It is surprisingly easy to be an asshole.
If I hurt someone, I try to explain or apologize. But there is one act of complete assholery that I never fixed, and I should have at least tried to fix it.
It was in one of my first classes at ASU. American History 101. The professor was probably 25 years old. She wore business suits every day. If she was more than 5-feet tall, I’m a dinosaur.
She was smart and she knew her shit, and I liked her. But I don’t think she liked me. I sat in the back, and mumbled very deep thoughts like: “that’s fucking bullshit.”
I did that in every class — very popular with the teachers. At ASU, this meant no one would sit near me and often there was a ring of open seats around me.
The ring could have been because I rode a bike to school and couldn’t afford deodorant. I prefer to think it was the oratory and not the odor.
So I was 19 — freed from Catholic school and finally able to express my pent-up atheism. I realized religion was bullshit the first day of 7th grade. No loving God would have permitted Mrs. Smith to teach children.
First paper at ASU: I write 10 almost-researched pages on biblical quotes confederates used to rationalize slavery. There’s a long list. Jesus even talked about the proper way to beat a slave.
No mentions in the bible that slavery was sinful or that slave owners were going to hell. Can’t wear linen and wool in the same coat, or eat lobster, but go ahead and beat your slaves and heaven can be yours. Talk about bullshit…
But in the paper, I didn’t say I thought religion was a crock of shit. I dutifully reported the quotes and footnoted the speakers like they were fucking American heroes — you know Jefferson Davis, John C. Calhoun, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington. All mixed together with Jesus and Paul in one happy slave-holding family.
I hand in the paper with a big dumb smile on my face. The title was something like: “The Confederates had God on their Side.”
The professor looks down at the paper, scans the title and looks up at my pink, sweaty face. She is clearly very uncomfortable. I’m still smiling like an idiot.
I get the paper back. There’s a big fat “D” at the top, and every paragraph is covered in angry red ink pointing out all errors in fact and thought. In a couple of places her pen went through the paper.
Did I mention that she’s African-American and has a southern accent?
She lectured on the importance of strong religious belief in the “moral fabric” of America. It dawns on me that most of my “bullshit mutterings” for the whole semester had to do with her thoughts on religion.
Fuck. I looked around the room and saw a bunch of pasty upper-middle class kids. They probably all have had skin cancer by now. She was the only one in the room with enough pigment to actually live in Arizona.
I decided to ignore this situation. For the next 3 months, I didn’t say a word to her about the paper or the class.
Of course I’m still in the back muttering, and no one is sitting around me.
Looking back, she must have been thinking I was some fat racist trying to be edumacated at the big state university. I’m sure she didn’t call me out, because she worried about keeping her job or keeping the class from spiraling into a bunch of racist bullshit.
ASU in the 80’s was full of pickup trucks and lots of confederate flags. I can just picture her walking across campus and sweating like crazy in her business suit and wondering what she did wrong to end up in the land of red necks and republicans.
I could have easily come to her after class or office hours and explained. But I didn’t. I just let it linger — like a real asshole. Told you it was easy.