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The Fine Art of Riffing on (and with) Your Friends
Alexandra Molotkow: "I still get angry at people for stupid reasons. Sometimes people's faces just bother me and sometimes people emit a smell that makes me furious"

Image: Flickr

Last week, some friends and I went to see the movie Lockout, in which Guy Pearce rescues the president’s daughter from a jailbreak at a maximum-security space prison. There were five other people in the theatre when we got there, and two of them walked out during the first hour. I don’t blame them. Innocent people were getting sucked out into space and shot left, right, and centre. Not-so-innocent people got shot, too, and stabbed, and burned in the eye. The whole movie I kept thinking, “Is that really necessary?” and, “What did he ever do to you?” and by the end I missed a lot of important details about double agents and governments denying knowledge because I was meditating on mankind’s horrible future.

Scotiabank Theatre is the worst, or best, place to watch dystopian thrillers, because it’s designed to look like the future. On our way out, we passed a massive self-serve drink station that allows you to mix your own soda flavours, a concept that freaked me out way more than it would have on the way in. Two teenage employees were filling giant cups, and they explained to us how the station worked–you choose your flavours via computer, prompting syrup to pour forth and mingle deep inside the machine–and advised us on the best cocktails. I felt terrible for them and when my friend made some crack about their enthusiasm, I shushed her. She gave me a weird look and said, “When did you get so nice?!”

I don’t know, really, but probably around the same time I went from watching movies where people’s intestines get yanked out to fretting over two-bit action flicks. Around the same time I started worrying seriously over the happiness of complete strangers, and cooing and burbling at cute dogs on the street, and noticing how adorable baby hands and feet are. I don’t know for sure if this is some latent maternal instinct rearing its boring head. All I know is that there’s a part of me that wants to help and protect innocent things, and that it is more pronounced than it was when I was waxing on the brilliance of A L’Interieur to anyone who would listen and hating people who were different than me. Just the other day, I walked by a white guy wearing a sarong, with a drum slung around his waist. He had a little kid with him, who was running around all bobbly in the middle of the street, obstructing my path. And I literally thought, “He seems really happy. I bet he’s a nice guy,” and I almost smiled at him, not because it felt natural, but because smiling at a nice, happy guy like that seemed like the right thing to do.

Don’t get me wrong: I still get angry at people for stupid reasons. Sometimes people’s faces just bother me and sometimes people emit a smell that makes me furious. But if someone said, “Look at that guy’s dumb idiot face,” or, “That girl smells like an asshole,” I would feel bad and probably defend them. This is probably a good thing, in a big-picture sort of way, in that it’s better to be decent to people than to be nasty, and better still to try to understand people who are different than you rather than assume that they’re not like you because they suck. But it’s also a bad thing, because it’s turning me into a bummer. Making fun of people is an important social exercise that tightens friendship bonds and leads to the best riffs.

More and more, I find that the people who make me angry are the people who actually do shitty things, and less the people who just look stupid in their clothes. But who stands around with their friends riffing on people who are genuinely shitty by all reasonable standards? Maybe there’s a Christian youth group somewhere who does that, and I do not want to hang out with them.

Thing is, you know what’s shitty? Carrying on like a stuck-up, pious little weasel. Kiboshing perfectly good riffs. Being the kind of bummer who goes “Awwwww, don’t say that about yourself” when someone makes a self-deprecating joke, or who lifts an eyebrow in judgment when someone judges someone who could probably use a little judgment. I hate those people. I want to make fun of them until they toughen up or leave me alone forever. But I don’t want them to cry as a result because I just couldn’t handle it and I might start crying, too.

So maybe the consequence of all this is a better, more responsible, and hopefully funner version of riffing, which recognizes everyone’s human dignity at the end of the day, and doesn’t get loud enough to hurt anyone’s feelings. I hope so, because if this is some sort of nascent mom instinct, and I ever have a kid, I will probably have to make fun of a lot of other parents just to endure them. 


Alexandra Molotkow writes about life and stuff for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @alexmolotkow.

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