"Why do you think that?" The therapist replied. His pen scratched dryly across an unseen pad.
"Anything I'm doing -- I don't know, it just seems like if I look back, two feet to my left, there will be a Mexican over there enjoying it way more than me. Like, say I go to have a beer: There I am, blank, vacant, but kind of vaguely happy. I turn my head, and three stools down there's a Mexican guy, just loving the shit out of his beer. He looks like a beer commercial. I swear to God he exhales frost after every sip. He's enjoying that beverage so much it's just pornographic, you know? And the worst part -- do you want to hear the worst part?"
"Go ahead," the man frowned down at me as I continued plucking nervously at the stringy outcropping.
"It's not even a better beer than mine. It's a goddamn Coors or something."
"Maybe you'd like Coors better."
"Maybe I'd- no! Fuck Coors."
You. Fuck you.
"That's just an example. It could be anything: I could be stuck in line at the grocery store behind a lady trying to use expired coupons. I'm standing there getting half an ulcer, thinking, 'You can't haggle the unceasing forward movement of time, goddammit! Pay the 15 cents extra! I'll kill you! I'll wipe your seed from the Earth!' Then I glance back, and three spots behind me, there's an old Mexican woman -- even farther back than me -- just smiling away. She's not even doing anything. She's just looking at the mints, smiling. What the fuck is that? Does refreshment amuse you? What is it about those packaged breath fresheners that could possibly be making you happy? This bullshit is burning irretrievable minutes of your life, same as mine, and you don't even have as much time left. Why aren't you here, unhappy with me?"
"So you have problems with Mexicans?"
"No, that's not it. I just want to know what they're doing different. Clearly, I'm doing something wrong. Go out on a sunny day and walk around for a bit. I promise you, you'll find a group of Mexicans all just standing outside, talking to each other, laughing. They look like how I picture nostalgia. It's like there's an 8mm filter over them. Yet when I go stand outside to talk to people, I get bored in five minutes and go back in to read webcomics."
Pictured: Life, lived to the fullest.
"It sounds like you need to reevalua-"
"Black people are better at conversation."
"What?" The doctor blinked up at me, I could hear his dry pen still trailing, a sound like dragging a cinder block down a dirt road.
"Black people never have to worry about making conversation! They just open their mouths and start going, and it's great. It's friendly, it's easy, it's totally relatable. And I don't mean just to each other -- to everybody! I talk to any given black person and it's always the best goddamn conversation I've had in months. It's fantastic. Everybody loves talking to black people. But I open my mouth at a stranger and it's like I'm vomiting out awkwardness onto their shoes. Just an endless stream of 'ums' and 'ahs,' and then I start saying shit like 'ostensibly.' It's a screeching vocal trainwreck. Or-"
"I think the theme here is a lack of confi-"
"OR," I said loudly, barreling through the doctor's interrupting syllables, "or worse! People say, 'Howdy' on the street, and I shakily whisper, 'Good, and you?' And that's if anything comes out at all. Sometimes it's like they've snuck up on my throat and all I can do is squeak at them in reply."
"Hey, how's it goin', man?" "*Hreeeeeeeeeeeee ..." "Well, hey, all right, see you later!"
"We all have our-"
"I squeak. At strangers. On the street."
"Like a socially stunted chipmunk. SQUEAK," I squeaked, "SQUEAAAK."
We glared at each for a long, silent moment. Finally, he took a breath, scribbled quickly in the corner of his pad to get the ink in his pen going again, and exhaled.
"I'm just saying: I've never been squeaked at by a black man," I finished.
See, white people be squeakin' like this, while black people be ... not knowing what the fuck you're talking about with this "squeaking" business.
The doctor opened his mouth as if to speak, thought better of it, and wrote instead. I finally got a good, solid grip on a length of stray thread between my fingernails and started to work it back and forth.
The serpentine rattling of the pen ceased, and the therapist harrumphed at me.
"Sorry," I said, catching his eyes, fixated on the slowly growing length of string in my hand.
"Yes, well, you clearly have some racial issues to work through. Now, most patients that enroll in my program-"
"Enroll? Is that what you call it? The only 'enrolling' here was the cops 'enrolling' my Tasered ass through that doorway."
"I was just trying to be polite, but if you insist: Most offenders placed in my program have some hostility to work through, but yours seems to be rooted almost entirely in jealousy. You're laboring under the impression that other races -- essentially all the other races -- have it easier than you: A young, white, middle-class American male."
Pictured: The face of suffering.
"That's not fair," I said, and surreptitiously raised my knee to block his view, then resumed grappling with the loose stitching. "I totally get that I have it easy, and a lot of other people have it way harder. I watched Diff'rent Strokes; I know all about the injustice of racism. I'm just saying that some races do some things better than others, and pretty much all of them do everything better than me."
"And you don't see how that statement might be insulting or unreasonable to some people?"
"I totally do not. Is it racist to say that Chinese people have much better endurance?"
"Yes, absolutely, that is basically the definition of racism."
"You put me in a Chinese guy's shoes -- basically any Chinese guy's shoes -- and no way could I handle that. I'd be dead in a week. I'm not even talking the political prisoners or the poverty-stricken farmers -- just like, the guys that don't get the whole Internet. I'd suicide the shit out of myself the first time Reddit failed to load."
"I think you might be underestimating your own capacity."
"Nope! Even Chinese immigrants here in America have that same astounding ability to cope. You know there's a Chinese guy downtown that pulls tourists around in a little wheeled cart?"
"I don't know his name dude; he's the guy that pulls the fucking cart."
A soft, farty sound vibrated out as a long length of thread came skidding loose from its leather encasements. The therapist arched an eyebrow, and sat back away from me a little.
"I get winded walking up hills," I continued, starting on another frayed straggler. "If I had to strap a cart full of fat Germans to my ass just to earn some sandwich money, I'd probably lay down somewhere quiet and try not to starve to death in anybody's way. Not the Chinese, though. Chinese people are like Stonehenge; they fucking endure."
"While it's clear you have just a ... an ocean of issues to work through, let's talk about what brought you here, to my office today."
"A squad car and two and a half cans of mace?"
"The incident," that furious scrabbling again. This time longer, frustrated; the pen was running low. "You know which one I mean."
"The Indian guy," I filled in reluctantly, freeing a veritable stream of thread from the little seam-canyon.
"Native American," he corrected me, "the Native American guy that you assaulted and forcibly stripped on 4th street this morning." The man's tone had shifted from casual to factual. The change was intentional, direct and disapproving.
Man, something about recently committed felonies really puts people on edge.
"Yeah," I admitted, "... yeah."
"Why did you do that?" The doctor leaned his chair back and fumbled for something on the desk behind him. He came back with a new pen, the hint of a smile on his lips.
"Extenuating circumstances." I answered. I had this thread thing down, now: Smooth, slow, even strokes were the key. You had to keep a constant, light tension going, so as not to enable jarring motions that would break the fragile strands. It was unraveling into little loops that settled in the space between couch and cushion.
"Go on," the doctor prompted, uncapping his new pen and settling in.
"I was walking down 4th, just doing how I do -- kicking at people's heels then gesturing to the guy next to me when they turn around to look -- when I bumped into this huge crowd on the sidewalk. After a few minutes of angry elbowing, I noticed they were all looking the same direction: Up. Then I saw it: Some girl was out on the roof of this ratty little hotel. Out on the ledge. Something in her body language -- I don't know what it was -- but I just knew she was going to jump soon. And there was nobody there yet. No cops, no paramedics, no firemen, nothing. Just the crowd of us, all the way down on the street. People were trying to yell things up to her, but she was too far away. She couldn't hear. I knew, I just knew it inside, knew that she would do it before anybody got up there to stop her."
"And ... how, exactly, did this lead to the fourth-degree sexual assault on Mr. Kohana?"
"Well it seems stupid now, but I guess I just panicked. We're all sitting there, knowing that there was nothing anybody could do: She couldn't hear us, we couldn't get to her, she was going to jump and she was going to die. That was it. Then I looked over and saw a Native American guy wearing a sleeveless denim vest and a woven headband with a feather in it. I saw a chance -- no matter how remote -- and I took it."
Really though, he was asking for it, dressing like that.
"The police report here says that you 'leapt upon Mr. Kohana's back, pulling at his shirt and screaming 'transform, you heartless bastard, take eagle form and fly to her! There's no time!' " The doctor flipped the report onto his desk and looked back to me.
"Are you going to make me say it?" I asked plaintively.
He stared back. The unraveling thread was traveling steadily away; it had traversed a length of inches now, if not feet.
"I secretly believe some Native Americans can shape shift," I admitted, ashamed.
"Why on Earth would you believe something so preposterous?" He started to note something on his little pad, but almost immediately moved the pen back up to the corner and began scribbling again, a look of annoyed disbelief on his face.
"Well, why is it so ubiquitous, if there's not some truth to it?! Every comic book, every sci-fi novel, every horror movie, every anything with a Native American guy in it has him transforming into some kind of animal at some point!"
What pop culture has boiled the rich, proud heritage of an entire people down to.
"Those are just stories," the doctor answered tersely, tossing the pen in the wastebasket and reaching for another.
"Right, but what's the common theme for say, Puerto Ricans in pop culture? That they're sassy? You know what, in my limited experience, I have found perhaps a third of them to be kind of sassy. Europeans in pop culture? Sophisticated. Sure, there are some hooligans and idiots, but generally speaking, I do find them to be a more cultured people. White American guys? Ignorant. Well would you look at that? Here I am, a white American dude, thinking Native Americans can turn into wolves if they just want it badly enough. Sounds pretty ignorant to me."
"Well, it's hard to argue that last point," he admitted, clicking the new pen and touching it to paper. My hands were idly twisting the thread around and around. Steady, even pressure.
"So when it came right down to the wire, when the stress kicked in, when it was really life or death on the line, yes: I figured there was like a 30 percent chance that man could turn into a bird. Is that really so stupid?"
Actually looking at him now, 30 percent is pretty conservative.
The doctor looked at me thoughtfully, and then turned down to his pad, pen in hand. The room was quiet, save for the thirsty, rasping scratch of an empty nib tearing through paper. I could actually see something break behind his eyes.
"YES!" The doctor screamed, his dry pen bouncing painfully off of my skull. He stood and yanked at his tie, his face flushing. "IT IS STUPID! IT IS THE STUPIDEST THING! IT IS LITERALLY THE STUPIDEST THING THAT ANYBODY HAS EVER SAID IN THE HISTORY OF SPOKEN LANGUAGE!"
There was a soft pop as the thread wrapped around my fist broke loose from its last mooring, and a long flap of black leather plopped over onto my belly, revealing the wispy cotton padding of the couch beneath.
"RRRRRRAAAAAAAGH!!!" A scream tore out of him, ripping him open from foot to crown. His skin burst like an overcooked sausage and sloughed off of him into a pile of rubbery meat on the ground. Where the small, nebbish doctor had stood not a second before, there was now a slavering and furious black bear. The beast didn't so much as glance at me, but rather dug its claws into the pulpy flesh of the bamboo floorboards, its muscles visibly pulsing beneath the layers of fat and fur, and bounded through the closed door, shattering it. It loped away, down the narrow office corridor beyond. I could hear the advancing tide of panicked screams as it vanished around the corner.
The stunned receptionist goggled in at me from the waiting room beyond.
"Holy shit," I finally breathed, "Rosenberg's a Native American name?"
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Or you can buy his cutting-edge stand-up comedy DVD White People Be Bad At Everything, in stores now!
For more from Robert, check out 5 Bizarre Real Life Gangs That Put The Warriors to Shame and Why Crimes Would Never Get Solved at a TV Police Station.