I cannot say with metaphysical certainty when I developed this aversion to my own flesh and blood, but I am pretty sure that it arose in utero, when I learned that I was not going to be Bill Gates. I was profoundly nonplussed when I got the news, an understatement if there ever was one. I thought the interview had gone well and I knew that I’d scored high in the swimsuit competition and I was sure that things were going my way, so finding out that not only was I not in the running anymore, but that some little dweeb from Washington State had beaten me to the job did not make me very happy, as you might imagine. I knew that there was some chicanery afoot and I immediately demanded a recount, but alas, it was not to be. In such matters knowing the people who count the votes is much more important than having the voters on your side, and under the circumstances I had no choice but to concede. I didn’t like conceding, not by a long shot, but sometimes you’re just stuck with a bad hand. What can you do?
In any case, the folks who decide these things did not take kindly to my challenging their decision and, in their infinite wisdom and not at all in a spirit of malice, payback, or making an example for others who might think that they got a raw deal as well, they dropped me into the Clan Bashmachkin, as ill-fated a crew that ever stepped into a pile of bad karma while walking down a city street. The relatives keep telling me that things could have been worse, which is an Irish way of keeping things in proportion: no matter how positively awful the bad thing that just happened to you was, it could have been much, much worse. They will then regale with a story about their Uncle Liam in Mullingar, who had a stroke in a barn while trying to saddle a horse and couldn’t move or call out for five hours and had to lay there up to his neck in chicken crap while the pigs ate his left leg down to the bone. The story is usually pointless: Uncle Liam is back in the saddle now, the stroke was minor, and he never liked his left leg when he had it nor does he miss the limb now that it’s gone; and even if the story is not entirely pointless, which is only true in a miniscule number of cases, I find that this is usually the sort of willful denial of reality that I would prefer to skip without hearing the punch line.
You find this sort of denial everywhere these days if you really know where to look. Take squirrels, for example. Squirrels are homicidal little bastards, not that you would learn this from the press these days. Squirrels are one of the many species protected under the terms of the Disney Dispensation, which declares that all cute, furry mammals are cuter than a bug’s ear, an idiom I’ve never really understood, since if you could see a bug’s ear, assuming the bug in question has ears at all—some don’t, you know, even the ones who used to work for Richard Nixon—you would probably find the bug’s ear just as repulsive as the rest of the bug. Bugs, as a rule, do not fall under the protective folds of the Disney Dispensation; they tried, even picketing Disney Studios to get themselves included, but Walt brought in the strikebreakers—the Beagle Boys did the dishonors, as Uncle Scrooge McDuck was in Howdoyoustan that week foreclosing on a dung beetle—and broke the union; and now everyone everywhere may slaughter bugs in droves, hordes, masses, or whatever other collective adjective you wish to use without your conscience bothering you in the least.
Squirrels, by contrast, are too damn cute for words. I realize that cuteness has its place in the world, preferably a place as far away from me as possible, but I should point out that no one thought the Nazis were cute either, except for the occasional lonely Naziette. I realize that this bit about Nazis has nothing to do with squirrels and their effect on twenty-first century American social and political reality, but it does give me the chance to use the neologism Naziette in a sentence. If you don’t like Nazis, Naziettes, or neologisms, just skip this sentence and move on to the next one. It’s a pip… not this one, the next one. Cute or not, it is difficult to get Americans to see squirrels for the vicious and violently territorial critters they really are. Your average American will look upon a knock down, drag out, winner take all grudge match between two squirrels over who gets an especially big acorn and smile and tell themselves, oh, isn’t that cute, look at those two sweet little squirrels playing with one another when what is actually going on is that the squirrels in question hate each other’s guts and are trying to sink their teeth into each other’s necks. I also doubt that most mothers in this country would want their offspring to hear the profanity laced abuse these two squirrels are heaping upon one another as this fight gets nastier and nastier. Like modern twelve-tone Moldavian folk opera, one appreciates the spectacle better when one doesn’t understand a word anyone is saying. Knowing only spoils the mystery.
The same is true with your average family photograph. You’d never know from looking at them just how much your Uncle Harry hates his deadbeat brother in law who lives in the cellar of Uncle Harry’s house rent-free because his wife says so or how many people in a wedding picture know that the father of the bride is not the proud man walking arm in arm down the aisle with the blushing bride, but the older gentleman with the incredibly fake looking toupee sitting two rows behind them on the left, the somewhat seedy looking man leaning over and whispering something into the ear of his fourth wife, a once and future ecdysiast who did not get the memo on what to wear to a wedding and consequently looks as though she’s just looking for a handy Pole to leap onto. No, when the photographer is around snapping away everyone’s just one big happy family and don’t you forget it, buster, even if the family involved makes the Borgias look positively warm and fuzzy by comparison.