Had to get the bus back from work after half eight today. Always a great opportunity to witness the lively behaviour of the North East's very own brand of ignorant swaggering fuckwit bastard, the charver .
The bus is mostly quiet until we reach an area of town well-noted for its low ratio of normal people to these fuckers, and sure enough four of them get on. They head straight for the back (thus showing they've never succeeded in breaking years of social role-conditioning from secondary school), and the rest of us wind up being treated to a spectacle with which anyone who's came into contact with these types will be depressingly familiar: the sound of them regaling each other with a series of unfunny remarks and anecdotes, each one punctuated with braying, inhuman and obviously false laughter.
It got me thinking, this. And I realised that this little interaction between the four charverteers wasn't a real communication between them: it was a performance of sorts, from each to his peers and also on behalf of all of them to the rest of us on the bus. The goal of the performance was to show what a good time they were all having. How much of a laugh everything was for them.
Which was ludicrous because, on any objective measure they weren't having a good time. They were poor, they had no prospects, and they were on a bus full of people who already regarded them with suspicion when they got on, and who, within five minutes of them boarding, actively hated them. This was their life: a never-ending drama of suspicion and animosity, all played out against a backdrop of inevitable failure. Not much of a laugh in my view.
But then it occurred to me that the laughs weren't real. They were a pretense. The charver lads were well aware of how they were regarded by the rest of the bus. The demonstrative fake laughter was a way of showing that they didn't care. Cos they were 'ard.
And I sort of realised - this is their whole life. Going through your days putting on a fake laugh and trying to perform 'hardness' to hide how fucking scared you are of the world of shit you're in. Every single one of them probably feels terrified when they think three hours into the future, never mind three years, but they're fucked if they'll ever show that to their mates. Don't want them thinkin' they're fuckin' queer or summat.
It's a choice, and it's their choice. And if I was in the same situation as them, maybe it's a choice I'd find myself making too. But it set me thinking and, you see, here's the thing:
You will never truly feel anything of worth in life unless you open yourself completely to the terrifying extent of your own vulnerability.
From a strictly self-oriented viewpoint every laugh, every tear, every smile, every scream, every orgasm, is an admission of weakness. Because you're admitting the power of someone else - a comedian, a poet, a lover - to make you feel something. To get in your head and affect you.
If you're willing to let that be the case, you pay a price and you get a reward. The price is that things will happen that make you cry, that make you scream, that make you weep and tremble. The price is that you will spend whole nights and days flat on your back in your living room, cursing god and wishing for death. And the reward for accepting that kind of burden is that you will also experience things that make you laugh, that make you smile, that make you happy in ways you never knew you could be. The reward is that you will experience moments of elation, not chemically-induced, that will make you feel at one with every being in the universe, a dancer inseparable from the dance of which they are a part, a cog in a great organic machine which turns and throws out endless light.
I call that a reward worth paying the price for. Many don't. And if you're one of them, the people who don't want the pain, there's another option. You can close yourself down. You can be hard. Armour up with regulation sportswear and the regulation nothingness behind the eye. Spend your life presenting to others as hard and aggressive and dangerous to pre-empt their ability to hurt you, to get through the chink in the armour and make you feel. Hurl words around like shit-encrusted rocks and stab fake laughs into the air in a desperate attempt to make it look like you're having the good time in your little robot world and to stave off any doubt you may feel that the others, the ones who aren't hard and don't mind people knowing that they cry, are feeling something you can't imagine.
Armour up like that and treat every day as some kind of endless, hellish shit-war and you might survive, in a fashion. You'll move through time and space, anyway, and you probably won't be harmed too badly. You'll have the satisfaction of knowing you scare people, at least. The satisfaction of knowing you're hard. The satisfaction of knowing you'll never be hurt.
But the price of that option is you'll never share a real laugh, or a real smile, or, yes, a real orgasm. Because you'll be forever trapped in your sad little bubble of I'm-hard-fuck-you.
I know which one I'd choose.