We have rules. We have a government. Most of us wear pants. We have television shows and movies, and the enviable luxury to complain about those things. Looking around, it's easy to call us civilized.
But we're animals. We're dirty, dirty animals. Given the right context, we'll abandon all of society's rules and live like the crappy bastard animals we all are. Here are five of those right contexts.
I like to mail headshots and DVDs of myself waving politely to our soldiers, firemen and several random addresses, just to remind everyone what we're fighting for. As a result, I spend a lot of time in post offices, so I can confidently say that something happens to a person's brain as soon as they step inside. They see the enormous line (there's always an enormous line). They see a large set of computers and cash registers, but only two employees. They realize that a post office is essential, that they can't go anywhere else to get their package from A to B, because mail has not been privatized. In a world where you can do almost anything online, from having groceries delivered to your house to downloading the most specific pornography available, these gray, brick-and-mortar, piece-of-crap buildings have completely monopolized the "Sending Stuff to Places" business, and people are resentful of this fact. They feel like someone is forcing them to waste 40 minutes standing in a line, because someone knows that they had no alternative.
"Hi, I'm the only one in the world who can deliver your package, and it is not a priority for me."
It's the same feeling people get when they go to the DMV (similarly understaffed, similarly line-heavy and similarly useless most of the time). "I never need this building except for the few times every year when I do need it, and when I do, they spend every second screwing me," they think. You feel like some organization has gone out of its way to inconvenience you, specifically, and something in your brain temporarily snaps because of it.
At the DMV or the post office, unlike anywhere else, when someone enters and sees a line, they immediately don't believe it. They think, "No, no, this can't be, where's the line for -- I just want to mail this small box from this part of America to another part of America. Where's the section for that?" When they realize that the line is the line, they either leave (a stupid plan -- they still need to mail their stupid thing or stamp their license or whatever), or they accept the fact that they will wait on this line, longer than they'd ever anticipated. No one ever budgets their post office time correctly, everyone always assumes it'll be an in-and-out trip, even though it's never been an in-and-out trip, not once for anyone.
If you want to see hate on a person's face, go to your local post office and watch people. Watch them seethe with hatred while in line. Hear them audibly growl when one of the patrons in front of them forgets to fill out a form or asks to borrow a pen. I've been waiting in line for a movie or show or to get into a restaurant, and I've had pleasant conversations with strangers to pass the time, but never once has that happened in a post office. No one even offers an obligatory "This sure is a line, huh?" Everyone just stares straight ahead and uses their peripheral vision to scan for weaknesses in anyone who might be ahead of them in the line. Patience is gone, empathy is gone, logic is gone. All you care about is mailing your goddamned sweater to your goddamned aunt, and you are not eager to make friends in the process.
I don't go to music festivals, but I've been to big races and conventions, and I imagine the principles are the same, except in music festivals I assume people are probably peeing ... just always.
"Raise your hands in the air if you don't care! Now, keep those up if you're urinating, right now, so you don't lose your spot. That is, wow, that is a lot."
What outdoor music festivals, big races (marathons, half marathons, really popular 5Ks, if that's a thing that exists) and huge conventions have in common is numbers. I ran a half marathon in Vegas last December that had 44,000 racers. Coachella had about 60,000 people in 2009. Comic-Con had 125,000. The thing is, no organization knows how to handle this amount of people. Not one.
"Everyone, could -- if we could all calm down, there's -- I think someone died, somewhere."
And that's scary, because when I go to Comic-Con with thousands and thousands of other people, I'm so reliant on someone knowing what the hell they're doing, and no one does. That's bad for any large crowd, but especially these crowds. We're not just regular lost sheep, we're sheep who are full of electrolytes and adrenaline, because we've been training for a marathon, or we're socially awkward, generally uncomfortable sheep, because we're at a comic convention, or we're on lots and lots of drugs, because we're at a concert in the desert.
Before the start of my race, two groups of people (each numbering about 8,000) were both trying to get to the same place at the same time, but neither group knew where it was, and both groups ended up marching directly into each other. "We're trying to get to the ... thing," I explained on behalf of my group to what looked like the leader of the second group. "We're also trying to get to the thing, and we think it's where you just came from," they replied. "I don't think it is," I said, but my opponent refused to believe me. We marched and shoved until no one could move, and then 16,000 people stood still and stared at each other, wedged between two fences. For 10 minutes. It's amazing what regular people will do when they simultaneously realize they're a big enough group that no one could stop them from doing whatever they wanted. When no shepherd came to organize these two sheep gangs, we took matters into our own hands: We tore the fences down.
"I run a 5:30 mile, and I say the wall comes down."
There was no way to communicate or find answers, so we did what unruly mobs do, and we broke stuff until we were satisfied. Eventually we all got to the freaking thing or whatever, but only after we'd thrown out the rules of decency and safety that we normally wouldn't dream of breaking. We'd all heard cops telling us we shouldn't, but what could we do? We needed to get to whatever it was we were trying to get to, and there were just a few cops and so many of us that we had no reason to respect them. It's why people don't mind peeing all over themselves and rubbing their sweaty, muddy bodies on a bunch of naked hippies at Coachella. They'd never do that at a normal Kanye concert, but at Coachella, with tens of thousands of people in the desert, with no bathroom in sight? All bets are off.
That's what happens with big crowds. The rules change.
Every year, you always hear stories about how people on Black Friday (the biggest shopping day of the year) will scream and fight and break down doors and occasionally stab people in an effort to get the best present. Retail stores become unholy dens of wordless, savage frenzies. But I'm not talking about retail stores, because I sort of understand that phenomenon. Someone wants to get the best present for their kid, so it makes sense that they'll knock a few people over to get it. If I see the perfect gift for my girlfriend or mom or brother, and you have your eye on the same gift, I'll murder you. I will do that and feel nothing. Fighting people in retail stores isn't an example of us rejecting our humanity; we're finally embracing it.
This is what we were meant for.
But no. I'm talking about grocery stores. The person who is at a grocery store on Thanksgiving morning is, without exception, the least stable person you will ever meet in your life. And the craziest thing is that there is a ton of this person. Two dozen people, and every single one of them is the craziest person you've ever seen.
"I'm gonna buy some FUCKING EGGS!"
I actually had the rare good fortune of going to a grocery store last Thanksgiving without needing to get anything important. I didn't need to sprint out and grab a nice dessert or a bunch of booze or a giant turkey to feed an entire family. This wasn't a desperate, last-minute food dash; I think I was buying sponges and light bulbs, or something equally pointless and well-stocked. And let me tell you something: In the land of the crazed, freak-shoppers all trying to get the last turkey, the man buying toilet paper and deodorant is king.
Dance, puppets, dance!
I could just sit back and watch everyone freak out. You'll see people randomly grabbing anything they can find. If someone has a grocery list and they realize most of the items were already sold out, they just panic and buy ... like, things. Whatever they can find that might, in some parallel universe, combine itself into a tasty appetizer. I watched a sleep-deprived man running around with his arms full of tomato sauce, vodka, cumin and Cheez-Its. Guy, if that's your contribution to the Thanksgiving party, they will not want you there.
"I meant to bring mashed potatoes, but all they had at the store was this, is that OK?"