Greg Bruce tries re­ally hard to be an ar­se­hole for a week

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Greg Bruce tries re­ally hard to be an ar­se­hole for a week

As my train was rolling into Brit­o­mart, just be­fore 8am one re­cent Mon­day, the man in the win­dow seat next to me stood up. My im­pulse was to get up and let him out, but I forced my­self not to move un­til the train came to a com­plete stop.

I can’t em­pha­sise enough what a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion this was. He was stranded, crammed in there next to the win­dow, de­layed on his day’s jour­ney by as much as four sec­onds. I felt my heart speed up and my stom­ach sink. I felt ter­ri­ble. Ev­ery part of me screamed, “Stand up, ar­se­hole!”

That was the only bad thing I did on Mon­day.

I LIKE TO think my editor gave me this as­sign­ment be­cause I’m a nice guy — or at least be­cause I’m in­of­fen­sive. I hate the thought of of­fend­ing some­one. If I get into a dis­agree­ment with a per­son, even some­one ob­vi­ously morally de­funct, I can feel bad about it for years after­wards.

I apol­o­gise con­stantly and to ev­ery­one. I apol­o­gise to peo­ple for my preschool chil­dren, even when they haven’t done any­thing es­pe­cially wrong, and then I feel ter­ri­ble, be­cause my chil­dren shouldn’t have my neu­roses im­posed on them. What makes some­one an ar­se­hole? On

Short­land Street, it’s al­ways so ob­vi­ous, but re­search into work­place bul­ly­ing in the United States has found that roughly 50 per cent of peo­ple say they’ve been the sub­ject of bul­ly­ing or have wit­nessed it first-hand, while only about 0.5 per cent say they have bul­lied.

“Ass­hole” is a word I use rea­son­ably of­ten in my writ­ing. My editor al­ways changes the spell­ing to “ar­se­hole”. Be­cause she is in charge, the ver­sion you are read­ing will al­most cer­tainly use “ar­se­hole” but I guar­an­tee in the orig­i­nal draft I will have writ­ten “ass­hole”. Who’s the ar­se­hole in this sit­u­a­tion? Me for be­ing ob­sti­nate or her for us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial work­place power dy­nam­ics to get her way? Does it dif­fer de­pend­ing on who you ask?

ON TUES­DAY morn­ing, the woman next to me on the train got off at New­mar­ket. Af­ter let­ting her out, I sat back down and put my bag on the newly empty seat. There were no more stops I had set two ground rules for the week: I wouldn’t shit in my own nest and I wouldn’t do any­thing that would make any­body’s day worse. be­fore our ar­rival at Brit­o­mart and no­body else was wait­ing to sit, but that wasn’t the point. Peo­ple who put their bag on empty seats are telling the world some­thing very spe­cific about them­selves.

That morn­ing, at the elec­tronic turn­stiles at Brit­o­mart, it sud­denly struck me that a real ar­se­hole would hold every­body up by not both­er­ing to get out his Hop card un­til he reached the front of the queue. I didn’t have the courage to do it, but thought is the pre­cur­sor to ac­tion.

I ar­rived at work, as usual, well be­fore my col­leagues. Sev­eral months ago my editor, who sits op­po­site me, pointed out that if the blind isn’t down on the win­dow next to me, the morn­ing sun shines straight into her eyes. When she’d told me that, I had im­me­di­ately set a re­cur­ring re­minder on my Out­look cal­en­dar, synced with my phone cal­en­dar, to close it at 8am ev­ery week­day. I’ve made it my first act on ar­rival at work ev­ery morn­ing since.

But on that Tues­day, when my phone vi­brated and I saw the fa­mil­iar im­per­a­tive, “Blind down”, I looked at it and thought, “Not to­day,” then I went around and raised all the sur­round­ing blinds. I then raised the seat of her chair as high as it would go.

She came in not long af­ter and sat down. She didn’t com­ment about the chair. She looked into the blind­ing sun and po­litely asked if I could lower the blind, which I did, apol­o­gis­ing for not hav­ing done so ear­lier.

I changed the height of an­other col­league’s chair too but she didn’t come in that day. MY FIRST big planned ac­tion for the week was for 10am that day at the weekly meet­ing in which ed­i­tors and jour­nal­ists gather to come up with story ideas for the week­end news­pa­pers. My plan was to turn up 10 min­utes late, throw open the door and say, “Sorry I’m late, I re­ally couldn’t be both­ered this morn­ing.”

Just be­fore the meet­ing, I told my editor about the plan, both to mo­ti­vate me to go through with it and as in­sur­ance against dis­ci­plinary ac­tion. “Good idea, but I wouldn’t say ‘sorry’,” she told me. That thought had never oc­curred to me.

She left for the meet­ing on time and I re­mained at my desk, where I felt a steady rise in my pulse and gen­eral level of ter­ror. At 10.10am I left my desk and strode through the of­fice, tak­ing deep, de­lib­er­ate breaths or hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing. As I got closer to the meet­ing room, I felt my legs weak­en­ing and I knew the only way to over­come my body’s phys­i­cal re­bel­lion was to main­tain a high level of en­ergy. Any phys­i­cal ex­pres­sion of weak­ness would mean cer­tain fail­ure.

I threw open the door. One of the se­nior re­porters was in the mid­dle of say­ing some­thing im­por­tant-sound­ing re­gard­ing the elec­tion. No­body looked up. It would have been in­cred­i­bly rude of me to speak in that mo­ment. The words I had been re­peat­ing all morn­ing locked in my throat. There was a spare chair at the end of the room. I walked to­wards it. There was no gap in the con­ver­sa­tion. I sat down silently.

A few min­utes later, I re­ceived a text mes­sage from my editor, sit­ting just a few seats away. It read: “My story where I try and fail to be an ar­se­hole for a week…”

About an hour af­ter the meet­ing fin­ished, I in­ad­ver­tently touched my armpit and found it soak­ing wet.

I HAD set two ground rules for the week: I wouldn’t shit in my own nest and I wouldn’t do any­thing that would make any­body’s day worse. When I told peo­ple about the rules, they gen­er­ally thought the first was sound, but the sec­ond was ridicu­lous — im­pos­si­ble for a story in which the idea is to be an ar­se­hole.

I didn’t care though. If I was go­ing to do this story, I was go­ing to do it my way. If I don’t have base­line morals that hold firm in the face of low-rent, psy­cho-so­cial stunt jour­nal­ism, then what do I have?

Hav­ing said that, one of my col­leagues

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