Schadenfreude is my Best Freude

Well, not really.


It’s a cold wet day, and my back was starting to stiffen up from sitting at my computer too long. I took a little break with a mug of hot chocolate and my copy of Hitchcock and Bradbury Fistfight in Heaven (one of the subjects of my previous post). The story I read was Jack Ritchie’s “For all the Rude People”, originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1961. A man is told he has four months to live. That same afternoon, he witnesses a gratuitous act of rudeness by a carnival barker to a father in front of his two young daughters. On the spur of the moment, he buys a gun (no 24 hour waiting period back then) and murders the barker. He leaves a note explaining why, fully expecting to get caught and arrested.

He doesn’t.

This happens a few more times — there are a lot of rude people in the world — and the public’s reaction isn’t exactly horrified. When our protagonist overhears a bartender and his customer discuss how not broken up they are about the murder of their habitually unpleasant neighborhood druggist, he decides what he’s going to do with the remaining months of his life.

We are vain and we are blind
I hate people when they’re not polite

Psycho Killer,
Qu’est-ce que c’est

— “Psycho Killer”, The Talking Heads

In real life, such a killing spree would be horrible. But as a fantasy… .

Like the protagonist, I’m on the sensitive side, and I confess to having my day ruined on several occasions by some total stranger who decided to act like a jackass (or maybe not even decided — maybe they’re always a jackass). And yes, I can already hear all you positive-thinking types out there, ready to lecture me that “only you can make yourself miserable”, that’s it a matter of attitude, and choosing not to give your power away…. This is all true, but none of that excuses us from the obligation of respecting other people.

Sometimes people are just having a bad day, and act out. Sometimes people are just overly sensitive, and take offense where none was meant. I’m sure I’ve done both.

But I still enjoyed this story.

The image above is of the sculpture Non Violence by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, Malmö, Sweden. Photo by Francois Polito. Sourced from Wikimedia.

4 thoughts on “Schadenfreude is my Best Freude

  1. That sounds like a great story. I’m with you too in being easily susceptible to being set off by rude behavior.

    For years, I’ve joked with friends about various ways life would be better under “Jay’s Benevolent Dictatorship,” where poor behavior and bad manners are not tolerated. One of my ideas that has become a favorite with friends is “Arm Band Day” in “Jay’s BD” : at the start of each day, a small percentage of citizens are given an arm band worn discreetly under the sleeve of their shirt (unobservable to others). If these citizens finds themselves on the receiving end of bad behavior, they are at liberty to roll up their sleeves, showing the arm band, then smack the offender “up side the head.” Under the laws of The JBD, the offender has no recourse other than to accept the punishment and modify his behavior. Eventually, since potential offenders have no way of knowing who, of the people they encounter, is wearing the arm band that day, behavior toward everybody is modified in a positive way.

    Sorry, i guess that comment got a little long-winded. 🙂

    • I like Arm Band Day 🙂

      It was a fun story. Extreme, of course, but it really does feed into a deep-seated need to imagine certain kinds of people getting their comeuppance…

  2. Firstly, I love that Talking Heads song!
    Secondly, the premise of the story reminded me a little of Death Wish. I think collectively we all love a good vengeance story whether it be little moments in life or big ones.
    I haven’t heard of this story but thanks for pointing it out.

    • It is nice to imagine that karma catches up with people who do bad things, though “For all the Rude People” does feel different to me than something like Death Wish. Because rapists, murderers, etc, are supposed to be punished (and often are), whereas we usually just have to ignore or avoid rude behavior, which can make it feel like rude people get away with something, sometimes.

      And I am a very big Talking Heads fan. 🙂

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