Being a man is about a lot of things: It's about morality, it's about strength of will, it's about maintaining honor in the face of adversity. But mostly it's about involuntary, delusional, immature power fantasies launching at the slightest provocation. They say that "A rich interior world is a joy to own," but if you're anything like me, your interior world is less "joy" than it is a constant, unceasing Tony Jaa movie that unfolds in response to every minor annoyance. If you've ever asked a man what he was thinking and thought you detected a little something false in his answer, I'd like to try to give you the real one right now. But first, there are a few things you should understand about the interior of some men's minds. Like ...
It's not like every man is spending every minute of every day looking for an imminent terrorist attack or carefully plotting the deaths of his enemies. That's not a harmless, delusional male power fantasy; that's a proactive paranoid schizophrenic. No, most of our thoughts are just ordinary fare -- Is that burrito place new? Do I have time to stop for a burrito? If that makes me late for work and I get fired, can I buy burritos with food stamps? -- it's just that the power fantasies are tricky little bastards. They're seductive; they worm their way into your head so slowly that you don't even realize it's happening until the rational part of your brain checks back in to see how everything is going and finds you knee-deep in bloody ninja.
"Oh, I uh ... I see you're busy. I'll just be hanging outside with reality. Let us know when you need us again." -- The Rational Brain
Here's a purely hypothetical example that is in no way based on reality: Let's say you're at the grocery store, mentally weighing the pros and cons of potential burrito fillings. After careful debate, you pay for your two dozen tortillas and 20 cans of chili (it's beans and meat pre-mixed! Holy shit! Is there a Nobel Prize for Burrito Construction?), but as you turn to go, the cashier hands you the bag all wrong -- like kind of sideways and twisting it a little bit at the crucial hand-off point. It slips right through your fingers, and you drop it, sending chili cans rocketing in every direction and drawing the other customers' attention to your secret gastrointestinal shame. Now you're embarrassed, you're annoyed and you start wondering why he did that: Don't they have, like, bag handling classes or some shit? What is this guy, a birthday party magician at Chuck E. Cheese's; what kind of human being hands somebody a bag with a fucking wrist flourish?
No, he did that shit on purpose, and now he's just standing there -- not even thinking about helping you -- smirking and exchanging knowing looks with the other customers. He's an asshole, is what he is. You can tell. You can spot an asshole with a mere glance; you're like the Sherlock Holmes of asshole detection, and this guy is the Moriarty of assholes. Asshole.
You should say something. "Sweet bagging, Bilbo." No, that's crap. "Nice bag handling, B ... uh ... Bagger Vance." Shit.
You know this is going to be one of those L'esprit de l'escalier moments, when you think of the perfect thing to say just 10 seconds too late. But it's not too late right now. You're pissed off, and your brain is demanding some kind of response, but you don't have a killer quip ...
And that's when the brain starts to panic. In the absence of witticisms, it runs through the mental Rolodex of other things appropriate for the situation, and somehow lands on random physical assault. That's when something I call the Revenge Cortex kicks in ...
"You should just punch him in the dick," the Revenge Cortex says calmly, as if presenting the most rational possible plan. "Then throw him on that little conveyer belt and zip him back and forth for a while, punching him in the dick again every time his crotch arrives at the register. And then when you scan his stupid face, the display will just read 'Sold.' Yes, that's it. That's the plan. Let's get lost constructing the precise visuals of this fantasy instead of just focusing on picking up all these cans of Harmel, the store-brand knock-off chili with the suspicious dents everywhere."
"Don't mind me, ma'am: Just hammering dents into all the cheap stuff. Gives the poor folk something to grab onto, with their malnourished little hands."
And, because your attention was entirely wrapped up in a Sidekicks-style fantasy revenge world, you've dropped the bag again. Did he just laugh? He did, didn't he? "Maybe he was coughing," your rational mind interjects, but it's too late: The Revenge Cortex has got you.
"People can't be allowed to get away with this kind of crap," it coos. "Whip this can of Double the Meat, Quintuple the Beans at his head."
But we're not going to actually consider violence as an option. That's crazy talk. You can't just go around assaulting strangers with discount meat slurries -- everybody will think you've snapped. They'll see your disproportionate physical response and they'll totally dismiss the real issue: this asshole's flagrant bag-handling shenanigans. History will not witness that you were righteous in this conflict, and he'll be free to continue his reign of slippery bag-relaying villainy. No, if you just jumped up right now and started wailing on the dude, even you would have to admit that you're the bad guy: "He dropped his groceries everywhere and then just flipped out and started calling for price checks on dick punches," the old lady in line behind you will tell the police.
So what can you do? The rational part of your brain usually checks back in at this point, and relays a number of realistic options: Say something self-deprecating. Apologize. Shuffle the goods out of the aisle so you're not blocking anybody's way. Let it go.
"Or go outside and light his car on fire. That would also be way more reasonable than what you're thinking right now."
Then the Revenge Cortex slithers on in and says, "I bet if you stood up, right now, and just looked him in the eye like you were onto his game, you know he'd pull something. He'd try to hit you first, or pull out a switchblade or something." Yeah! And you could disarm him like you're pretty sure Jackie Chan did to that one guy in that one movie that one time (I mean, that guy was trying to hit Jackie with a swordfish, but it's gotta be the same principle, right?).
See, if that happened -- if he pulled some shit on you first -- then you could beat his ass, and everybody would recognize you for the hero you truly are. You'd have stopped the Bag Twisting Menace. Hell, they'd probably throw you a parade. Why wouldn't they? After all ...