait there for two hours for the wash cycle and the dry cycle, with just your one pair of boxers in there, not washing your smelly jeans because what were you going to do, stand there without pants on?, imagining that everyone in the laundromat was judging you, laughing at you, even the crazy guy — there’s always at least one lunatic in the laundromat who wants to talk about how the moon landing was a hoax and how the only things in the world that receive signals from outer space are the antennae on a grasshopper and the homemade coily headphones jammed into his ears, and he can see the weakness in your eyes and so he always sidles up next to you – and this crazed half-wit spewed his shit and spit into your face and there was nothing else for you to do but nod and nod and nod and your smile was shaking and your jaw was jostling for what seemed like forever until your boxers were finally dry, and you said, Good luck with that, and left him to go back into the bathroom and put back on your boxers and your crusty jeans and walked back to the bus stop and stared at the eyes and faces and the city that bumps past, a series of disgusting husks and fenced off miseries and you got home at eight p.m. and your father was looking at you like where the fuck have you been, and what were you going to tell him? Because there’s only so much a man or his father could bear.
It is absolutely critical that you understand exactly what happened next. I looked at Ackler, my nemesis, standing in front of me in that post office line which puttered along like sluggish, rush hour Lincoln tunnel traffic, and with everything inside me tightened or loosened, if that makes sense, my back and my neck and my face like there was a barracuda inside choking me, but my stomach dropping into oblivion, I looked at this fat sack of crap and plotted my revenge. I almost laughed, and in fact I did, such was the succession of images which spasmed in my mind.
Ackler: naked and slack, but alive, in nothing but a thong! hung from the feet in a butcher’s window.
Ackler: publicly shamed in a check-out line tabloid for taking so many steroids that his penis turned into an inny.
Ackler: his tombstone reading, Something grotesque and unlovable lies below.
Ackler: him and me in a Boston bar, me telling him that he was unoriginal with Ben Affleck behind me, everyone laughing, and the hottest girl at the bar sliding me her number!
My toes and fingertips jittered in excitement. But this was the question: how to turn fantasy into reality? And then, just a second later, as if God had access to my thoughts and He Himself had a taste for revenge, Ackler turned around and looked me dead in the eye. And, sure, he’d really let himself go since I’d seen him last, but I knew it was him for he had those same horrible, bloodthirsty eyes. That same mangled nose. The same grotesque excuse of a mustache. Ahh! My mouth was filled with saliva, and I licked my upper teeth. I stared at the big bully, seething, ready to pounce. But it took only a second for me to realize that his eyes were as blank as midnight ponds: this bastard didn’t even recognize me! The callousness of bullies! We’re all the same, aren’t we, Ackler! You miserable defiler of men!
And then — and then! Ackler, my tormenter, his body, like a planet, having taken an eternity to rotate fully towards me, asked me, as plain as day, if I could hold his package for him and hold his place in line because he had to: Go to the little boy’s room. And before I could spit in his face and lift my leg, connecting my loafer to his groin, Ackler reached out and handed me the package and said, Thank you, and stepped over the velvet rope and went on his way. And at that moment, you could have fried an egg on either of my cheeks. My hatred turned inward — what a weak and fiddling man I am — a bully will always be a bully, and the bullied share the same ineluctable fate.
For, in all truthfulness, even if he had recognized me, would he not have simply twisted my nipple once again like a car’s gas cap until I urinated myself once more, this time in the company-issued slacks of a small and utterly replaceable company man, shuffling paper each day from nine to five, but actually, truth be told, I’ve been milked into working eight to six, without overtime. I'm scared of (but prepared for) the day there will be a knock on my door and a man with a full mustache and broad shoulders told him, me, that I have been fired, that, in fact, nobody will even replace me, such is the triviality and utter superfluity of the task I’d spent the last twelve years completing, my desk will simply be an abandoned office, a chamber of laughter for those who will enter and mock me and the dreams I harbored like a fool, a man they remembered simply for his poor posture and the way he laughed too loudly at the wrong moments and simply scowled and sniveled or scurried off when everyone else rollicked together.
But, aha! No. I thought, no! No! No more! I was done taking their crap. This time would be different. I — we! we: the downtrodden and the numb-nippled — we weren’t going to take this sitting down anymore! And so I waited until Ackler entered the bathroom and before I even knew I was going to do it, I saw myself sprinting towards the exit, trying my best to affect an air of normalcy, a stride of one foot in front of the other, a head trained and focused forward, but I was unable to keep from issuing a yelp of glee. I’ll be right back, I insisted, as I galloped past the wall of endless silver mailboxes into the lurid streets.
I hadn’t the patience to wait for the bus, so I ended up sprinting all the way home, 1.7 miles, after not having run in over two years. Can you imagine the adrenaline? And when I got home I unearthed the high school yearbook and slapped at the dusty, earmarked pages until I found the pictures, and then worked back from Z to A, studying my old classmates, moving slower, allowing the memories, the repressed horrors to tornado in my brain, taking pleasure when I could in imagining the menial lives and crushed hopes of the football players and cheerleaders, the prudes, Rachel Mauer, the girl who’d taped the love letter I’d written her on the wall besides the mirror in the girls' bathroom, loser etched in blue pen with an arrow pointing to my signature at the bottom.
I imagined they were all unhappy and thwarted and sexually frustrated, and I laughed.
Finally to the As, the pretentious dupe Samuel (if you called him Sam, he’d say “uel, Sam-uel,” like a jerk) Asmund, and Erica Ambers, she was actually pretty nice, I remember, yes, the Aaron Alori, the creep who microwaved a pigeon, and … Ackler. There he was! The smug smile. The backwards cap. Ha! But something stopped me mid-cackle, something in Ackler’s eyes. Something in his cheekbones. Something in his tremendous forehead. All the glee flushed out me. I turned in horror at the package besides me. There was no return name or address, and I clawed at it unsuccessfully until I gave up and found a steak knife in the sink and without rinsing it attacked the package. Inside — my God! — was nothing but a couple pairs of brown and green woolen socks and a crinkly piece of loose leaf paper. The note was written in an agreeable hand.
It said: Dear Brianna, Hope the girls enjoy the socks. I knitted them myself! Love, Randy.
Randy! Randy! I’d gotten the wrong man! It was then that your image plumed into my mind. How stupid I’d been. Why, you looked nothing like Ackler at all. Ackler the sinewy Satan, and you, my God, like a human flotation device – no offense. I had allowed myself to be deluded into backstabbing, you, Randy, of all people, you, the victim of my failed Freudian fulmination, you: just a man creeping through his pathetic life like the rest of us, knitting socks in his spare time. My righteous haymaker had turned into a sniveling cheap shot, and my stomach squirmed.
My skin was an itchy sweater then. For I imagined you returning from the bathroom. I imagined your sadness. I imagined your doughy face rounded in confusion. Your flummoxed despair. Being told that the guy ran off and yelped that he’d be right back. Mostly, if I’m going to be completely honest, I imagined that I would somehow be found and punished. I gathered these shards of the mutilated package and jetted towards the post office. And I tell you, in my defense, I sprinted here like a loping lion, Randy, stopping only the once to call my employer — whose phone mercifully went to voicemail, and so I left him a message about a suddenly moribund aunt Sybil whom I had to visit in the hospital, how it would be impossible for me to return to the office after my lunch break. Well, I had to tell him something now, didn’t I?
And so, that’s it. I will, of course, pay for another package. But on top of that, I beg of you, please, please, would you accept my heartfelt apology.
What? Stop waving your hands like a sanctimonious fool, would you, and just take the money. Do you have even an ounce of tact? Well, fine. I’ll keep the money, but for Christ’s sake, don’t just stand there with that face like a, like a catcher’s mitt. Say something! Oh? Must I beg? Fine, I’m not above it. Please! Please! I’m on my knees here beseeching you. Hit me! Whip me! Curse me! Call me a bastard, a narcissistic sniveling bastard!
Say something for crying out loud! Will you really just leave me like this, with nothing? Fine. Fine! Walk away! Walk away, you coward!
Oh, I’m the ass hole? Isn’t that funny. Well, you know what, to hell with you. You’re all the same. Everyone’s the same. Why am I crying? I'll tell you why: you’re all a big bunch of bullies is what you are. Oh God! No no no. I'm humble as a bumblebee / and lest I stumble let me be. I'm humble as a bumblebee / and lest I stumble — oh screw it, I hate you all.
//Mark Jay is a co-founder of The Periphery.