Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sometimes you gotta go with your gut feeling about people, even if your brain tells you otherwise.

Take for example, this guy I know -- I’ll call him Ace. Ace is very friendly and energetic, and we share similar interests -- e.g., we met via a weekly running group -- but there was always something unsettling about him. Whenever we hung out, I later felt kinda undermined somehow… I wanna think positively about people, so I discounted the feeling. But it was impossible to ignore Ace’s insidiousness.

A while ago when I was trying to get back into working for TV, I asked Ace for any suggestions, since he did promos for a major network. He wanted to discuss it while we went running. I can barely chalk and goo wum, let alone powwow while pounding the pavement, but whatever.

Ace spent the first two miles describing how he was jockeying for a better position at the network, and he was frustrated with the TV biz. Then he said he didn’t think I’d find anything I wanted, based on my limited experience. I kept quiet, even when he asked to stop and walk for a minute -- like I said, I can barely galk and woo chum, let alone recap my resume while running. I thought Ace wanted to catch his breath before trying to discourage me some more, but he kept prattling on.

So after a minute or two, when I suggested we start picking up the pace again, he said, “Okay. I stopped for you.” Excuse me? “Yeah,” he said, “you were struggling.”

What kind of pseudo-psyche-out competitive bullshit was this? Ace changed the subject quickly. He asked about my lovelife, and instead of focusing on the girl I was seeing at the time, he wanted to know about the flaky one I had stopped dating.

Now sufficiently warmed up, I said that she had called me, perhaps to get closure, but she tried to blame everything on me. It was totally off-base, and I calmly and respectfully explained to her the reality of what had happened between us. By the time I was done, she not only acknowledged I was right, but admitted she had some serious issues to work out, and wow, I’d been so cool about this, hey, maybe we could give this another try. Yeah, sure, I’ll call ya, I said.

The reason I mention this story-within-a-story is the way it was concluded. When I said I was kinda pleased with the way I handled it, Ace said, “Yeah, you did okay there, Mikey, but you coulda done better. Trust me.” What the hell was this guy’s problem? His advice was to be a complete jerk to the girl, which wouldn’t have been any where as much of a vindication. And in the process, he was being an asshole to me.

I suddenly found lots of energy and sprinted away from Ace and pretty much avoided him after that. But as time went on, my annoyance subsided. Ace always seemed really happy to see me at our running group. Mutual acquaintances thought he was such a nice guy, although they may have only known him superficially. Still, perhaps I was making a too big deal about this.

So when he invited me to a little party at his place, I considered it. My girlfriend and I didn’t have any other plans that Sunday afternoon, and Adelphia suggested that if I just go with the right attitude, it might be fun.

And she was right. I had a nice time -- meeting Ace’s girlfriend and his friends, seeing his new house, having a drink and catching up. That wasn’t so bad.

We left and as we got to my car, Adelphia said, “Okay, that guy is totally obnoxious.”

Really? Adelphia is much sweeter and less cynical than me, and for her to say that… Was she right? Had I tried so hard to be nice, I had turned off my jerk-radar?

She reminded me the way Ace pontificated about every damn subject -- annoying know-it-all. Well, that’s the way he is, I thought. Everyone’s got opinions; Ace just states his more vehemently than others. The reason I call him Ace, by the way, is because like Ace Ventura, he tends to talk out of his ass.

But this Ace has a way of laying little insulting grenades. He pulls the pin and your politeness doesn’t permit you feel the blast right away. Only later do you realize how you’ve been undermined.

That evening, Adelphia reminded me about this exchange at Ace’s party:

"Oh, cool, you get The New York Times," I said. "Adelphia and I have been doing the crossword puzzle every Sunday. It’s fun. We’re getting pretty good. It used to take us forever, but today we finished it in under an hour."

In an offhand, dismissive way, Ace said, "Yeah, we do it, too. Takes us a half-hour."

Ace’s girlfriend looked at him, as if to say, What the fuck you talking about? I had looked at the puzzle, thinking, Then why isn’t there a single square filled in?

And that evening, Adelphia and I looked at each other, knowing: Sometimes you gotta go with your gut feeling about people.


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