A Talent for Malice — an illustrated pass

“You are really missing the mark so far with your attempts to lay out a talent for malice.   You’ve hardly really explained it, let alone illustrated it.  Frankly, I’m disappointed.  I thought you’d attack it with more gusto, having a bit of the old talent for it yourself,” yawned the skeleton from his eternal lounge on the hill.  

We’ve talked about this many times, part of the ongoing debate about how much we can really change our natures.  

Your position was always that our basic natures, our predispositions and reflexes are hard-wired and can’t be fundamentally changed.  Our upbringing, you said, only hardens these innate characteristics.  If, for example, you harbor some fond hope of being nurtured by your earliest caregiver and instead she whips you across the face every day, there will be immutable lifelong consequences.    The sensitized impulse to rage against this hurt whenever even slightly provoked, and the provocation might be imperceptible to anyone not so programmed, never leaves you for a moment.  

My position was that we can make significant changes in our lives, difficult and subtle as this process may often be.  We change ourselves by learning to master the reactions we regret, stay away from situations and relationships that set us off.  By learning to take  a breath when our reflex is triggered, instead of reacting first, we can avoid some of the worst of what has always followed.  By learning how to react better we can improve the way others react to us, breaking the cycle we find ourselves locked in.

“How’s that mastery changey thing workin’ out fer ya?” said the skeleton, in a surprisingly pert Sarah Palin impression.  

At the moment, and to be entirely truthful, it feels a bit thin, even as I know it is an often subtle matter and one requiring constant attention.  I still wake up sometimes, in spite of years now of trying to master the urge to strike back, flooded with fight or flight chemicals, thinking about an unavenged assault by some despicable coward, some intolerably weaselish violation I could have easily thrown back on them doubled but refrained from doing in the name of some higher impulse I imagined at the time.  That mastery changey thing is not workin’ out fer me at all at the moment; I have the strong urge to inflict pain.  

“That’s my boy!  That’s what I’m talking about!” chirped the skeleton happily,  “Come on, have at ’em, there must be some deserving target you can scald with rage today.  How about that Irish cunt of a manager at Tekserve, now wasn’t he a useless and manically provocative glowering turd after they negligently disabled your work computer?  What about a damning Yelp for the owner of that pretentious shit hole on twenty-third street?  A  tart, corrosive portion of condensed slime poured publicly, and irrefutably, over the reputation of that place would not be out of order, would it?  Oh, let’s not forget the guy who ran that useless depression clinic at that hospital on the East Side?  Come on, a self-important psychiatrist, with grant money up the wazoo, non-responsive to the excellent case you made for the galling lack of supervision, the fraudulent conversion of almost nine hundred of your dwindling dollars for less than useless amateur ‘therapy’?  Perfect, imagine the letter you could write to reduce him or her, or the entire twitching hierarchy, to quivering rage…”

Well, you make a good point.  Those folks deserve to be held accountable, no doubt.  But strangers, no matter how deserving, are not the proper targets for my spleen, even if I was determined to put aside my vow to do no harm and extrude some bile today.  Those jerks at Tekserve and the hospital are truly random jackasses, a few out of the millions out there, conducting shoddy but well-promoted businesses, prospering in a climate of inattention, unaccountability and a credulous belief in credentials and hype. The guy who runs that clinic probably has a PhD from Stanford, Harvard or Brown, you know the type, the tireless and undeserving self-promoters you always hated so much.   I can picture the impeccable corporate ass-kisser shrink as an unctuous, ambitious student, unequaled in the classical French art of analingus, no doubt.  But these people are random strangers, and it is truly pointless to vent at them.  Even if my smooth stone hits them squarely in the eyeball, or in the nuts, who gives a crap?  

“A talent for malice is a terrible thing to waste, Elie,” observed the skeleton.  

I thought of you recently when I watched the documentary ‘Best of Enemies’, the story of the televised Gore Vidal-William F. Buckley, Jr. debates during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.  Both men were true masters of malice, they took a deep, personal delight in slowly plunging a sharp stiletto into the carefully selected ganglion of an adversary.  They truly savored the moment, slowly twisting the blade.  Vidal won the early rounds and as Buckley got more frustrated he became an easier and easier target for Vidal, who had done his careful homework while Buckley, apparently, counting on his genius for a quick riposte, took Vidal lightly.  

We are then treated to that magic live TV moment when Buckley is reduced to hissing ‘faggot’ through a feral sneer and Vidal smiles serenely at Buckley and then at the audience at home, his work now done.  The filmmaker later shows a much older Buckley, in his last television appearance, looking haggard and miserable and telling the interviewer he’s lived long enough, that he looks forward to his death.  When Buckley dies Vidal is unable to hide his glee, publicly wishing his old enemy a pleasant time in hell.  

“Marvelous,” says the skeleton, “I remember those wonderfully hateful debates fondly.  Talk about your slingshot stone hitting the guy in the nuts.  I remember that moment when Buckley lost it and that sublimely smug, superior little grin on Vidal’s face.  And that ugly slip couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, or a more despicable spokesman for the forces of well-bred reactionary politics that have always run this place, or, in the case of Vidal, to a more provocative faggot, for that matter.”

Marvelous?  I don’t know.  Entertaining, true, but where is the marvel in that kind of vicious one-upsmanship?  It’s not what I’m going for any more, now that I know better, after years of incessant warfare.  I want peace now, not malice, no matter how elegant or irresistible.  If there’s a door to the room I’d rather find my way to it and go somewhere else than stay in a stinking room slugging it out with a vicious, sweaty moron hell-bent on somehow prevailing, the more the plain facts are all arrayed against him, the more desperately he will flail away.  I’m done with vampires, dad.

“OK, I’ll grant you all that, and healthy decisions, one and all.  But you come here today with a head of steam, after another night’s sleep too short by three or four hours,” said the skeleton, “how about you tell your dear old dad what is bothering you so much?  I never listened when I was alive, true, but I am all ears now, to the extent a skeleton can be all ears, at any rate.  Come on, Elie, dish.”

‘Dish’?   A man of constant surprises, my father; who knew he’d filed away the old gay term for “give me the good gossip, girl”?  I know his favorite gay sex advice columnist was Dan Savage, I mean, who could really compete in that category, but still, I can’t really picture Dan ever using the term.  ‘Come on, Elie, dish.’  Kudos to the gaunt fellow in the dirt bed.  Nicely played, Skeleton Irv, sure, why not?  

While there’s no point at all to expend effort engaging maliciously with aggravating assholes I’ve met in passing, I suppose I could take a few moments to put a long-overdue stake into the heart of another unredeemed vampire I once befriended.

OK, so I’m having lunch with your nervous friend the other day, the son of those old friends you had me throw out of your house into the snow one night more than twenty years ago.  We were not seated for more than a moment, when, out of the blue, I suppose because such talks are naturally divergent affairs where thoughts pop up, are mentioned, and any one of them may become a subject of conversation, he says “not to harsh your buzz…” and then does exactly that by beginning to describe the vacation in a Florida love nest a former very close friend is now supposedly enjoying.  

It only took a sentence or two from him before I questioned his point in bringing this fellow up, especially when we were about to eat.  I reminded him that I had no interest in this person whatsoever, especially about his sex life, except perhaps to wish him venereal disease.  The tiny bone that had been placed crosswise in my throat by my friend’s unthinking reference to this uncomically disabled clown having sex in a Florida house his clearly desperate fellow-cult member girlfriend apparently owns seemed to remain long after he’d apologized and we went on to other things.  

Later in the meal, in reference to this ongoing outpouring of words trying to describe my father’s life and times in a way that will hopefully both illuminate and remunerate, he mentioned this same once-good friend.  “He’s been reading it and he thinks it’s probably a good thing for you to be writing it,” he said.  

I believe I nodded at this, don’t recall saying anything, except perhaps to mutter a ‘fuck him’ and opine that when one has shown a stranger many years of nothing but sincere friendship, and is repaid in the shitty coin that is the self-hating friend’s only currency, it is no mystery that only hatred and coldness would remain afterwards.  

To my friend’s credit he didn’t make any reference to my attempts to practice ahimsa or the strange incongruity of a man of my professed beliefs being so unforgiving.  It was as if he anticipated what I was going to say next, which was some recognition of those very things.  I told him that the worst of it, and what tore things irreparably, was that my final act of friendship, reaching out as soon as I’d recovered myself after his final betrayal, with the arguably generous impulse to hear him out, was rewarded by a cowardly attempt to bully me over the phone, followed by his last words in an email six months later:   I do owe you an apology but am being stingy about giving it.

My friend agreed that all this was bad and said he no longer had any doubt about the sincerity of my eternal malice toward this fellow.  I nodded and told him I had no more thoughts about my one time close friend, outside of knowing how easily I could calmly punch him in the face at this point if he ever spoke to me again.  And that I trusted that all of this should now be about as clear to my companion at lunch as I could possibly make it.  

At some point, earlier in the conversation, in connection with the love nest in Florida, I’d casually revealed a confidence this guy had shared with me, the self-regarding jerk-off, and realized only later that, since he has been reading this stuff, I might well have an adorable, even irresistible, opportunity to sling a smooth stone smartly into his fancy testicles, if my annoyance over having to hear about him at lunch would not leave me in peace by the next day, which has now arrived.  

“Oh, man, this is getting good!” smiled the skeleton.

I add that this confidence was not revealed to me after a disclaimer of any kind about keeping this possibly embarrassing personal detail between us.  I always honor those agreements, even with people I have no need or obligation to protect anymore.  But this hideous detail was told to me matter of factly, and the fact of the matter is that I have no idea why I had to hear it at all, though it was one of those uncomfortable things one cannot unhear.

“Well, come on, then, deliver the kill shot, don’t keep us hanging,” urged the skeleton.  “You see you can’t change this part of your nature, and it flows perfectly from the early part of your life.  I was sadistic to you.  You gave me endless chances to hurt you and I couldn’t resist.  You have to be fair, though.  What is more irresistible than a vulnerable person begging for the very thing you never got?  That’s what malice is all about, Elie, choosing the perfect time to do the most lasting harm, to inflict the deepest possible hurt.  It’s the essence of malice- causing maximum pain.  Take a break from that ahimsa business, it’s not helping you at the moment anyway.  Unleash your inner Irv, go ahead, show them what the talent for malice is all about,” the dead man urged his still-living son.

Fine, here you go.  If you want the full emotional effect, read this first, and then this. The latter caused a reader to remark that it was a good thing the guy depicted in these two didn’t own a gun.  The second could certainly stand alone as a demonstration of my talent for malice and a fitting tip of the cap to my dear old dad, a master of the art form.  Here’s a last tip of the cap to you on this subject of the talent for malice, pop.

To my friend at lunch I mentioned, in passing as we moved on from the ill-raised subject of these long-time doomed lovers in their ticking time bomb of a romance, (she, much younger than he, had told him from the start that she wants to get pregnant and would be looking for a father closer to her age than to her father’s)  that I wondered if our friend was finally able to ejaculate during sex with her.  He’d told me about the marathon fucking sessions and how he could never come.  He’d have to go home to relieve himself afterwards, in the privacy of his own thoughts.  I don’t believe I bothered to add, then or to my friend at lunch, that I’ve read that this kind of sexual dysfunction is an expression of the deepest kind of rage and self-loathing.

“Wow, he never told me that,” said my friend, “I guess you guys had a much closer relationship than I’ve ever had with him.”  

Sad to say.  And all the more reason I do not hesitate now to picture myself bashing the smilingly enraged fellow directly in his superior unmistakably English face.  I entertain this violent image only for as long as it takes to cleanse my mental palette, which I have hopefully done here, though I feel no better having followed this ugly impulse.

“That’s my boy!   Good to have you back,” beamed the skeleton proudly.  “That, son, is a talent for malice, finally painted in glorious detail.  And really, though, don’t you feel better now?  I know I do.”

There’s no feeling better about malice, old man, no matter how torrentially one pours it on.  It is one of the worst, most destructive things in the world, an endless sucking sinkhole, no matter how much one might otherwise appreciate its particular application.  One masters one’s talent for malice only to his own detriment.  

“Ah, don’t be so hard on yourself, Elie.  Wasn’t that you telling me just the other day that the world is not black and white?”











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