Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

Jack the Misanthrope
Sjef Frenken

Some of my friends and acquaintances who've met Jack sometimes ask me how I put up with him. After all, they point out, he is a womanizer, quick to get angry, given to rants at the drop of a real or imagined injustice, doesn't suffer fools gladly, and so on -- in short, we have few things in common.

True, Jack can be a pain sometimes, but he is smart -- though very inconsistent in his views -- and often entertaining. But who can say what the elements of friendship are? Does it necessarily mean two people have to think alike, have the same interests, the same background? Sometimes one makes friends with the most unlikely people, when there is no explanation. Jack is one of such friends, and has been for a long time.

Or maybe there is at least one reason.

Jack is a self-declared misanthrope. He doesn't like people in general; for one thing, he thinks they are stupid, and expresses that view -- often, and very loudly. I think most of my other friends feel more warmly toward humanity, they have faith in the inner goodness of Man, although they may not get along with their neighbour.

One example of where these friends and Jack differ is that others may hand a beggar a quarter or a dollar when they come across an outstretched hand, but only Jack will stop and look the beggar in the eye and talk to him. Sometimes he'll take the beggar for a coffee or a meal. Hell, when he realizes that the plea is not really for a coffee, like as not Jack will ask him along for a beer. I once pointed out to Jack that this wasn't exactly the socially responsible way to help alcoholics. To which Jack replied "most of these guys are too old to change, they're down so low they'll never cast a shadow. I'm just helping them get through the day."

Jack's approach, mind you, has some unsuspected benefits.

One time Jack and I, when we were still working for the government, headed to the bank on payday. A shabbily dressed man approached us, and asked us for a handout.

"I won't lie," said the beggar, "I need some money for a bottle of booze."

"Sorry," we said, pointing out that neither Jack nor I had a penny on us -- that's why we were headed for the bank.

"Ya really don't have a couple of bucks on you, Jack?" I was surprised that he knew Jack's name.

"No, I don't," said Jack. "But if you want to come along, I'll give you some at the bank." That's Jack, the misanthrope, in action.

"No," said the beggar, "I can't leave this corner, I'm waiting for a pal. Thanks anyway. But here..." And with that the beggar opened his coat and pulled an almost empty mickey from an inner pocket, unscrewed the top and offered it to Jack.

"Here," he said, "have a swig on me!"

Graciously Jack declined, saying that we had to get back to work, and our bosses wouldn't appreciate it if we showed up with alcohol on our breath. Maybe some other time.

I knew that wasn't the real reason, as Jack and I often had a wet lunch at a little watering hole in Hull, where, despite the provincial edict, no woman has ever set foot. It was just Jack's way of avoiding the multitude of germs and bacteria clustering around the mouth of the bottle, just hankering to be caught.

Some of my friends and acquaintances sometimes ask me how I put up with Jack. I guess some of Jack's friends and acquaintances sometimes ask him why he puts up with me.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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