WMTTW, Vol. I: Ink Pen

5 03 2008

This is the first in a probable series of invented explanations for a curious dude. Me. Click here for an explanation of this series before you read it or any other volumes of WMTTW (What Made Them That Way?).

I once had a coworker who was considered by many, myself not excluded, to be a scary, trashy redneck woman. She also happened to be tall and thick with a hunched back, and someone who wasn’t not me issued her the nickname of “The Beast.” She was loud and obnoxious and touched people way too much. She stole things from people’s desks and displayed them on her own unabashedly. She stole a floorstanding lamp from my office and put it in hers… which was directly next door. She was, I feel fine saying, a crazy redneck beast woman. She’s a fun topic, so we might come back to her at a later date, but for now, I’ll share my What Made Her This Way moment.

The Beast was in charge of ordering office supplies for us, so when we needed anything at all, we had to approach her and talk to her and probably get touched by her. And after we made our orders clear, she, being the hoarding greedy beast that she was, would always lower her voice and ask us if we wanted to tack anything else onto it for ourselves. We would say no. Thanks. Then she’d ask if we were sure… no wite-out, no laser mouse, no ink pens? No no no. Thanks. She bought herself a bunch of little gifts, but nobody cared.

But what captured my imagination was the way that in this situation, and in countless others, she referred to pens as “ink pens.” In an office environment, pens are everywhere, and they must be used, borrowed, bought, picked up; they are lost, they are the wrong color, they run dry. And invariably, when she mentioned one, it was an “ink pen.” It really stood out, I tell you.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it one day, and finally I thought: What made her this way? Why can she not just call them pens? Why must it always be an ink pen??

Black and white. A lonely, rickety farmhouse in the country, tall prairie grass swaying in the breeze, pocked with large patches of lifeless dirt. Screen door leaning against the house, front door crooked on its hinges, unable to be completely closed. Inside: a grizzled prairie man sits in a barren kitchen, doing maths on tattered paper. Brows furrowed, the defeated country pauper can’t seem to make the numbers add up.

A very young The Beast is playing in the next room over–the only room over–with a stick she’s calling “Vanessa” and a chicken bone she’s calling “Thomas.” The stick and the bone are being forced to kiss when she’s startled by the man’s booming voice.

“Li’l beast?” “Yes papa?” “See if you cain’t fetch me a pen.” “Okay papa!” And she puts down her dolls and runs to a dilapidated cabinet in the corner, the film going silent so the viewer has a chance to reflect on that severe country drawl of his. The shot cuts to the man, shaking his pen and trying to write with it. Futility. The out of focus beast comes running toward him, into focus.

“Here y’are, daddy!” she squeals, and he turns and reaches for it. Suddenly he jerks his hand back and yelps. The beastette gets a look of panic, and the man suckles the pinprick on his thumb.

“A pin? A goddamn PIN, Li’l Beast?!! I said a PEN, you idiot!” She starts to cry, crouching in terror. “A PEN not a PIN, cain’t you listin? PE-IN! PE-IN! and he begins to beat her mercilessly. She cries and cries, but the beating just keeps coming. It is a truly savage beating, and he doesn’t stop until the front of his shirt is as damp with blood as the back of his shirt is with sweat.

And that’s why she is unconsciously conditioned to always clarify INK pen. Country accents sometimes make e’s sound like i’s. True story.


What Made Them That Way?

5 03 2008

Long ago, I detected my attitudinal hints of misanthropy and superiority, but elected to call it an interest in the humanities. I’d “observe the effects of social stratification” or “consider the undercurrents of socioeconomic system,” but really I suppose I was doing all the academic thinking I could to prevent having to call myself a judgmental A-hole. And it’s not that I never considered the circumstances by which people become who they are–that’s always king in my thoughts–but I also never stopped wondering which parts of them were naturally there. You can feed a redneck Polander All-Fruit, but you can’t stop him from calling it jelly.

Along with my interest in the humanities, I’ve also long fostered a keen enjoyment of semi-ridiculous sketch comedy. The State, Kids in the Hall, Upright Citizens Brigade. I love it. So, somewhere along the line, I put them together in my mind, and when someone peculiar presented a peculiar behavior, I started inventing backstories to describe or explain their peculiarities. I imagine getting a video camera and putting some together one day, in a segment I’d like to Call “What Made Them That Way?”