I'm not a vengeful person. I believe if you do good, good comes back to you. If you do bad, bad will come back to you. And I think fate, karma — whatever you call it — will deal with the people who do wrong.
Sometimes, though, fate needs a helping hand.
In those cases, I turn to an old Klingon proverb (really): "Revenge is a dish best served cold." That is, as a considered response enacted when unexpected rather than an emotional response made in the heat of the moment.
This thought came to me as I sat down to write an essay about my two favorite short stories and only then realized that both are fun takes on revenge, served cold. And I was reminded that one of the stories guided me through the most satisfactory revenge of my life.
The short stories first, which I can’t recommend highly enough. They're James Thurber's The Catbird Seat and Buford's Revenge, by travel writer Tim Cahill.
Enotes does a great job describing Thurber's tale of a fussy, predictable and straight-laced Erwin Martin, the head of a filing department, and his battle of wills with an unwelcome efficiency expert who wants to mess up Martin's well-ordered life. I'll let you read for yourself how Martin ends up in the catbird seat, which Thurber tells us refers to a term used by famous baseball announcer Red Barber to describe "sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him."
Cahill's two-page story, featured in a book of essays called Pass the Butterworms, tells of his revenge against a boy who called him Buford, a disparaging nod to Cahill's country origins. The two boys liked the same girl, Cherry B, which Cahill gives as the reason for his "moral failure" in seeking revenge against the other suitor: "What I learned in my fourteenth year on my summer vacation is that I will not always do the right thing and that women, remorseless creatures, will not only forgive but actually sometimes reward such character flaws."
Now my story.
My first job was as a public relations writer for a software company. On a few occasions, I joined the other PR specialists (young college grads like me) and travelled to big computer trade shows, where we worked in the company's booth, handing out brochures and fetching coffee for executives and important customers.
At a trade show in Las Vegas, a customer became too friendly. Although I was firm, he would not go away. Finally, he pressed the key to his room into my hand (these were the days when hotels actually gave out keys with room numbers on them) and told me he'd have dinner waiting at eight so we could get to know each other.
I stared at him, speechless.
Fortunately, he didn't need an answer and walked off grinning, certain I would show up. Seething, I told the other women what had happened, displaying the key. They were sympathetic but agreed I shouldn't tell our boss since Mr. Obnoxious was a big customer. I took a deep breath and decided there was nothing to be done — until fate handed me a golden opportunity to get back at him.
The opportunity was another customer — Mr. Rude — who thought the PR staff was his private harem. He was lewd and pushy and made us all uncomfortable. Erwin Martin just popped into my head. The next thing I knew, I had pulled Mr. Rude aside, handed him the key and told him dinner would be waiting at eight.
I was sitting in the catbird seat.
I don't know if Mr. Obnoxious and Mr. Rude ever met up, but that's okay. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
I'm not a vengeful person, really, and I don't encourage anyone else to be. But if there are times when fate needs a helping hand, remember Mr. Martin, Buford and me. And make sure you serve it up nice and cold. — CG
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Image courtesy of flickr user MajaH20