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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sunday Slapstick: Schadenfreude, for You

Well it's Sunday ...   Schadenfreude i/ˈʃɑːdənfrɔɪdə/ (German: [ˈʃaːdənˌfʁɔʏdə]) is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This German word is used as a loanword in English and some other languages, and has been calqued in Danish and Norwegian as skadefryd and in Swedish as skadeglädje.

Some years ago I worked at an office job.  You know the sort ... cubicle slavery, white shirt & tie every day ...  tethered to a PC ... a victim of endless and tedious emails... phone constantly ringing.

Calls and emails from steady stream of DISSATISFIED people who through some sort of transubstantive process akin to an alchemical miracle felt that by REACHING OUT TO ME their problems would dissolve, dissipate, disappear ... ugh.

Hoping for the best one day, I decided to skip my lunch in order to run some errands.  Take care of those little loose ends that tend to get put off by full time working stiffs during the week  --- you know what I mean ... banking, trip to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, pick up some odds & ends (toothpaste, soap, cat toys), video store to return some movies ... 

Actually I figured I had just enough time to knock out that list, pick up some fast food to eat on the fly and get back to the office without being late, docked or scolded by my boss.  I am, after all, highly coordinated.  I move with grace, ease and efficiency.  All extraneous motion is banned, only the necessities as I glide from Point A to Point B 

... with a little luck I would get everything done and still manage a bite to eat.  I could also dose up on nicotine to get me through the afternoon.  Yes, I'm a confirmed and hardened nicotine addict and think of cigarettes as my friends  -- and I knew I'd need to get my fix in order to make it through the rest of the work-day without sneaking off for a quick smoke. 

Determined, I decided to do all of this on foot and carefully mapped my walking route.  This would essentially be a "round the block" trek capped by a quick trip to McDonalds where I could grab a soda, a quarter pounder with cheese and fries to gobble down on the last leg back to the office.  Perfection.  

Walk-smoke-chores-walk-smoke-chores-walk-eat-smoke-eat-smoke again ...  rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

Eventually, I made it to the McDonalds and by the grace of the Fast Food Goddess was in and out in minutes with my bag full of fat and sugar.  My mundane little odyssey was working out JUST FINE, and I was even ahead of the game.  I calculated that I had an extra 5 minutes to walk back to the office which would allow time for one more smoke ....  get that nicotine level in the blood up to where it needed to be.  Golden.    

Now, with a bag of purchases in one hand, a bag of Mickey D's in the other, waiting for a crossing light to change at a major intersection ... take advantage of the "down time", I thought, light up that last smoke ...yes,  juggle the bags, find the cigarette pack, my lighter. Cigarette lit, puffing happily.  Light changes.  Proceed. Perfect.

Falling quickly into a graceful quick-step I move into the intersection and glide across leaving streams of smoke in my wake like vapor trails from a transcontinental flight at 40, 000 feet.

Reaching the center of the intersection of the 2 four lane boulevards I was crossing I noticed that something was amiss.  And it was then that somewhere deep inside of me, quiet insistently, an alarm bell started ringing -- at the core of my medulla or brain stem or somewhere anatomically appropriate ...  a bell was getting louder.  SOMETHING was NOT RIGHT but I was not yet conscious of what, exactly, the problem was.

Even with this ever-increasing alarm going off I continued walking. Poise and grace should no no limits, after all. About two thirds of the way across the boulevard it all became PAINFULLY and BRILLIANTLY clear what the problem was.

Up to that point, I hadn't realized a simple and painful fact.  While I was lighting my cigarette on the other side of the intersection the sun was glinting off my lighter and -- through one of those prismatic quirks of sunlight -- the flame from my lighter was not visible to me.  I knew it was there, and managed to light my cigarette without trouble.  What I didn't see, and therefore didn't know until it was, as they say "TOO LATE," was that I had also set the bag containing my lunch on fire.  This flame too was invisible and I slipped into a major intersection in the middle of the day with complete innocence, unaware that my quarter pounder, large fries and Coke were in my right hand, and in flames.   Suddenly a searing pain shot through my hand.  At first I thought I'd been stung by many bees.  By now I'd moved into the shadow of a building and as I looked down at my hurting hand I saw a ball of orange fire.

Up to that point I'd been moving like a speed skater on a sharp caffeine high.  After that, my poise dissolved faster than you can say "oh my god my fucking hand is on fire."  I threw the bag to the ground and began to stomp on it.  Now completely unaware of anything but my flaming lunch, I failed to notice that the light had changed and that 4 lanes of midday traffic were impatiently heading MY WAY.  A car with an elderly couple inside was inching closer to me.  They looked scared.  I can only take solace in the likelihood that at holiday dinners, for the rest of their years they told a story that went something like this:

                        "Oh Betty, it was amAzing. This crazy guy in the middle of Armistice Boulevard threw a McDonald's bag on the street and started jumping up and down on it.  A crazy man I tell ya.  And there was SMOKE coming out of it ...  and Coca Cola"

Dined out on that story for years... I'm sure of it.  Finally, I came to my senses and realized I really needed to get to the sidewalk, quickly.  This I managed.  When I got to the other side I glanced over my shoulder at the still-smouldering bag in the street.

Even with my flaming lunch episode, I made it back to work with minutes to spare.  Before going into the building I stopped, checked my hand for burn damage, saw it was nothing a little Bactine wouldn't cure.  

I lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

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