The problem of determining whether you, yourself, are an asshole

A good fence

A good fence

If you read the comments on last Monday’s post, you will find a message from my neighbor [redacted], who is evidently moving out. First of all, welcome [redacted]; you have expanded my readership by 16%. Second of all, after reading said message, I realize that I am a weird hermit who is completely unreasonable in my expectations for quiet. No, wait—I still think I am a normal person. It is an agile interpretation that decides my “imperious pounding” on the floor is the problem when the stereo unavoidably comes on at 3am. The floor, by the way, is [redacted]’s ceiling. Again we encounter the problem of others.

Probably, in our disagreement over which of us is the normal one, [redacted] and I are both wrong. As near as I can tell, I am a fantastic guy, but I also occupy the worst possible vantage from which to make that assessment. In determining whether I am actually a weird hermit or some other variety of perspective-warped crank, I have recourse to three kinds of data:

1) My own visceral sense of self.

2) What other people say about me.

3) Concrete information.

Obviously, (1) is not a reliable indicator. The whole point of being a bizarre asshole is that you don’t realize you are bizarre and think it is a coincidence that you keep meeting assholes. My visceral sense of self vacillates between Ozymandias and loathsome despair, and so I have learned to ignore it. I assume other people feel that way, too, but I don’t know. That’s exactly the kind of incorrect baseline assumption that marks the eccentric, the unreasonable neighbor, the crank.

Part of the reason you don’t meet a lot of canny, well-adjusted hermits is that their isolation deprives them of information from category (2). What other people say about you is an extremely reliable source of data about the self, except when it isn’t. Several years ago, one of my friends arrived at my Brooklyn apartment distraught because some kids on the J train said she had “dyke hair.” It was a new cut, and she was unsure about it. I spent the next several minutes and, in less concentrated form, weeks convincing her that her new haircut looked great, when in fact it was totally too short and symmetrical in a way that appeared to make a statement re: contemporary sexual/gender politics.

She had dyke hair, god love her. Even accepting that as a premise, however, there is something unsatisfying about saying that she should have listened to those kids on the train. For a number of compelling reasons, you should not give too much credit to information from category (2), except in the most basic areas of hygiene and speech patterns. If you notice that people tend to listen with pursed lips as you speak uninterrupted for minutes at a time or smell themselves when you’re around, take heed. Otherwise—and this is one of the earliest lessons we impart to children—don’t worry about what they think.

In self-assessment, it is better to fall back on information from category (3). Here, at least, some elements of my life are certain. Despite my admittedly limited social skills and probable anxiety disorder, I have friends whom I like very much and who seem, themselves, not to be weird hermits. According to a bunch of poorly maintained but still factual spreadsheets, what I am doing up here all day is maybe being crazy, but also definitely working full-time as a freelance writer. It is way, way more fun than having a real job, although it is not as fun as being a student.

I know because I used to be a student. I first lived in Missoula during grad school, when I routinely stayed up all night drinking and yell-talking. For this reason, I feel like a real asshole when I pound on the floor in the middle of the night to make [redacted] turn down his stereo. Pretty much every time I did it, I went back to bed feeling terrible. But I really wanted to sleep, because otherwise I would miss deadlines the next day, not get to be a full-time writer anymore, have to get a regular job and cut my face off.

So maybe it sucks to live downstairs from me. Maybe the slightest noise sends me into absurd dicketry in the night, and I think I am normal because that’s what crazy people always think. Or—and here I make my appeal to category (3)—maybe [redacted] and I are not a good fit as neighbors. Maybe my sleep depth is such that, although none of my other downstairs neighbors of the past three years woke me up, [redacted] perfectly normal behavior disturbs me. Maybe, even though I do not know of an instance when I have woken him up, I do it all the time, and I am the asshole for complaining. It’s a terrifying problem, when you think about it, because how could I know?

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  1. Its bound to happen that you get people that are not good fits. I have had neighbors that moved furiture, line danced, or had 3 AM pool parties either above me or right next to my bedroom. I had neighbors that allowed their homeless friends to break in to my storage/utility space and make nests around my boiler. Or the drug dealer I lived across from that had vary persistant clients that wanted their fix at all hours of the night. It happens.

    I had actually hoped to hear something from you about the democratic echo chamber claims. I don’t know if thats true, but there is certainly a bias.

  2. As the old writing goes…”When I was a child, I spoke as a child…but when I became a man, I put away childish things…”

    I believe this particular issue of “fit” is the very reason dorms and frat houses exist.

  3. Jeezus.

    Was just told by some rando to look at this thing again. Kind of wondering if this is going into the field of harassment at this point now that I’m being called an asshole and It’s getting personal, but I’m incredibly thick-skinned, Dan. I also understand that you are not a verbal communicator and seem to have some bottled-up emotional energy, which apparently gets vented out on this blog.

    Also, you would be amazed at how much I do not give a fuck about what you or some mediocre coward friend of yours thinks about my personality. They can crawl right the fuck back into their dead-end jobs and dead-end lives where they wallow in jealousy over someone with ambition, strong opinions, and some character.

    I just decided to search your name since you’re encouraging people to hunt me online awhile you actively doxx via your venting outpost here. The first thing that showed up was some Independent article in which you deride all the people who WALK BY THE APARTMENT… “I hate any person who appears there… Each of them appears in my life as an intruder. I live here, whereas they are passing by. Call it the Problem of Others: there are so many of them, and yet they are all alike.” HOLY SHIT MAN. I probably walk by that sidewalk like 6-12 times a day. Starting to REALLY appreciate the fact that you are afraid of firearms, due to your apparent dislike (and fear) of other human beings that… walk by the damn apartment.

    I’d also point out that this whole rant you’re digging into is all due to me listening to music at night – maybe once a week at that. Maybe this should be a reflective moment for you. I admit I have a loud voice, Dan, but Jeezus Christ dude, get a fucking grip on yourself!!! Its an occasional stereo, or conversation late at night, not a fucking Klan meeting.

    Also amazed by the Indy. I suppose this is why all I ever read are the horoscopes, because every other article is like this… Democrat echo-chamber blended with people afraid of firearms blended with people afraid of students and hobos walking down the goddamn sidewalk. Something about taxes, blah-blah.

    The reason why your readership went up 16% (4 hits? lol) is because something interesting just happened, something that wasn’t you rephrasing nonsense you read on Slate/Wonkette/Politico/fucking Rachel Maddow. I’m happy to oblige you.

    Now if YOU would like to discover whether or not I’m an asshole yourself, and not just inconsiderate when drunk, or if you’d like to gain full comprehension of what the word “asshole” means, then please continue the phenomenally misguided “combat”-rant-attack.

    ALSO… Please do not feel bad about asking someone to turn the music down at night. Life is full of daunting challenges and having an 8-second conversation with your student neighbor should not be one of them. Take it in stride, man. – Consider valium or alcoholism, it may give you something more interesting to write about other than your inconsiderate asshole neighbor who doesn’t go to sleep at 10pm and has defiled your hermitage.

    Good Luck.

  4. Reed Perry’s personal website is pretty great, you guys. It’s my new homepage.

    Dude, I wouldn’t take it personally. I think Dan just likes to analyze these things, and is probably needling himself more so than you (see the 16% comment).

    But what do I know? This whole exchange is pretty bizarre and funny. I know that.

  5. I think you misunderstood me, Reed. The point of today’s blog was that it’s hard for me to know when _I’m_ being an asshole, just as it is hard for anybody. In general, I try to be self-deprecating—hence the 16% joke, and the facetious claim in the Indy column that I hate everyone who walks by my apartment.

    You are right when you point out that it would be ridiculous to actually think that way. That’s what I mean by the Problem of Others: the tendency to think of everyone as an undifferentiated mass of jerks, because the thing they all have in common is that they are not you. By “you” I mean “me.” The problem of others is the problem of subjectivity; we are the others that other people think are jerks. I don’t mean that everyone is a problem other than specifically me. That’s kind of the opposite of what I mean.

  6. I like Mr. Perry. He’s a lively writer, and seems pretty relatable and not totally inconsiderate. Mr. Perry, after you move out you should come back and provide some diversity for this echo chamber.

    And in case there is still lingering doubts for anyone, D.Brooks’ post today is clearly a self-effacing meditation on what it means to think of oneself as a weirdo, not a screed about Mr. Perry being an asshole.

  7. Wow, you guys both seem cool as hell, even if you disagree with how each other chooses to live/sleep. Even in insulting each other, you were both articulate. Bucket list: get an enemy who has grammatical skills and argues his points WHILE insulting me.

    Yeah, you guys need to have a beer, and maybe not live one on top of the other.

  8. Dan – a little more concrete information may be required to fully determine where you come up vis-a-vis assholishness, but I applaud your efforts.

    Where available data on Reed is concerned, I think we’re seeing a clearer trend:
    1.) He has no sense of humor
    2.) Despite ham fisted declarations of not giving a shit about this, he clearly gives a shit about this
    3.) He reads horoscopes

    I’m leaving aside the fact that he listens to unbelievably retarded music, as that might appear a dodge towards the fuzzy territory of subjectivity, and Reed might get even more pissy and post a wall of text telling me how much he doesn’t care about what I think. Also, bullet points look better when in odd-number groupings; I have no idea why that is.

    But either way you cut it, Three 6 Mafia + Horoscopes + demonstrative “non caring” = Douchenozzle.

    My condolences.

  9. I do not like Reed Perry. Mainly because he seems to think it’s okay to keep people awake at night with music because he only does it once a week. Seriously brah? He seems to have known it was too loud since he acknowledges having heard your imperious pounding. Turning the music down for one night, only to commit the same discourtesy a week later does not make him considerate.

    He does raise a good point though Dan. It would have been much more socially adept to at least once just go down there and ask him to turn it off with an outwardly polite attitude, but obvious irate undertones. That is the proper way to escalate this type of disagreement between apartment dwellers. Then I’d say you can lambast him on the internet. Then come the revenge activities.

  10. I like this Reed guy too. To two should textually spar more often.

    Also why is Douchenozzle a bad thing? Its the part going in to the vag… I know many people who are on a constant cooze hunt and getting in a vag is all they want. Being a Douchenozzle, would be just fine for them.

  11. So, reflections on assholery aside, this must be creating some weird awkwardness, right? I mean, do you guys ever see each other in person? Do you avert your eyes? Pretend nothing happened? Get into it? What’s the protocol here?

  12. I’m sorry, “textually spar”? I’m pretty sure that’s not a description that can be applied to what’s going on here. One party has an actual ability to convey thoughts in writing and the other has the reading comprehension (not to mention temper) of a six year old. Sparring implies that both parties are competent and contributing to the debate; this is more the textual equivalent of being attacked by a monkey. (Reed is the monkey, in case you struggle with reading comprehension).

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