Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Dear Dumb Ass – The Passive Aggressive Notes of the Monarch

November, 2011

Say what you want about the people of the Monarch, most of us know how to read.

Sometimes we have difficulty getting the shit into the toilet, and not around it, and not in the hallway, and there is a hippie on the third floor who practices bongos before 10 a.m.

But when it comes to literacy rates, we are up there with Cuba. Not only can we follow basic instructions on microwavable dinners and comprehend emails from Nigerian princes, with a little help from our public defender we can read our own indictments, albeit painfully slow and only after sounding out the words.

Built circa 1904
Some here are blessed with a gift for the written word. Of course, this is the home of the Monarch Review literary magazine, which publishes both web and print versions. But the building's most vibrant literary culture isn't on the web, or in print. It is published above the mailboxes, on its 18 front doors, or stuck beneath windshield wipers.

We have among us practitioners of an ancient craft, perhaps the first medium of written communication. Before slates, papyrus and scriptoriums, before movable type and long before the internet, there was the hand-crafted, unsigned, passive aggressive note, bridging the gap between the writing on the cave wall and YouTube comments.

Times have changed since people anonymously upbraided cavemates with ink made from berries, but the need to reveal a grudge against Thok who comes home drunk at 3 a.m. and bangs rock with stick, or Ulor who never does his dishes, has not changed. We still suffer the agony, and take personal, the perceived slights from inconsiderate neighbors.

Although the content of the note can be insulting or sarcastic, passive aggressive notes fall into one of two categories: They are either complaints about the behavior of somebody else, or they are complaints about the complaints. Beyond that, the other common element of passive aggressive notes is that they usually leave the author looking awesome, never petty or hypocritical.

The most prolific author of Monarch passive aggressive notes is longtime and longsuffering resident Steve. Most of the notes we will review today are the fruits of his Sharpie. This is not to imply that Steve complains more than others, although he does.

Exhibit A: Pathetic Asshole Excuse of a Human Being
Author: Steve

May, 2013
NE 52nd Street
Steve's garage at the end of the alley is a gathering place for neighborhood ne'er do wells and leering alcoholics, as well as a magnet for random crap. In the past he has held semi-regular yard sales on nice days, and unknown people frequently treat the garage as a drop-off for items otherwise destined for Goodwill, essentially dumping them on Steve to deal with. Recently, somebody left a large television in front of the door. As it happens in the University District, somebody – most likely a drunken white male in his early 20s – smashed it all to hell.

Exhibit B: Dirtbags
Author: Steve
Summer, 2012

Currently out front
The word “dirtbag” figures prominently in Steve's lexicon, and refers not only to the usual gang of U District burn outs, but to anybody who 1) dumps illegally 2) doesn't pay their bills on time 3) steals 4) otherwise makes life difficult for Steve

Exhibit C: Insensitive Ass
Author: Unknown

Spring, 2013
Left on car parked in back
What's interesting about this note – beside the correct spelling of “insensitive” – is that there was a different note written on the back, indicating a previous attempt to communicate with the car owner. It reads: “This is 2 spots! Pull forward!” When the car owner did not immediately comply, the author returned to the piece and rewrote it for depth and additional exclamation points, much like Walt Whitman's “Leaves of Grass.”

Up until now the exhibits have focused on the primary type of passive aggressive note: the complaint. What follows (Exhibit D and E) is an example of the second type: the response.

Exhibit D: Dear Dumbass
Author: Unknown

January, 2013
Posted above mailboxes
This note refers to an incident where Steve used spraypaint in an apartment downstairs. He had been helping to fix up the place for a friend. As the air filled with fumes, he decided to open a door. The apartment has two doors, one opening outside, and one opening inside. To get maximum venting, Steve opened both doors, which then flooded the entire building with toxic fumes.
When confronted, his response was, “Oh well.”
When pressed, he said, “Deal with it.”
The note appeared the next day.

Exhibit E: I Have An Idea
Author: Steve

January, 2013
Posted above mailboxes
The best way to deal with criticism is to change the subject. Not trying to defend his actions, or apologize, Steve simply makes an open-ended accusation, essentially arguing that residents have no right to criticize him for anything, as he is often left to deal with messes he didn't make. Unlike most passive aggressive notes, there is no name-calling or obscenities, an artistic triumph.

Conclusion: When reviewed critically, these notes disclose more than the hope that other people would stop being such pricks. They are expressions of a powerlessness and shame that predates civilization, and has been part of our collective experience always, at least as long as humans have lived with other humans. Passive aggressive notes may not be the most eloquent literary works, but they rank among the most counterproductive.

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