Friday, July 4, 2014
There’s this stranger who yells at noisy kids, shakes his fists at speeders in the neighborhood, glares at youngsters who thump the subwoofers in their cars at sub-atomic testing, and has yet to understand most of the applications on his cellphone.
And I see him every time I look into a mirror.
Who is this guy and why is he following me around, anyway?
I used to laugh at guys like him. I especially remember a crusty, aged gentleman sitting near me and some friends in a Waffle House in Atlanta, Ga. Aside from the five minutes he spent noisily masticating waffles and schlorpping scalding cups of coffee, he spent the entire time he was there carrying on a vociferous, acid-drenched commentary about every single occurrence within 15 feet of him.
The highlight of this one-man flash mob was when he dropped his fork on the floor. His face turned as red and as tight as a boiled fist.
“Son. Of . A. B----!” he declared in the same voice – and possibly even the same phrase – Moses used as he smashed that first edition of the Ten Commandments against the ground at Mt. Sinai.
I still laugh at that memory – but not quite as loudly as I used to.
A few years ago, I began to fret a little that curmudgeon-hood was creeping up on me. Now that it has crept, lept, and wrassled me to the ground, I’m actually finding it not so bad, even downright agreeable.
It’s sort of like being taken over by the pod people ala “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – you fight and run and fight and run, over and over, like some never ending bad chase dream. Then one morning you wake up and you don’t even realize you are now one of them.
I think my first hint that curmudgeon pods were on my six was the moment I first discovered I didn’t really “get” Saturday Night Live anymore.
Then one day not too long ago, inexplicably enraged by some unknown noise somewhere outside, I stumped out on my front porch in a pair of ratty boxers and orange Mukluks and waving the walking cane I was using because I had done something to my knee working in the yard the day before. I don’t recall if I was yelling at those blasted kids to cut out their confounded tomfoolery or admonishing some irresponsible fool speeding down our street.
Whatever it was, I’m thinking that was the moment the pod people won. Going to sleep one night as a hip, with-it young dude and awakening the next morning a curmudgeon is not quite as much of a life-changing event as, say, losing one’s virginity, but it’s close. It’s that realization that the downhill slide is well underway and that you are, in fact, turning into your parents. I catch myself channeling my dad all the time, from some of the quaint phrases he employed during moments of stress to this alien comfort with his politics and economics. I’m not quite at the point of carrying a calculator to the grocery store, but sadly, I do need my cheaters – reading glasses to all you young whippersnappers who don’t use them yet – the better to carefully compare per ounce prices or read dietary information, all of which is printed in a type size only fruit flies and quantum physics scientists can read.
And how my interest in my health has spiked! I watch all those Viagra ads with more interest and less humor. Every mosquito bite is a new tumor; every freckle skin cancer; every twinge across the temples an oncoming stroke. Whenever my left shoulder aches, I check my pulse and wonder if I can pull off a geriatric McGuyver and fashion a self-defib device out of a refrigerator magnet and a busted lamp cord. I suppose if I was really with it, I could just download the app to my phone.
God forbid there ever comes a day I start hanging out at Walmart, hearing aids cranked like guitar amplifiers, and discussing in great detail my morning bathroom achievements in a tone and volume of voice one would normally use for, say, breaking up a dog fight or hailing a ship in a dense fog at sea.
On the other hand, curmudgeon-hood is liberating.
You realize that you don’t really have to be nice to everyone you meet, particularly if they are engaged in the business of telemarketing, saving souls, taking surveys, or running for office. Your vices may be less frequent, but what’s left is all about quality over quantity.
You’re ok with the fact that you find such things as social media, Reality TV, and political movements silly, trivial, boring, generally useless, and largely interchangeable.
As to channeling my dad; that’s cool; he was a great guy and I miss him every day, so maybe this is one way to stay in touch. Certainly it works better than a Ouija Board.
Best of all, because you don’t care what anyone thinks, you can, in fact, happily call a spade a shovel.
Now get off my porch – and take those confounded magazines with you. And keep it down, already – this is a neighborhood!