The decay and impending collapse of civilization can be verified at the local coffee shop after I finish my bike ride. Yesterday evening I was sitting there, minding everyone else’s business, when two guys sat down next to me and started talking about work.
But first, some background. You see, I stopped crying after Fourth Grade because in Texas there wasn’t any benefit to it. When someone hauled off and socked you in the face you could either sock them back, fall in a heap and wrap your arms around your head to protect your skull from the sharp-toed boot kicks, or run like hell. Whatever you did, you didn’t cry.
Even if they held you down and punched you and spit on you and rubbed dirt in your mouth, you didn’t cry. Not because you didn’t want to cry, but because the minute you started crying, the beating would only intensify and would be infinitely aggravated by being called a crybaby.
Your tormentors loved it when you cried because it reinvigorated their tired arms and got their spit flowing again. Conversely, your teachers hated it. Crying meant a) there was a problem and b) you weren’t taking care of it and c) they were going to have to interrupt whatever they were doing and take care of the crybaby. Plus, before they would do anything they’d say, “Stop crying, I can’t understand anything you’re saying.” So after going to all that trouble to cry and getting doubly abused for it, you had to quit crying anyway.
Parents hated it worst of all. “My kid got beat up and cried” was worse, infinitely worse, than “My kid has been sentenced to hang by the neck until dead.” So you just didn’t cry, and dog knows that there were entire school years when you wanted to do nothing but cry every single day.
Holding back the tears made you tough, until, by the time you were fourteen or fifteen the only people you ever saw crying were babies or girls or people at funerals. I know that from the day I started Jane Long Junior High in 1976 until the day I graduated from Bellaire High School in 1982 I never saw another boy cry.
So when the one guy asked the other guy at the coffee shop, “How’d your shift go?” The two were apparently tutors at one of the cram schools located in the mall. I was wholly unprepared for the answer.
“It was okay,” he said, “except for this one kid who I called out for his fake crying.”
“His what?” he said.
“His crying. His fake crying.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember that kid I was telling you about whose parents get mad at him for not doing his homework, then apologize for getting mad at him?”
There was so much much about this snippet that was wrong. “Yeah,” the other guy said.
“It’s him. He was complaining about how mean I was and so he started crying and stomped off to the water fountain.”
“How old is the little fucker?”
“He’s not so little. And he’s fourteen.”
“And he did what?” The guy was amazed, and my poor brain was spinning as I listened. A 14-year-old? Really?
“He said I was being mean so he stomped off to the water fountain, crying.”
I interpolated the horrific beating and lifelong ostracism that would have resulted from the public display of tears by a mostly grown teenager when I was growing up.
“Could the other kids see him?”
“Sure they could.”
“And he didn’t care?”
“What were you doing that was so mean?”
“I was making him do the homework that I’d told him to do the day before and he hadn’t done it so he’d flunked the quiz and the teacher had assigned it to him again.”
“But why would he be angry about having to do his homework? I thought his parents were sending him there precisely so somebody would make him do his homework.”
“They are. But he claimed that technically it wasn’t homework, it was an old assignment that he’d not done and had been reassigned as punishment, so he claimed he didn’t really have to do it and I couldn’t make him, and since I told him to STFU and do the assignment he burst out into tears and ran off.”
“He came back and asked if I was going to apologize for making him cry.”
“And he’s fourteen, right?”
“Right. And I told him hell no I wasn’t and he could cry all night long for all I cared as long as he did the stupid assignment. Then he said I was a real jerk for not caring that I’d made him cry.”
“He said all that?”
“No, I’m summarizing. He said a lot more.”
“Then I told him I especially didn’t care because he wasn’t even crying. He was fake crying, and when I said that all the color ran out of his face and he said, ‘How did you know that?’ and I said, ‘Because I have a little brother and I used to beat the crap out of him and he fake cried all the time and what’s more he was a hell of a lot better fake crier than you.'”
“And he said, ‘Really?’ and admitted that he fake cried all the time at home to make his parents feel bad and he was really surprised that it didn’t make me feel bad and that I’d figured out he was faking because his parents still hadn’t figured it out, so I told him they doubtless had figured it out and were probably in therapy trying to figure out how they’d raised such a whiny little wuss.”
“Did he start crying again?”
“Nope. He asked me what was so good about my brother’s fake crying, so I told him how my little brother was such a pro he could cry fake tears, and he didn’t believe me. ‘No way! No way you can fake cry so that you can actually make tears come out! No way!’ He was incredulous and envious.”
“I take it while all this was happening he wasn’t doing his assignment?”
“Wrong. I was riding herd on him so bad he wouldn’t have worked harder if I’d been holding a bullwhip.”
“He didn’t fake cry again for the rest of the night. And he finished his assignment. What do you think about that?”
“I think that’s fucked up,” the other guy said.
I got up and looked at the two guys. “I think,” I said very slowly, “that the world is a very different place now.”
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