“There are three types of people in this town: sharks, vampires and victims,” the guest speaker told our small congregation. This statement attracted sweat to the top of my brow. These words convinced me to slowly shift my eyes to the person on either side of me. Which one are they? Which one am I???
Back at home, in front of my chalkboard, I began to make the deductions. Am I a Shark? Sharks have teeth that rapidly regenerate, but I distinctly remember Christmas cards from the late ‘90s where my goofy, toothless smile was a fixture.
But would I devour a person whole in order to feed my own ambition? No, I don’t think I would. I think I’d much rather work together with people. I’d rather give credit where it’s due and expect the same.
Could I be a vampire? Well, I am very pale . . . but it’s 85 and sunny here every day, and I never seem to sparkle. I’ve seen friends get paper cuts without my stomach yearning for a taste at all.
But would I prey upon the talent and success of others? No, I don’t think I would. I think I’d much rather make it or not on my own steam. I think I’d be more obliged to take pride in my own doing if I were fortunate enough to have the chance, and to try to find ways of giving back.
So, I must be a victim. Right?
I mean, if those are the only three, and I’ve eliminated the first two, it’s simple logic — much like the deduction puzzles I was often given (and lusted for) by my 6th grade math teacher. And, I mean, c’mon, unless you’re a victim too, you probably rolled your eyes at those last few passages.
I don’t feel like a victim. I like to give, sure. On the other hand, I don’t like to be taken from, taken advantage of, or taken down. I like sharing, but I don’t like being shoved aside, cast away or written off. I don’t like to fight, but I’ve thrown a punch. I’ve broken a nose when that nose left me no choice but to break it. No, I don’t think I am a victim.
But this makes no sense. If I’m not one of those three, then we’ve got an unbalanced equation. So, where has our logic broken down? What if the very rules of the game have been misstated? What if there are more than just those three paths?
I can vividly recall the first time I slept in a European hostel. I was still in high school. It was 4 a.m. in Vienna. I was alone. I was entirely too drunk and I was terrified. Why? Well, alone because who could stand me? And drunk because, well, who was stopping me? But why terrified? I’d been told by a man whose opinion I highly regarded that if I ever slept in a hostel while in Europe, I should consider strapping my valuables to my “junk.” Luckily, I exercised my right to merely consider that proposition. I was not robbed that night, of course. And over the years I’ve realized more and more just how ridiculous that advice was.
This sort of “keep your eye on your wallet, and don’t drink the water” mentality that I continually find to be silly in the realm of world travel is perhaps rooted in the same sort of paranoid, fear-based, melodramatic pessimism that leads people to assert things such as, “In LA, you’re either a shark, a vampire or a victim.” To me it seems the real victim is the one who gets stuck in this line of thinking.
I refuse to believe that everyone is out to get everyone else. I won’t accept that this entire city is just some sort of low-budget, SyFy Channel movie where a Sharknado collides with an alliance between the casts of True Blood and Twilight, and we’re all just picking sides or being ripped apart.
I propose that there’s a fourth category. This category consists of the people who’ve picked me up at LAX during rush hour. And the people who’ve taken time to give me advice over lunch. And the people who’ve let me borrow their cars. And the people who’ve given suggestions for any of the lousy scripts I’m writing. And the people who’ve told me I could crash on their couches if I’m ever in a jam. There’s no food or tasty pints of blood in it for any of these people, and they’re not victims either. They’re just good people who want to help. This is the group I’m convinced makes up the majority – even in Los Angeles.
Frank Marasco is a first-year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.