Several years back my sister bought a stupid gimmick called the dollar snatcher. As the name implies, you attach a dollar to an ultra-fine transparent string, place the dollar in a corridor and wait for the “mark” to spot it. Greedy eyes lighting up, they reach for it. And juuuust as they almost have it, you jerk it away.
Now that may sound pretty dumb, but it had everyone at Paramount Studios in wild hysterics. For hours. These were all adults (caveat - comedy writers.) So, I took the dollar snatcher to the Goldwyn Studios and got exactly the same reaction. We even used to do it to one another, knowing exactly what was about to happen, relishing the look of disappointment on the face of the “dupe” who almost had the dollar in their hand.
Which brings me to today. After well over a year of deprivation and loss, with almost universal sticking to the rules, the Covid cases in England have dropped so dramatically that the powers-that-be announced a relaxation of our very stringent lockdown to begin on June 21. But then, juuuust as we almost had it in our hands, they snatched it away. (To make matters worse they did the same thing three days before Christmas.)
Is there a word for the pleasure one gets from depriving someone of something they really want? That saleswoman who gets a sly smile as she says, “sorry, just sold the last one an hour ago” or worse, looks you up and down and says with a snide chuckle, “Well, ahem, not in your size.” The closest word I could find was in German. (They do seem to have a word for every unpleasant human instinct.) Schadenfreude - the pleasure one gets out of someone else’s misfortune.
As for what the one who’s being deprived feels, the Germans have exactly the right word - Torschlusspanik - the feeling you have at a certain point in your life where you see an imaginary door closing on all your opportunities.
Yet, according to the newspapers, over half of the British public want the restrictions to continue, even though the death rate is almost zero and it’s mid-June, with heavy rain and the temperature reaching the giddy heights of 13 degrees Centigrade (That’s 53 degrees Fahrenheit!) We’ve been stuck on this sceptred isle for close to a year and a half, and they still want to be locked in even longer. Who are these people?
I know who they are. They’re the teacher with the hairy facial mole who took enormous pleasure in ruining your straight A grades with a D in Chemistry. The ones who told you there was no tooth fairy. The people who revealed that suntanning was bad for you. That calories do count. They were the ones who sent you to your room with no dinner. They made you read Boswell’s Life of Johnson - all 1,350 pages of it. Told you that you were too fat/old to wear miniskirts. That you can’t lose weight when you’re over 40. (In truth you can, you just have fewer reasons to.)
And they damn well enjoyed telling you.
As a terrified pedestrian who is cannon fodder to the eccentric British road rules, I find this amazing. I always thought of the British as being freedom-loving, even to the point of anarchy. Then I remembered the Great British queue. Now I may hate people butting in line in front of me, but here, they’ll beat the hell out of you with their umbrellas if even the tip of your shoe slips too far forward. I’ve seen a pack of old ladies savage a 250 pound body builder who tried to cut in at the supermarket.
And so once again everyone’s plans are cancelled. The door shuts in our faces. People no longer even bother to book a vacation, only to be disappointed again. Torschlusspanik! I vaguely remember daydreaming about my next vacation. What will I pack? Are we going to that cute little restaurant where we met the guy who actually made the wine we were drinking? Maybe I should buy a new bathing suit. Eek! I need to lose weight before I go. But then I’ll eat pasta and croissants and have fancy cocktails and….
Anticipation! That’s half the fun. Shopping for clothes, suntan lotion, mosquito repellent, even getting shots against typhoid, hepatitis…well okay I’m going over the top here. But you get the picture. Exciting hair-raising adventures. Gone. I have a video camera; I used to make music videos of our latest exploits. Trudging to the supermarket in my winter coat does not make for thrilling viewing. With nothing to look forward to, weeks whiz by scarily, leading to…well, just another week. The door shuts. Torschlusspanik.
But wait, there’s a rumor going around that they’re thinking of relaxing the rules a little earlier. I rush home giddy with hope. I switch on the news and three grim po faced men, standing at socially distanced podiums, are shaking their heads and wagging their fingers at me. If I look very carefully I can just see the tracings of a sly smile of satisfaction as they whip hope away.
When I was a kid, I used to torture my poor baby sister while we were playing gin rummy. I’d tell her you’re winning, you’re winning… I can see her face now, thrilled that finally she was in the big leagues…. “You’re winning, you’re winning…then with a sly smile I’d throw down my hand triumphantly and call: “Gin!” I’d watch her little face crumple in disappointment.
Damn, the old adage: “What goes around comes around.” I guess now I really know how my sister used to feel when I'd crow, Gin! Torschlusspanik
TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing
a book by Shelley Katz