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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Character, Schmaracter

There are many ways to reveal the character of a person. I’d say — being entirely objective here — that in most of the ways that people usually mention, I do okay.

That’s right. Entirely objective. No, you shut up.

Seriously. Here’s one: some say you learn about a person’s character by knowing how well they tip when they think no one is looking. I’m a pretty good tipper — and I always fold my tip or bill or whatever and tuck it under a coaster or something so it’s not obvious what I’ve left.

I mean, I make it somewhat obvious. To the waiter or waitress. Not what I’ve left, exactly — but where to find the check, at least. Tips don’t do anyone any good if they’re buried in a half-eaten glob of mashed potatoes and dumped down the disposal. I don’t go that far to hide the tippage.

Or if I do, I leave a map on the back of the place setting. Who says the customers are the only ones who get to have fun with those things?

Another way to measure character, they say, is seeing how someone treats people in service jobs — bank tellers and taxi drivers and cafeteria ladies and such. Here again, I think I pass with flying colors. I’m extremely polite to all of those sorts of people I meet.

And no, it’s not because I’m afraid they’ll short-change my deposit or dump me in a bad neighborhood or spit in my Jell-O brand dessert cup.

Well. Not just because I’m afraid of those things, anyway. I’m sure character has something to do with it. Maybe.

Anyway, the point is — by most measures, I do okay in the character department. I’m not Mahatma freaking Gandhi. Actually, I don’t even know whether he took cabs, or ever left a bartender twenty percent for a round of beers. Probably, he did other nice stuff. But I do okay. I like to think (entirely objectively) that I definitely probably do pretty okay, in the character department. By most standards.

Except one.

There’s one situation that no one talks much about, yet I contend it’s one of the most revealing about how — or even whether — we deal with our fellow humans. How accommodating and generous of spirit we are. Whether we’re willing to overcome obstacles and rise to the occasion.

I’m referring, of course, to the early-morning doorbell. The one you weren’t expecting, that catches you asleep or groggy in bed, with your first coherent, panicked thought of the new day suddenly being:

Should I get up and go see who that is?

“I probably should have been held back a grade somewhere in the primate years. Maybe as a lemur, or something in the capuchins.”

I fail that one every time. No exceptions. Every. Single. Time. If this truly is a test of character, a window into my essential being, a buzzing crucible to lay bare my soul at its barest and most vulnerable, then I’m just not even worthy to be human. I probably should have been held back a grade somewhere in the primate years. Maybe as a lemur, or something in the capuchins.

I was reminded of this today, when the doorbell rang about an hour and a half before I’d planned to get up. I was awake enough to register it, and just barely lucid enough to sort out that there was no good reason for it. My wife — who does have a nasty habit of locking herself out of the condo occasionally — would have been at work already. Nobody was scheduled to deliver, fix, assess, inspect, clean, shampoo, consult or otherwise assist us with a house call. It was an out-of-the-blue bell. And now I was awake. The question was: what should I do?

And that’s my problem with this test. There’s only one “right” answer, character-istically speaking — get up, become marginally presentable and see who it is. Discover their needs. Converse with them. Share information, as needed. Interact. Communicate. Engage.

Yeah. Fuck that.

When this sort of things happen, a lot of choices run through my head. “Get up and go see” is never on the list. Never. Not even on the bottom, or if you turn the paper over maybe it’s scribbled in the margin. No. “Get up and go see” is the right answer, and it’s not on the table. Not first thing in the morning.

That leaves my other options. “Go back to sleep” is always popular — though never so easy in practice. The wee-morning waking doorbell gets certain juices flowing — adrenaline, probably. Neurotransmitters of various kinds, to process the situation. Pee. All of these things make it terribly difficult to simply roll over and rehit the sack.

Which is not to say I don’t often try. It just doesn’t usually work.

All of the other options involve hiding in some way. Maybe I need to get up and use the bathroom — that’s fine. But don’t go near the windows! You never know when someone ringing the doorbell in the vestibule will wander back outside, veer off the walk, approach the building — in broad daylight, on a well-traveled street — and surreptitiously peer into the windows to see movement.

Hey, I saw Ferris Bueller. This kind of shit happens, people.

So a low profile is key. Don’t be seen, don’t move around suddenly and for the love of god, don’t make any noise. If I do visit the bathroom, I wait at least ten minutes before flushing — the better to avoid an awkward “aha!” moment from some sneaky lingering bell-ringer hearing the telltale *whoosh*.

It’s true. I think about these things. Which has to be exponentially worse. Not bothering to get up, or being too lazy to talk to someone at the door is one thing. But to obsessively scheme about how to duck them — even in the event that they, too, are obsessive relentless schemers — can’t be a sign of good character. Or mental health. Or anything.

I thought about this today. I had a lot of time, while I tiptoed around the bedroom and stood in the bathroom waiting for a safe window to flush. So I thought about it, and I’ve come up with a solution. I don’t like these insults to my character — or my beauty sleep, because obviously — and naturally, I want to be a better person.

Or, you know, feel like a better person. So I did something about it. I took a step toward a more positive personal tomorrow.

By which I mean, I disconnected the doorbell.

Hey, I might lack character. But I’m not stupid. And no way am I answering the door before noon. That shit is crazy, yo.

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