I opened my eyes back up when my own beer arrived, the frothy liquid sloshing back and forth in the glass. “I’d be pretty upset,” I replied. “I mean, I’ve been playing for years! If someone thinks that I sound like I’ve only been playing for a few months, they’re basically telling me that I suck at bass.”
Gerry pointed one finger at me triumphantly. “Exactly! And yet, they meant the comment very earnestly, so good luck trying to keep your anger focused on them! Here’s another one. Let’s say that, at work, you’ve been polishing a proposal for months, editing and trying to make it as perfect as possible. You go in and present it to your coworker, and he tells you that it’s a really good first draft. What’s your response?”
“Well, I suppose that my first instinct would be to get upset at him, and yell at him that I’ve been working on it for months,” I said.
“At which point, he apologizes, says that he didn’t realize, and then, after a pause that’s just a half-second too long, he says that it’s still really good.” Gerry grinned as I shifted back and forth in my seat, trying to cover my frustration. “Now, you really can’t be upset at your coworker. He’s being honest, and really working to stay nice. So you’ve got all this anger, this frustration, and nowhere to direct it!”
I was finally starting to see what my new acquaintance was getting at. “So the longer he goes on, the more insulted I get, even though he’s saying nothing but kind things,” I summed up. “God, that’s just evil!”
“Ah, but it works!” Gerry rightly pointed out. “And best of all, it’s both immediately stinging, but also long-lasting, coming back to eat away at your self-confidence hours later, when you’re trying to fall asleep at night! It’s really the best way to cause some psychological damage.”
Gerry nodded once again at Ned, still sitting at the other end of the bar. “Now, say that you wanted to insult that fine gentleman again,” he went on. “What might you say?”
I turned and studied my target, sizing him up. “Compliments, right?”
“I suppose I’d tell him that I was envious of him, being able to spend all day in here drinking,” I hypothesized. “Not having any family members to nag at him, free to do whatever he wanted instead of having to please anyone else.”
“Hah, not bad!” Gerry complimented me with a grin. “What else?”
I considered the challenge for another minute. “Maybe I’d ask him about the history of the bar? Comment how he must have been here when it first opened, and ask how it’s changed? Make a dig at his age?”
Gerry was smiling widely. “I think you’ve got the hang of this, now!” he said. “Unintentional insults. Trust me, my boy, that’s the key.”
I picked up my drink, taking a long pull. This time, there was no choking as the cool liquid filled my mouth. Despite my initial black mood, my outlook had lightened as I talked with Gerry, and I didn’t feel quite as bad about my situation. Sure, I was out of a job, but I had unemployment benefits, a decent resume, and there were certain to be plenty of other places hiring. I would find a way to land on my feet. And for now, I did have the freedom to do nothing but sit, drink, and relax.