“I’m telling you,” Kevin said, his whole body animated as he waved his arms in vaguely combative gestures, “you have to be willing to kick some ass if you want any respect in this world.”
“Kevin,” David interrupted, “I am not going to punch my manager.”
“I’m not telling you that you should,” Kevin said, taking a pull from the straw in his shake. “I’m saying if you knew you could, you’d be more confident and then you’d stand up for yourself.”
“Because I could beat him up.”
“Even though I wouldn’t.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” David shook his head and took another bite of his chicken sandwich, watching Kevin wolf down his third hamburger.
“It’s the confidence that comes from the martial arts,” Kevin said, pointing a French-fry at David before popping it in his mouth. His next words were muffled as he chewed. “It’s that, you know, that whole inner peace thing.”
“Inner peace?” David scoffed, looking around at the lunchtime crowd. He hated fast food, but the place was close to the office and he couldn’t afford to be late getting back. Tom would give him no end of grief for it, in that maddening passive aggressive-way of his. “Kevin, you’re about the least peaceful person I know.”
“Okay, okay,” Kevin said around a mouthful of fries. “I’ll grant you that I’m kind of a hothead. But before I started training in Kung Fu I was a pushover.”
“Yeah,” Kevin said. He finished his shake loudly. “My boss at my last job used to treat me like dirt. I had no confidence at all. I’d go out with my wife and people would be rude to us and I’d just take it. Never stood up for myself. I was a real wuss.”
“But now you’re the type of person people report to H.R.”
“Sometimes,” Kevin shrugged. “What can I say? When I got more confident, I got more assertive. Then I just couldn’t take anybody’s shit anymore. Not at work, anyway.”
“And telling your manager to fuck off does what for you, exactly?”
“It makes my life better,” Kevin said. “Think about all the crap you take every day. Wouldn’t it make you feel better not to take it? To tell the next person who copped an attitude with you where to go?”
“And that includes telling your manager to fuck off and maybe getting fired.”
“If he’s being an asshole, yes,” Kevin nodded. “Besides, they didn’t fire me. They transferred me. I guarantee you Tom was as happy as I was to see me go.”
“Happy doesn’t describe it,” David nodded. “He’s afraid of you.”
“And why do you think that is?” Kevin said brightly. “Because he knows I don’t take anybody’s crap.”
“That’s fine until they finally throw you out because somebody thinks you’re going to shoot up the place, or attack us all with a samurai sword, or something.”
“I’d just poison everybody,” Kevin said casually. “People will eat anything you leave in the break room. Doesn’t matter where it came from. How many times have you eaten cookies or birthday cake without knowing who brought it? We had cake just the other day, man. Who’s birthday was it? Nobody knows, and nobody said. I’d just leave a poisoned cake.”
“That’s comforting,” David said. “Before I die choking on a piece of German Chocolate Strychnine, maybe you’ll explain to me how all this beating-people-up, losing your job, and poisoning your coworkers makes your life better.”
“Think big picture,” Kevin said. “Long-term. How many days do you go home feeling like the world is kicking you in the teeth? How many jerks do you deal with every day who you wish you could tell off? How many women do you pass every day who you wish you could talk to?”
“I’m married,” David said, “and so are you.”
“Yeah, but your wife hates you,” Kevin said.
“A fair point,” David nodded, trying to decide if his friend had just crossed the line. He had complained to Kevin at length about his cooling relationship with Kim. One of Kevin’s most endearing and most aggravating qualities, however, was that the man had no filter whatsoever. He would say absolutely anything he was thinking, and damn the consequences – including, of course, telling his obnoxious, passive-aggressive, former boss to fuck off, which garnered him a transfer to another department.
David decided that Kevin was simply being honest. The truth hurt, after all. “So when I can break boards with my hands and catch knives in my teeth, or whatever, I’ll be a master of combat and women both.”
“Something like that,” Kevin shook his head, growing more serious. “Why do you think I keep my job, Dave? I’m good at what I do and I walk around with my head high. Everybody knows that what you see is what you get. I set my boundaries and I make people respect them. That’s all there is to it.”
“So you walk around with your eyes on your feet,” Kevin told him. “You mope about bitching about how you hate your job, but you won’t do anything about it. You complain that your wife won’t go anywhere near you, but what do you do about it? You check out hot chicks with me at lunchtime and then spend the afternoon surfing porn.”
“I do not.”
“Not the porn part, maybe,” Kevin grinned, “but you and I both know you don’t need to walk by Dana’s cubicle to go to the fax machine.”
“And you just stop by to chat with her because you find the conversation engaging,” David shot back.
“Actually,” Kevin said, “I like to stare at her tits. And if it’s not her it’s Rachel bending over that bottom drawers of the file cabinets. Did you see her today? Jesus, that skirt should be a crime.”
“You’re the one who’s supposed to be happily married,” David said.
“Did I say I’m not?” Kevin laughed. “Dave, this is the horny that’s left over when I get to work in the mornings. You should see me when I’m not getting any.”
“What does this have to do with anything, Kevin?”
“Look, man,” Kevin said soberly, “I hate watching you die a little every day. You’ve got to start standing up for yourself. I got into the martial arts because I was a whining, passive little twerp like you. It helped me. It helped make me confident, but more importantly, that confidence made me assertive. If you could just learn to stop taking so much shit, you’d be happier. You’d stand up to that bitch of a wife of yours. You’d be able to talk to, oh, I don’t know, the pair of twenty-something hotties who are the shining jewels of our administrative staff, without turning red or tripping over your own feet. You’d be able to start living your life instead of dreaming about it.”
“Are you done preaching at me, Kevin?” David said, crumpling his sandwich wrapper and dropping it into his now-empty paper soda cup.
“Yes,” Kevin said. He slurped unnecessarily at his empty shake. “Yes, I am.”
“Then let’s get back to work,” David sighed. “I still have to answer to Tom, even if you don’t.”