Gonzofest literary contest 
honorable mention: I’m an asshole, 
but that’s ok — 
I have social Anxiety

I was reading an article on some blog site the other day about how people like me are assholes. Or, rather, how we do very well on coming off as assholes without wanting to. On most days, this is something that I strive to achieve in my life. Becoming the major asshole with a secret heart of gold that only his friends and loved ones are aware of. Because as much as we as a society like to think and say that we abhor assholes and asshole behavior, we all must acknowledge how deep inside, we all secretly admire the assholes. The guy with the perfect set of Dark Triad traits. With just the right amount of charisma to come off as fashionably aloof, yet still able to capture the hearts and minds of those whom he wishes to use for his own purposes. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I think this is one of the many characteristics in human nature that the social justice types fail to understand, that we just can’t breed it out of ourselves. Because if we do, then we will lose the very driving force behind what makes a society function.

(Un)fortunately, I have no such Dark Triad genes, and, despite many past repeated attempts at trying to be at least half the man that my grandfather was, I failed miserably. May whatever deities you believe in bless that man. Although during the last two or three years of his life, I was distancing myself from him. He was a man I can admire, in a sense. A typical, hard-working Puerto Rican man who was born into the Great Depression and poverty. He quit school and started taking on odd jobs, all the while learning English by himself by reading Golden Age DC comic books. Later on he married the girl of his dreams who was my grandmother and lasted several decades in a marriage that was pure hell. In the meantime, he and the family packed up with my mother and late aunt when they were both young babes for The Big Apple, where they lived in a tenement building, while he worked various factory jobs. By the time they came back to Progress Island, U.S.A., he had a pretty good retirement fund set aside, thanks to his factory jobs, as well as a Social Security check that would be more than what most Puerto Ricans his age would receive, as well as enough saved up to start his own ice cream truck business and to buy a house that was never bought (but that is another story altogether). Even then, that wasn’t enough. When he turned 50, he decided that he wanted to go a bit further than what his seventh-grade education gave him. So he enrolled into a trade school and he became an electrician and continued to work until he retired in his 60s. And even in retirement, he never stopped working. He always had a bunch of projects around the house that he started but never really finished, since he got bored and started another. The house where we all ended up living as an extended family, itself was a project that had not been finished on that fateful day when the stroke happened, and he spent the last year of his life, in and out of hospitals and hospice care, half paralyzed and nearly insane. I do not wish his fate upon even my worst enemies.

I apparently am the furthest thing that I could be from that man. The happy alcoholic with a dumb joke always in hand and a side chick in every corner bar, with the mind for mathematics. The man who wasn’t afraid to call you a dumb ass and a dipshit, if you deserved it. I came out to be the nice kid who ended up getting bullied, being called fat and ugly and whom the girls would nearly all recoil away from in terror of catching the cooties, and because I was an unpopular weirdo. I was the extremely “shy” kid who was secretly terrified of my birthdays being celebrated in class, as I hated the dreadful part when it was time to sing “Happy Birthday.” I used to turn beet red in the face when I knew that the song was being sung at me, and I would do my best to hide behind my teachers. Later on, I would be embarrassed to go up front and do my book reports. It got only worse by the time I hit that certain age in a young man’s life. All of a sudden, I thought that girls were pretty, yet the mere thought of telling one that I “liked” her was enough to make me panic. As I got older, the mere thought of making phone calls to strangers would make me feel queasy. By the time I was in high school, I was basically a selective mute. There were days when I could go by without uttering a single word and during lunch times, I would instead just hang around my normal corner and wait out the lunch hour, hungry and afraid to go into the cafeteria, as I did not want to upset whatever status quo was going on. Meanwhile, I and everybody who knew me thought that this was just an extreme case of shyness. If I knew back then what I know now, who knows just how different my life would be?

The sensation of always feeling like I was being judged by some invisible Jury of Social Interaction.

The aforementioned extreme blushing and bashfulness when I was a kid. The times when I would see someone who knew me, but I didn’t really talk to, at some store, and the grand maneuvers that I would make to avoid visual contact with that person at all costs. The few times when I summoned up the courage to “try” to ask a girl for even a simple thing like her number, only to find myself frozen in place and wanting to throw up. This wasn’t just a case of being shy. This was social anxiety.

Apparently, it’s the third-largest mental health issue in the world and it affects 7 percent of the population.

Seven percent may not seem like much. Just how many more people out there have been living a life of pain and misery because they feel like they must avoid any human interaction like the plague? How many adult sufferers out there are still living at home and totally dependent on a parent, because they are terrified of the prospect of having to do a job interview? How many have turned to vices like alcohol and drugs to help them cope with simple things like being able to have a simple conversation?

I consider myself a fortunate man now. I am now gainfully employed in what can be counted as a “real job,” like an adult. I finally moved away from my family and my home and am living somewhat independently (I live with roommates and I still can’t cook a decent meal for myself, because now I have the new fear of using the kitchen when people are around). And I’m finally living the life that I want to live (at least when my job permits it). When I first came here, I thought that being a new face in town meant that I had a fresh start in life and, for the first year or so, this was very true. I became a little more outgoing. A tiny bit more sociable. However, I feel as if perhaps I’ve replaced some old fears for new ones. There are still times when I come out of a social interaction and can’t help but replay the entire conversation in my mind and dissect it and comb through every little detail, searching for clues as to why it ended the way it did and playing the role of forensic investigator to my attempts at trying to pass off as a normal human being. I sometimes even wonder just how much different life would be if I wasn’t cursed with this dysfunctional mind. Perhaps that’s not the healthiest thing to do.

But I guess I enjoy the self-flagellation. In the end, however, I guess I’ll keep on pretending to be the aloof asshole who secretly wishes to be a real boy. Who knows? I may actually fool someone into believing that I’m a charismatic, smooth and somewhat slightly narcissistic, but really cool guy. •