MISANTHROPE: noun – A hater of humankind; a person who distrusts people and avoids their company. (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).
If you think I’m trotting out this lovely word to hurl at Ann Coulter or John Ashcroft, think again. I’m talking about me. Actually, I’m a closet misanthrope because I can, if needed, function in society as if I adore my fellow humans. In fact, I sometimes do. But usually, I don’t. I find many people (not quite most people, but close) to be arrogant, self-absorbed, stupid, unnecessary, vapid, culturally insipid, dangerously indecisive, and/or loud.
Why do I bring this unpleasant subject up? Because today I’ve had a day in which I reached out and embraced the pleasures of strangers. I walked my pups, Woody and Darwin, over to Noe Valley, a mostly white, upper-middle class neighborhood peppered with Asian-Americans. Don’t think many blacks or Latinos live in this neck of the wood, but I’d never stoop to a sweeping generalization (!), so let’s just say that if they’re there, they’re outnumbered by an order of magnitude. Mostly thirtysomething families and their baby strollers, middle-aged professional queers basking in their parity with white hetero families, and, like, six artists. Why would I spend any time with my pups in such a place? Because on a beautiful day, no one seems bland or hateful. Don’t you love that about sunny days? They make even the most moronic people seem like creatures worth saving from a nuclear holocaust.
So, Woody, Darwin, and I walked from Bernal Heights to Noe Valley and sat on a brick stoop outside of a bank. The bank sits at the busy intersection of 24th St. and either Noe or Castro (I think it’s Castro). Hundreds of people were out today, walking their squawking kids, but mostly blathering on their cell phones, dissing the world from within their happy little telecom bubbles (I have a cell phone; I’m slamming not the devices and their usefulness, but their influence on the public manners of those who use them indiscriminately. For my money, it’s a bit like nosepicking — everyone does it, but do we all have to watch, or, for God’s sake, listen?)
During that 45-minute squat, we met a guy named Rob, a hungover musician walking his friend’s dog. Rob was cute and he had on terrific cotton knit pants with vertical stripes. He also wore some kind of satin blouse with aviator lapels. We chatted while the dogs played with each other. I didn’t hate him. In fact, I was attracted to his “look.” He was an open guy, inquisitive and unaware that inside me lives a mean, small beast. This kind of chemistry with people always makes me feel the need to blow down the defenses against other people’s stupidity and revel in the contact. We had fun…just talking. Every other man, woman, and child that passed had to stop and say hello to the pups. Usual empty banter: “They’re so cute.” “How old are they?” “Brother and sister?” (Woody and Darwin are both males) Since bringing the boys home a year and a half ago, I’ve answered these same questions over and over and over and over and over again. Maybe someone who’s wittier and more worried about it might come up with some kind of creative response. I find the exchanges a drag.
The “wife” of a guy I recently stopped dating came by on her way to work. Lovely woman, I like her a lot. She and the guy I mentioned are married so she can continue living in this country. One of the bartenders of Wild Side West and her friend came by. We said hello, waved, and moved on. Clean, to the point. Recognize with a smile and an utterance and then keep on moving. No need to pretend that we’re other than bartender and patron, especially in bright sunlight during the middle of the day.
Some people stopped by to regale me with stories of their childhoods with beagles. That’s another thing I hear all the time. “I had a beagle when I was a kid.” Great. So did I. Do we now have something in common? Bore. Some of the tales were interesting, but I don’t find that strangers have anything meaty to say to each other, so I usually tune out and smile and nod my head (remember, as a closet misanthrope, I can leave people feeling like I give a shit).
The best part of the afternoon was walking home with my dogs trotting on either side of me. My companions. In silence, with only a few words to correct them, we floated through the warm breeze in a swathe of mobile solitude, passing by pedestrians as if they weren’t there. As if we had the whole world to ourselves, and all the peace and quiet that entails. I wondered if Pierre Boulle, when he wrote Planet of the Apes, had more in mind than social commentary. I wonder if he was thinking about how individuals who feel divorced from the society of which they are a part develop hostile relations with their own species, creating a palpable divide between monsters and men. (If I ever murder anyone, that previous sentence is going to go into my police file. Good. I edited out the word hostile and then put it back. Fuck you!)