It can be exhausting, avoiding collusion. Jerks are always trying to make you complicit in their entitlement.
You know what I’m talking about. Someone, say, yells at a bartender. Then he looks around trying to enlist allies. Can you believe this guy?! his eyes say. It’s us against the crazies, right?! This city, right?! People, right?! And even though it’s probably as close to an impulse towards collectivism as this person will ever experience, it is crucial in that moment that you make him feel completely alone.
Traveling jerks, in particular, demonstrate a touching faith in the world’s empathy. I need to make a connection! they explain. Or, I need to get on this flight, or, I want to control the weather! And not only do the rest of us not care, we actively don’t care. We care less than we normally do about other peoples’ problems.
“Is everything okay?” asks the flight attendant.
“Um, not really,” says the man in business class. “Where’s the tawny port?” And then of course he mistakes your look of incredulity for one of complicity and gives you a “what’re you gonna do with this kind of service?” shrug as the port arrives.
That said, these moments can be tragic. “Where’s the manager?!” demands an old man in the local Citibank, sticking his head into the office where you’re sitting with an employee sorting out some business. “You people!” he says to you. “We can’t find anything! Don’t try looking for help here!” And then he leaves and your eyes meet those of the bank employee, and there is indeed a certain complicity—but the original man is more alone than ever.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.