I’m just home from the airport, and the living room where I grew up still smells of cigars and mildew. It’s not my home anymore, but fragments of my family still live here. Cousin Jacob regards me over the rim of his glasses without lifting his head from his bible. “Come on in, mug, take a load off.” Jacob calls everyone by the informal, “mug.” I think it’s a contraction of “man” and… I’m not sure. Possibly “thug.”
I don’t think I’m better than Jacob is. I don’t. But to be honest, I do suffer from the fear that I’ll think I’m better than he is. To some degree I’ve been plagued by this paranoid-superiority complex since I was was old enough to think I might be different from anyone I didn’t make up in my head. Under the burden of these thoughts I endure countless circular arguments with myself on the topic of superiority, particularly when I’m conversing with one of my rural-bred relatives.
You think you’re better than he is.
No I don’t.
You do. Listen to that sylvan drawl. You’re thinking you could think circles around him. He’s simple folk.
That’s absolutely ridiculous. How he talks is immaterial.
Yet even as you say that you’re fairly certain that he wouldn’t be able to use the word “immaterial” in a sentence. You’re artificially governing yourself so as not to seem overly intelligent. In fact you’re over-compensating, and it makes you sound aloof. You’re spending an inordinate amount of time trying to buffer the disparity between you and this creature of the hills.
So much nonsense! That’s just noise! Shut up!
“So whatcha been up to lately?” Jacob asks me. “How’re things in Caylafornia?”
The land of fruits and nuts–you know that’s what he’s really asking.
“Not much, actually. Just tryin’ to take it easy.”
You said “tryin'” to sound rural! For shame.
Not so, we’re just having a conversation.
“We’s jus havin a convuhsahin, ain’t that raht?”
I don’t think like that! And I don’t think of myself in terms of being better than someone else.
Oh, so by thinking about thinking you’re superior to Cousin Jacob, you’re not actually thinking it first hand. You’re preempting the thought entirely by denying it before it’s yours. So it’s just me thinking it, isn’t it? It’s not something that would even occur to you, right?
If you would shut up about it.
“You tired from the plane trip?” As he draws a sip from his beer, I sit back in the wicker chair which squeaks in protest.
He’s asking you that because he knows how you feel about him. Look at him looking you over, full of holy certainty. He’s got a bead on you. He knows you think you’re better than he is, because it’s impossible for you to conceal it. If you’re quiet then he’ll know you’re ridiculing him, and if you’re verbose then he’ll know you’re showing off. You feel awkward because you’re embarrassed. You feel sorry for him.
Go on, spank that muskrat-eater with your frontal lobe!
“Yeah, those plane trips are always draining. Makes me feel asthmatic.”
The jet-setter! Just in from the exotic west. Show the natives your shiny shoes! “Where I come from we stalk Suicide Girls on the internet, and picket Wal-Marts. We’re all gay!”
Please! We are who we are, and that’s all there is to it.
Jacob leafs through his tome halfheartedly. “Me, I never saw much reason to travel, I guess. Seems like everything I need is right here.”
“All I needs is my bible and my whittlin’ knife.”
You think that by denying the thought, you’re not thinking it. But in order to deny the thought it has to cross your mind, so you are indeed thinking it. In fact you’re obsessed by the thought.
Go on, say something erudite.
Because it goes without saying, doesn’t it?
If I didn’t politely dismiss myself to hole up in the guest room then that internal chatter would continue indefinitely. By the end of it, all I can say is that if this is the price of superiority then I’d much rather be one of you losers.