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The Dark Triad & People Who Exhaust Me

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

I'm eating granola out of a paper cup with a plastic baby spoon, on the tenth floor of a Marriot in downtown St. Louis. I'm drinking sauvignon blanc out of a plastic cup, wondering if this makes me trashy or resourceful. Speaking of trash, the worldwide human population produces 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage every year. I imagine a trash barge floating off the pacific coast, spilling over with human refuse, my tiny blue plastic baby spoon balanced precariously on top.

An older gentleman called me "charming" today, which is either an unlikely compliment or a sign of very poor judgement. He had a scraggly grey beard and large, yellowed teeth. Like a donkey, I thought. Exactly like the donkey from Shrek.

When the pandemic was in its thickest, I read about folks being condemned to hotel rooms for ten days at a time. Fed through a crack in the door and losing themselves in the black triad of cell phone + laptop + television. The real dark triad is a theory of personality that encompasses psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Sadism was later added, making the dark triad a tetrad, but who's counting. If any of us cared to look hard enough at ourselves, we'd all find trace-to-significant amounts of all sorts of dark stuff. We probably should look at ourselves hard enough to see the dark stuff. Darkness only grows in the dark, after all.

I'm in St. Louis for work, but that's not exactly interesting. I essentially stood and sat and talked and listened all day. One man, dressed as some sort of diseased monster, gave me a sticker. Another gave me a pin. Another pointed me in the direction of a cart making donuts on the spot, and yet another looked at me sideways over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, you're so charming.

I'm in St. Louis at a tradeshow for Halloween haunts, so there is fake blood (or maybe real blood, I'm certainly not checking), and costumes; lights and fog machines. It's a look under the hood of haunted attractions, and the more you look at a scary thing, the less scary it is. It's all smoke and mirrors and clever engineering. A logistical wonder or nightmare, depending. One man proudly told me about a night when he, dressed in his outfit of horror, working at a haunted trail, scared a woman so badly she shit herself. He was proud, and why shouldn't he be? I've never made anyone shit before, not that I want to.

I'm in St. Louis at a tradeshow for Halloween haunts, so I'm learning more about haunts than I ever cared to know. How long it takes to build a corpse that pops out of a coffin and screams; how much it costs to purchase a fake tongue ($50, but I didn't negotiate), how much space is needed, how many actors, which insurance haunters prefer, how they remove their makeup, how they sell tickets, how they file taxes, how they capitalize on other holidays like Christmas or Valentine's Day, whether or not they allow kids, whether or not they require waivers, how they advertise, how they stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. every night in October in an effort to hold everything together.

I just learned about the Dark Triad from Dr. Delroy Paulhus, who coined the term “Dark Triad” back in 2002. The three dark traits (psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism) all share a common undercurrent, which is a total lack of empathy. Psychopathy is the most interesting to me, and is characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse. Psychopaths generally cause more harm to others than they do to themselves, and they're not sorry about it. The night after I learned about the dark triad, I had a dream that my best friend killed his doctor by cutting his leg off at the knee, and then fled to Mexico. The police detained me, and in the midst of their questioning, I woke up in a cold sweat. The kind of person who would kill his doctor and not feel a thing is a consummate psychopath.

Machiavellians manipulative others to achieve their own goals, and is generally connected to those with high intelligence. Narcissism is characterized by excessive self-regard and heightened arrogance. You probably know a few narcissists and they're probably annoying, though not dangerous. Extreme narcissists can become emotionally abusive or even violent when they aren’t given the special treatment they believe is deserved. I dated a mild narcissist once, who told me that he would be a "legend" one day, and that, when he dies, he's going to have his body frozen so that someday, he can be brought back to life.

The dark triad has almost nothing to do with the Halloween show, although I did see some pretty dark stuff. Most people I met were kind, approachable, and looking for ways to make their businesses better. I did see a man fondling a fake bloody hatchet, and another stroking a bloody mannequin, and another who asked me, "Are you a Yankee?" and when I told him that I live in California, he answered, "Even worse." Not everyone is pleasant to be around, and working with people all day, every day, has only hardened my already stiff notion that cats are better company than most sentient humans.

I was eating granola out of a paper cup with a plastic baby spoon, on the tenth floor of a Marriot in downtown St. Louis because I was tired. I stared at the wall as I chomped noisily, my eyes crossing in and out of focus. Earlier that day, a Santa decked out in full horror followed me as I walked from the bathroom back to my booth on the trade show floor. "I'm going where you're going," he said, and winked. Yikes, I thought, no thank you. Later, I saw him standing outside the convention center, asking for cash to help him "buy the children Christmas gifts." He was dark, I decided, more than the guy fondling the hatchet or the other guy stroking the gruesome mannequin. I wondered if he felt as sad as he looked, or if he runs from it, or drowns it, or medicates his darkness away, like so many of us do.

Darkness only grows in the dark, after all.

P.S. Find a haunt near you here, read more about the Dark Triad here, or find something to do in St. Louis here.


Sarah Rose

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