We're All Damaged

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Fictional Version of Me

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fictional characters and how, usually, they’re a lot more awesome than real people. Because real people are burdened with reality and consequences and normal human behavior, they’re usually stuck loitering in the background being all quietly sensible, even when the situation at hand calls for something much grander.

A few months ago, my wife and I took an absurd, once-in-a-lifetime trip around continental Europe. One afternoon, we were riding mountain bikes around rural Turkey. It was, as I assume it always is in rural Turkey, knee-me-in-the-groin hot, and we’d stopped at the top of a massive incline to rest. My wife, who was about five months pregnant at the time, assured me that mountain biking was OK as long as we occasionally took breaks. I’m not sure who told her this, but she’s smarter than me, and so I believed her.

We were sipping water and enjoying the view when we heard a donkey cart clacking slowly up the other side of the hill we’d ourselves just climbed. The donkey who was pulling the cart was clearly struggling. Stumbling a bit, he began calling out in protest in his weird, donkey language, and then, stubbornly, he came to a stop near the top of the hill.

We laughed at first, not so much because it was funny, but because it was the sort of thing two people from Nebraska and New York respectively don’t see very often—a donkey saying “You know what, eff this bull$hit.”

But then something awful happened. The man driving the cart, some old farmer-looking guy, yelled something hostile in Turkish and started whipping the poor donkey’s backside. The animal called out again, obviously in pain, but the man kept at it. Finally, the donkey took a few labored steps and started once again trudging up the hill.

The fictional version of Matt Norman—some guy in a book or a movie who sort of looks like me but has a broader chest—would have been decisive in his actions. He’d have let his rented bike fall to the pavement and he’d have jogged the fifty or so feet between him and the donkey cart. Without saying a word, he’d have snatched the whip out of the guy’s hand and given him five sharp snaps across the chest before hurling the whip into the forest. The man would have learned his lesson, and the fictional version of Matt Norman’s wife would have thought he was awesome. He wouldn’t have ended up in a Turkish prison or getting his ass kicked by a passerby. The scene would have simply been over, and everything would have been better.

Sadly though, this was not a book or a movie. I do not have a particularly broad chest, and instead of coming to the defenseless animal’s rescue, I stood there like a useless fool. “Wow, what an a$$hole,” I said to my wife, and she agreed.

I am now sitting in an air-conditioned house in the United States, sipping a freezing Diet Dr. Pepper. But I suspect that donkey’s situation has improved little since then. His life, I imagine, is just one long hill after another. I wish him all the best.


  1. That's the difference between animals and humans...for us, sometimes you're the donkey - sometimes you're the cart driver! Mark C

  2. Oh that's horrible! The poor donkey! That guy IS an asshole and sadly, if he's going to beat that poor donkey to death then I am pretty sure stuff would have happened after you smacked him one that didn't involve staged punches and breakaway glass. You did the right thing because at the end of the day, your 5 month pregnant wife is more important than the donkey and getting in to a fight with a local on a remote ravine isn't going to end well. Maybe I watch too much Forensic Files but you were safer to note the assholery and move on. That being said, I hope that lazy SOB gets what's coming to him karmically. Booo...

    As always, evocative writing, Matt. You really paint a picture. :-)