There aren’t many comparisons to be made between me and Richard Nixon, but there is one: We’re both paranoid as fuck. The comparison falls apart when you realize that Nixon was right, and I’m probably wrong, but still, the base emotions are the same.
No, I don’t have a list of enemies, and no, I don’t record all my conversations, but I do sometimes find myself thinking that people are out to get me. More specifically, I think that people are always laughing at me.
Here’s a situation: I’m sitting on the El, on the way to some awesome event in downtown Chicago. I’m either listening to my iPod or reading or both. My fellow riders include some college students, some silent adults staring straight ahead and a few token hobos. Two of those college students (girls, of course) start talking and laughing together. Suddenly, I get really self-conscious. If my life were an indie comic book drawn by Chris Ware, this would be the panel filled with a big close-up of my head showcasing a sad, lonely expression. No matter what happens now for the rest of the ride, I can’t get over it.
Or take this scene, where my PA group is meeting for the first time, and I don’t really know anyone, but a couple girls are hitting it off about something, and one of them said something, and now they’re both laughing, and OH GOD WHAT DID I DO? ARE THEY JUDGING ME?? IS THERE SOMETHING IN MY TEETH??? CAN THEY TELL JUST FROM LOOKING AT ME THAT I HAVE SPENT HOURS IN BORDERS FLIPPING THROUGH BOOKS BY HAROLD BLOOM????
This is my life.
It’s pretty weird for me to feel this way, and moreover I know it’s pretty weird. The main problem, as I see it, is that there was a period of my life where people did laugh at me. If you know me as I am now, take my combined weirdness and extrapolating it exponentially, and you’ll get a feel for how awkward I was in junior high. If it was possible for me to pull out a copy of Watchmen and reread it for the fifth time rather than making small talk with acquaintances, I’d bury my head faster than you could say “lifelong neurosis.” So there were kids laughed as I sat silently reading, because they were normal and I was not and it was funny.
Granted, I was weird. If I was bequeathed a time machine and journeyed back to watch myself reading Watchmen in the bleachers waiting for an assembly or something, I would probably sit down with those laughers, point a finger at my younger self and declare something along the lines of, “Ha! What a weirdo.” Comics are cool and all (check out the list of highest-grossing movies from the last decade if you don’t believe me), but using them as a shield from social interaction is not. The combination of my own inherent strangeness (which in my mind justifies other people laughing at me) and my extreme self-consciousness makes me really uncomfortable when people are laughing close to me, and I don’t know exactly what they’re laughing about. This neurosis doesn’t manifest in any other situation, so it doesn’t dominate my life. But when it does sneak up on me like a ninja assassin, it freaks the bejeesus out of me.
Interestingly enough, I love to laugh. I actually cackle like a mad scientist from Dexter’s Laboratory (another weirdness alert for those of you keeping score at home). But just like how Steve Jobs loved tinkering with other people’s inventions but refused to let anyone else do it (cut to computer whizzes nodding their heads sadly), I can’t stand people laughing at me. I’m sure that’s true of a lot of people. The difference is, I think that people are laughing at me a lot.