Disappointment and Horror





A friend was expressing frustration with things not being what they pretend to be. He had gone to one of the big comics/cosplay/fandom conventions, where the first floor of the center was supposed to be multiple vendors selling artwork and other high-end collectibles. Instead, it was dominated by a company that had started selling “mystery packages” of half a dozen mostly worthless animation cels, with the consumer gamble that a few bags also held a cel of moderate worth. The scheme was meant to create excitement, so the company could unload its junk inventory. Larry’s main gripe was how well it worked and that he had not thought of it first.

We all feel frustration and disappointment when things turn out to be less than what we were led to believe. A Dean of Liberal Arts tells you in his office he has not read a book since he finished his terminal degree and in fact has hated reading his whole life. The super-friendly, very sane guy at the Walmart introduces himself as a published writer, but his books turn out to be self-published, violent, sexualized fantasies. K-Pop stars are AI phantoms and cannot sign autographs. The foreign prince does not actually have 42 million dollars to give you in exchange for a short-term loan, dear friend.

Disappointment is the basis of fright films too: The fun sleepover ruined by a shaggy monster at the door, the mask used for sports protection hiding evil. The babysitting gig changes from a need to get kids to sleep to making sure they do not sleep forever; the drive out of town for something better at last is ruined. The scale of the disappointment is as perversely comic as it is frightening.

We expect to get our way and often think we will get away with cheap and easy and quick. Nowhere is this more obvious than with food. I was on a road trip once, where my companion had packed all the yum-yums that were also healthy. When she said she would make us milkshakes at the next rest stop, I could not believe my luck. She had a battery-powered blender? Ice cream, milk, and flavorings would emerge from the cooler bag that kept producing new wonders? I love milkshakes.

The milkshakes turned out to be whey-protein powder and lukewarm water shaken in one of those lidded cups with an agitator ball. My friend asked if it was good, and I said, Mm-hm. She went in to the restroom, and I tried one more sip but a big ball of unhydrated powder stuck in my teeth then burst into grit. I looked to see if she was coming and threw the rest in the grass, where it lay under the sun like the carsick of a pet or small child that had just managed to make it out of the minivan. I felt a wave of guilt when my friend rinsed my cup and tossed the water out exactly where I had thrown away my disappointment.

I told Larry about the unmilkshake. He laughed and remembered a time when someone brought fudge to the office but announced too late it was Velveeta fudge. “What the hell,” he said. “It was like eating brains—real troubling, but it had the whiff of fudge about it. It was a horror that ruined fudge forever. Think about your teeth sliding into it. Think about that.”

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.

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