Reading through my last offering titled “Other people’s kids”, I realised that I had made an accidental point. You know, one I didn’t mean to make. I do that quite often and then when my readers point out that I made an excellent point, I pretend that I was aware of it all along. It’s very Forest Gumpian of me, I know.
When I made the statement: “Your kids are cute only to you!” I inadvertently strayed into the whole relativity-normality sandpit. For the record, I don’t think there’s such a thing as an ugly baby. All babies are adorable. Honest (uncrosses fingers). With that statement I made two points simultaneously:
1. With enough time, one gets used to things and stops seeing them the way others do.
2. Assessments are often subjective and relative to where one is standing.
Let’s tackle the internalisation point first. Most of us are aware that if you spend enough time with anything, your perception of it changes. I haven’t spent much time around skunks lately. But I’m willing to bet they don’t crawl around pinching their noses. That goes for human skunks as well. I don’t take enough showers on weekends — the exercise eats into my drinking time. My wife often has to point out to me that the kids haven’t come within a 5m radius of me for hours by Sunday afternoon — but I will personally think everything smells just fine. That’s normal. And I don’t suppose that Mick Jagger jumps and shrieks “jislaaik!” when he catches a glimpse of his image in the mirror. That’s because he’s been living with his face since Day One.
Now we come to the second point of this academic paper, relativity. When you put Jagger next to John Malkovich, you might understand why he walks around with that swagger. It’s all relative, see? For instance, I’m quite a chubby guy, I’m hardly 1.7m in my stilettos and I weigh 85kg or thereabout. But next to The Sumo, my frame instantaneously takes on rather lean and hungry connotations.
So finally we get to the point of this (so far) pointless rambling. It has been my observation that people with extreme abnormalities are often the very last to know. If you’re a little on the chubby side, people will often playfully call you “fat boy” or “vetkoek” to your face. But when one is grossly obese, one is often the last to know just how bad it really is. Oh, obese people are not stupid. They’ll be quite aware that they’re really, really fat. But not just how extreme it is. And you’ve seen them on Oprah — “Until you showed me that footage Oprah, I didn’t realise just how bad it was”.
That’s because most people are not mean. If you’re of average intelligence, people call you a moron, an idiot or an imbecile all the time. But nobody is going to tell a child who goes to “special” school that he’s a nitwit. We all agree that it just wouldn’t be right. (So if I tell all of you, my readers, that you’re stupid, it’s actually a compliment. Idiots.)
When I was in Grade 8, I had a classmate with halitosis. Now, everybody has some bad breath days. My wife has often told me straight to my face that she won’t kiss me before I put the sorghum beer down and brush my teeth.
But this dude had a serious problem. He would open his mouth to talk to you and the blood in your nostrils would coagulate. The corrosive vapours emanating from his mouth smelled like somebody had mixed a teaspoonful of sewerage with a shred of decomposed vulture intestines and then added some skin from in-between athlete’s foot infested toes. I’m not trivialising the plight of halitosis sufferers … oh who am I kidding, of course I am. He was about 14 years old but nobody had told him this before. And then he’d insist on sharing the hymn book with you at church and sing at the top of his voice.
After three months of people avoiding him like he had leprosy, a classmate finally told him. A typically blunt Zulu fellow from eMahlabathini, where Chief Buthelezi comes from. “Dude, your breath smells like rotting tripe”. And that was that. I call that a happy ending. I met him a few years ago and realised he’d gone for treatment because I couldn’t smell his breath from the “safe” 2m distance I had maintained when I saw him.
A female former colleague of mine whose rear end protrudes from her frame rather dramatically hasn’t been so lucky. I ran into her in a Durban Mall a few weeks ago and she’s still hanging in there with those skin-tight jeans. And I’m talking about Karoo cave painting proportions here. But how do you broach the subject unless she asks for your opinion? Even then, how do you respond? “Dude, if you ever go to France, you might never come back”?
This brings us back to the dof among us. If nobody has told you what a retard you are lately, I think you should be worried. You see, there could be two explanations. It could mean you’re a genius. Let’s agree that if you’ve read this drivel as far as you have, it’s improbable. That leaves the other possibility, that people put scissors away when they know you’re coming to visit. Do you see what I just did? I just called you stupid, Dumbo. That means you’re probably alright.
You’re most welcome.
(I see dof people. Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dof. — Silwane KaNjila, 2009)