May 28, 2009

You will not be surprised, I trust, to learn that I spend a great deal of time meditating on the idea of revenge. I think revenge gets short shrift in modern society. By now I’m sure that the list of people upon whom I would like to revenge myself is far too long for me to get through even if I were to start right now.

The Platonic ideal of Revenge, I believe, is governed by two main principles, both of which I derived from The Count of Monte Cristo, a book I reread every couple of years or so. The Count of Monte Cristo is the story of a man who spends the first three hundred pages of the book languishing in prison because his enemies set him up and who spends the remaining eight hundred pages of the book taking implacable revenge upon them. (Actually, at some point near the end the revenge becomes placable, which is to my mind the only real fault of the book.)

The first principle of truly satisfying revenge is that the perpetrator must do no more than create favorable circumstances; the victim has then only to act according to his wicked character, and he will destroy himself. Fernand in The Count of Monte Cristo, for example, betrayed the Greek pasha to his enemies on his own; the count merely helped bring the truth to light. Similarly, the count merely engineered matters so that Danglars’s risky business ventures failed; it was Danglars himself who, out of greed, invested everything he had in them.

The second principle of revenge is that the victim must know or learn that he is being ruined because of what he did to you. Fernand, Danglars, de Villefort—by the end, the count has revealed himself to them as the Edmond Dantès, the wretch they imprisoned so many years ago.

It is by these principles that I am guided in all my revenge fantasies. Say P.C. Richards refused continually to refund the money I spent on a defective washer-dryer. I might imagine that the Attorney General of the United States shut the company down for fraud, discovering in the process a drug smuggling ring that would send all the executives to prison; I would be there in court, smiling at them as they were dragged off in handcuffs to a place where there would be all sorts of things it would be difficult for them to refuse.

But there’s one incident for which, even though it happened a few years ago, I haven’t been able to construct the appropriate fantasy. It happened on a rainy weekday afternoon; I was walking in midtown on my way to deliver a script to an agent or something like that. Now, when I say “rainy,” I mean really rainy, and I had neglected to bring an umbrella or even, I believe, a raincoat. I got to the end of one block and needed to cross to the next, but the space available to do so was limited, two cars having gotten very close to each other with perhaps a person and a half’s width between them. I saw a woman carrying a large umbrella coming toward me from the opposite direction, but I figured, what the hell, we’ll probably both be able to get through. This turned out to be incorrect, however, and when we collided she yelled, “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING!”

Understand, please, that at the time of this incident I was not nearly as well medicated as I am now. And so when she yelled at me I was instantly filled with rage. Such rage, in fact, that, as you can see, I still remember it years later.

But I don’t know what the revenge fantasy is.

I imagine the spines of her umbrella coming to life and growing long enough to gouge her eyes out (and then doing so), but that violates both principles of revenge; even if they told her as they were gouging her eyes out that it was because she had been mean to me, the fantasy would still violate the first principle.

So any help you can give me would be most appreciated.

Note that, while umbrellas can apparently come to life in my revenge fantasies, I myself am subject to the same limitations that compass me in real life, so I can’t do things like divine her address and show up at her apartment.

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8 Responses to You will not be surprised, I trust, to learn that I spend a great

  1. David B. says:

    Um . . . living well?

    Logically, I suppose the question of committing revenge would hinge upon your recognizing her again. Would you be able to do so? Would it have to be contextual (like it would have to be raining and she’d have to have the same umbrella and be on the same corner)?

    If revenge is dependent upon recognition, recognition is most likely (unless you deploy remote viewing devices) dependent upon proximity. Therefore, your revenge would have to be something that can either be initiated on the spot, upon the moment of recognition, or you will have to be prepared upon the moment of recognition to follow her and learn everything there is about her so the revenge can be more exquisite.

    My recommendation would be to keep it simple. Prowl the neighborhood on rainy days and come up with something that you can do on the spot upon seeing her. Ideally, this would not be something that involves her umbrella becoming animate, but perhaps you could use your new athletic skills to wrest it from her grip, beat her to death with it, and then twist the handle off to reveal the stash of crack cocaine that will forever besmirch her reputation.

  2. Todd says:

    Given my cursory knowledge of the New Yorker’s reputation for blunt, vitriolic honesty, I am surprised that such an encounter would be noteworthy. However, knowing that you, like the pope, are infalible, she must be a horrible person to have so affected you. I am sure her despicable tendecies have long ago cast her into a dark and miserable hell.

  3. Esther says:

    You do understand, of course, that revenge is inappropriate in this case, as Umbrella Lady did nothing wrong beyond frustrating you by being prepared for the weather when you were not. Perhaps had you been carrying your own umbrella, or donned in the very manly GoreTex we are fond of here in Oregon where it rains ALL THE TIME, you might have given her the additional moments she needed to pass before you entered her space (large as her umbrella may have been).
    That said, do not fear that she went on her way without consequences for her outburst. What you did not know is that she was extremely apprehensive about the Very Important Interview she was hurrying to, for which she borrowed her significant other’s umbrella when she could not find her own at the last minute. This umbrella was far larger than her own, and, not understanding how much greater it made her personal circle, you were the third person she had collided with in the space of just a few blocks, adding to her level of stress.
    Had you been able to watch the rest of the film once you were on your rage-filled way, you would have seen that she collided with yet another person moments after she reached the sidewalk. Physically dry, yet drowning in anxiety, she turned to yell at this person, too, and was jostled sideways, stepping onto the subway grate and catching her heel tightly. Twisting her ankle, she fell and ripped her stockings. The umbrella flew from her hand and was immediately picked up by the man who was fishing for cans in the corner wastebasket. He hurried off as she tried to pull her shoe from the grating, managing only to break off the heel, which remained stuck between the metal bars. Her hair now soaked, and her clothing variously broken or torn, she stood gingerly on her injured foot, and stumbled off with the heel-less shoe in hand. Arriving late and bedraggled for her interview, she was escorted into the HR Office, where she promptly burst into tears and proceeded to make a very bad impression for a Very Important Position. Understanding she had not gotten the job she’d been waiting for for years, she returned to the building’s lobby, whereupon she called her significant other to pick her up. She sobbed the whole way home, and took to bed for several days, neither eating nor drinking, and babbling nonstop about personal uselessness and possible self-harm, until her SO drove her to the nearby emergency room and had her admitted to the Psychiatric Ward.
    She is doing much better now, but does not go out when it rains. She thinks often of the man she collided with in the intersection, wishing she could meet him again and apologize for her unnecessary outburst, and tell him it had nothing to do with him. She wants to tell him that had she been on the medication she is now, she would never have yelled at him in the first place.

  4. lee says:

    Stand in the doorway to hell. Then gallantly step aside when you see her coming.

  5. initials says:

    This reminds me how far removed and troll-like I feel in Madison, WI. As a 29-year-old in a college town, I see stupid, self-serving little shits bouncing pneumatically all over everybody else’s party all the time. Revenge, for me, is refreshingly guileless.

    Take my advice… The next time you see umbrella lady, do what I did to a drunk sorostitute who ordered me to “move” while we approached one another on the sidewalk last week… I bowled the insensate little schnauzer over, and kept on walking. The black-clad, porn-heeled friends with whom she was gaggling (naturally complicit in her attempt to block all sidewalk traffic,) were lauging their asses off as she tried vainly to get to her feet. You see, it’s just plain good to be the aggressor once in awhile!

  6. Lauren says:

    I can’t decide whether I’m more disturbed by the fact that you first described this fantasy to me in 2006 and are still obsessing over it, or by the fact that I actually _remember_ you describing it.

  7. David, Esther, lee, and initials: Oh, this is so exciting! I think I need to come up with something that combines all of these. Like, I’m standing in the doorway of a room she needs to enter for a Very Important Interview, and she charges at me in her obnoxious way, and I step aside, and she trips on the carpet and falls, whereupon the handle of her umbrella comes off and the crack cocaine spills out, and . . . hmm. That’s less interesting than any one of these suggestions. Maybe I’ll just go stand on that street corner until she comes by again and see what strikes me in the moment.

    Todd: The pope wishes he were as infallible as I am.

    Lauren: I’m surprised I only described it to you once.

  8. TED says:

    I agree with keeping it simple: first, bioengineer a microorganism that only attacks the vocal chords and is only activated when someone yells in anger. Then, introduce this organism to this woman’s umbrella. Finally, follow her on a rainy day, and at the moment when she yells at some poor soul and loses her voice, hand her a small card explaining that, with your assistance, she has brought about her own permanent silence.


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