Posts Tagged ‘curmudgeon’


Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

I’ve hit a cultural tipping point with the sea of beards, hair everywhere I look, even in my own mirror. So I’m considering a shave, even though I like my own beard-face. There’s a young guy under there, the Me from ages ago. I grew up with that face, wouldn’t mind meeting that old friend.

However, this is one case where I really do need to think of the children.

Many of us have or had fathers with facial hair. The beard. The mustache. The pork chop sideburns.

My dad has been gone for nine years now, so my memories of him are a pastiche of ages, from a cigarette-dangling, clean-faced youth-parent to the full beard that he carried through the majority of my life. You get used to the beard, the shape of his face. It was a part of his being.

He was a serious beard-man in the man’s-man sense. I watched him take things apart, figure them out, improve them. I grew up camping, hiking, loving nature. And, of course, there was the drag racing.

He was a considerate beard-man. His work ethic became eponymous, and I try to carry on that aspect of Brucker, aspire to it every day.

He was a funny beard-man. Goofy little songs accompanied our marathon Monopoly sessions. After dinner, he referenced any food stuck in his beard as stuff that he was saving for later.

And there was that one time when he shaved it clean, and all of a sudden he wasn’t my dad. The guy sounded like my dad, wore my dad’s clothes, wore his life. But his expressions were alien. Reactions and facial twists that the beard had softened became disturbingly overt. New expressions, new judgements.

You are not supposed to “get to know” the parent you already know. This is the embodiment of the given, the constant. Change the constant, and life unravels.

I had to train myself to stop staring at his FACE. Nothing but Face, all the freaking time, talking and talking. Holy shit, is that the guy who was under there the entire time? Yikes, he’s moving his alien lips and talking like my dad but it’s like watching a puppet, a man made of living wax, and even his eyes are looking “off” and distant and transformed. This was some real Body Snatcher shit. Every conversation was an incessant challenge, a taunt. His voice became weirdly frontal. Form trumped content, and the voice itself seemed to change into this anti-dad. Stop with the Face, stop it! There’s just too much of him.

And he must have felt the same way, looking in the mirror every morning, warping time with this aged version of his youthful self. Worse, what daily climate did he navigate? People staring at him. People staring away from him. People freaking out during any given conversation, and him knowing the entire time exactly what was freaking them out, both of them trying to keep it under control. A Möbius strip of reaction begetting reaction. Madness.

His beard returned, eventually. Thank god.

Let’s just pretend this never happened.

But now: The ubiquity of Man-Face weighs on me, particularly the well-waxed and intricately squiggly Hipster Beard. A dude sports that shit like a narcissist nimbus, ready for your selfie. There’s a point when something you like about yourself and others becomes a “thing,” and then vomits itself across the cultural landscape. And then you watch it turn silly, turn sour, turn into a commodity or a ready-made attempt at personal expression.

I know men with wonderfully wild beards, beautiful sculpture, tight designs, all of those outward expressions of inner chaos, order, freakiness and depth. And I like them, like my own beard. After all, beards make it easy to identify the “males” in our society.

It’s become a “look,” though, part of a complete package, with matching flannel and boots and whatever-the-hell. For you selfish lot, you fashionistas, I wonder if you understand how this will impact the people who depend on you. I wonder if you understand that this world is not about you, that you have committed to something greater than your vanity. You are tampering with communal history.

I wear my beard as my dad wore his, clean-cropped and hand-trimmed. When he died, I took on a variety of pants and shoes, jackets, shirts – we had the same build and the same shoe size. It’s taken nine years to wear through almost all of that, to no longer don a piece of my dad as each item disintegrates, as memories merge and degrade and swirl into the historical wash of the deceased. I have a coat and an aloha shirt that I always wear on airplanes. And this beard, serious, considerate, funny.

So I haven’t hit on any beard jokes with my own son, but they’ll come in time. If I whip out the “saving it for later” line, I’ll have to attribute it to the grandpa he never met. The grandpa who lives on through my beard, channeled. Every day Simon gets a little glimpse into his Grandpa John, looking through me and into him. If I keep this beard, my decision transcends the crap-wave of culture. It bonds us in love and a shared loss.

I can’t shave that away.


Saturday, July 28th, 2012

It’s been long enough, and I need to shit or get off the pot. The “pot” being some sort of public inertia. The “shit” being this blog post. So please remember to wash your hands after reading.

Fiction writing has slowed and crawled, mainly a victim of life. I don’t want to be one of those writers who sacrificed family for the intimations of career, so the free-time priorities have centered on hanging with my boy, doing home stuff. Meanwhile, I have backpedaled into some sort of journalistic sideshow, writing about Scotch and nerdy stuff. And I’m learning Ruby on Rails, just to keep the programmer partition of my brain active.

Also, I have poked out from the shell a few times, then reeled back in.

What? An explanation. Remember the transit of Venus? Some folks paid attention, and some people went all-out bananas. Astronomy used to be a juicy topic for me, way back when I had a cheap telescope and the vague notion that something might be out there. Later, I became less inclined to stare into the astral heavens. For one thing, my vision has been on the steady decline, so I have to wear glasses, which results in a sort of 3D theater experience where many things in the center of vision look great, while the periphery, the zone that really helps define giant depth and infinite possibility, is destroyed. So I don’t look up as much as I used to. Also, in recent years I have drawn my world inward, from city to neighborhood to house to bedroom. I have the soul of a hermit and the temperament of a curmudgeon, which means I will return to this earth as a hermit crab. Hermit crabs don’t care much for the great beyond (I know, I had a pet hermit crab when I was a kid – that was my pet), and don’t want to be reminded that the security of the nest is a simple fallacy, squelched by the vast sky.

So I was mildly interested in the Venus thing, but not too concerned. I mean, I don’t exactly have a religious faith, but I also don’t need to see a planet traversing the sun to understand the profound size of our solar system.

Our neighbor, though, was generally into it. He set up a telescope and rigged it with a digital camera, so we could use the camera display to live-view the silhouette of Venus against the sun. Checking out his rig was nearly as interesting as witnessing the transit. And it was cool, and I felt better for having seen it. Beyond that, I had a chance to chat with this interesting guy, to exchange more than our usual five or six words.

You see, the five- or six-word exchange has become my norm for chatting with neighbors, family, and generally anyone who I don’t see on a daily basis. And many of the daily people, such as co-workers, are subject to my multi-paragraph monologues. I enjoy writing about characters, constructing imaginary conversations, but, in the face-to-face, I suck at it. Sometimes I just don’t think fast enough, can’t process it all. Other times, I’m just not attuned to the general wavelength, be it from an individual or a group. It often results in a feeling of profound loneliness in a room full of people.

So we talked a bit, escaped my normal constraints, and that was about it. No breakthrough, but it was pleasant, and I felt, well, normal. The next day I had lunch at a cafe, alone, and sat at a bench in the front window, watching people stroll the sidewalks. And that was when I was blown away by the transit.

The transit of people, our passing and eclipsing of each other throughout the course of a day. Each person is just as complex and vast as the solar system, but the frequency of our interactions, from physical proximity to actual conversation and engagement, multiply that complexity into fractal beauty. I might not be able to keep up, to hold a conversation that, at some point, doesn’t collapse or stagnate or flip into monologue, but I can sit and watch and appreciate the privilege of being human, of being allowed to experience these rich worlds contained within each person, expressed through dress and composure and gait, through humor and anger and ignorance. These transits are happening all the time.

We are marvelously complex.

Sharing the Warmth on the Elevator to Hell (or: Altruism Through Self-absorption)

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Mixed into the holiday season chaos of consumerism and event-coordination is an oddly persistent, thin, shimmering warble of Good Will. I felt it somewhere beneath the silky choruses of copious Christmas songs, hidden within the standard-holiday-palate advertisements on busses and trains and buildings, and overtly glowing out from the influx of cards materializing in our mailbox. There has been plenty of typical capitalism-gone-wild mania, sure, but there is also this notion that now, during the darkest days of the year, we should come together as human beings and support each other, take the time to tip your hat and smile, recognize that we’re all on the same team.

So every year I wrestle with this nagging notion that I should make some effort to be a better person. And it seems so simple and innocent. Stop judging people. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Put forth the effort of kindness. It’s a great plan, a wonderful theory. And, for me, it always fails.

I am a grump. I believe that people will always look out for their best interests, often at the cost of just about everyone else, so it requires effort for people to be anything other than selfish children. But plenty of folks really do put in that effort, and, for some of them, kindness seems to be a genuine part of their self-interests. So how do I tap into that? How do I stop assuming that everyone is an idiot?

Drugs help. Coffee. Aspirin. Sugar. Anything to remove the edge. Insult and judgment is a sparkly, low-hanging fruit. As with anything suspiciously “too easy,” throwing an insult to someone, using that person as an illustration of some greater absurdity, is ultimately a quick burn-through of empty calories. It feels great to spew out the venom, and might even make you feel witty for all of three seconds, but then it’s vapor, and then it’s nothing. So you have to keep going, keep spewing, all the while internally recognizing that you are just as absurd, and your cleverness is temporary and insubstantial. Cutting people down, laying judgment, just makes me feel worse about myself.

And that makes me lay into people even more. At the root, judgment is an expression of self-doubt. You require juxtaposition simply to solidify your own persona. It’s like making Jello without putting it into the refrigerator. You require this other thing, the mold, constantly. Without the leverage of this other person’s faults, your own definition becomes unmade and just drips out over the counter. So you keep using other people to make yourself feel defined. You do this to feel the intimation of definition, to trick yourself into believing that it enough. More vapor.

So my simple effort of “kindness” requires something quite different. I have to change the way I feel about myself. If I don’t need to leverage my warped perceptions of other people’s shortcomings, then those “obvious” faults flip around and become shared traits. We are all flawed, and the flaws can be glorious.

“I resolve to love myself.”

If I read that, I would want to hit that person in the eyeball. Maybe you should resolve to get over yourself and move on, idiot. Ha ha. But there’s the nagging truth, tucked away, hidden in the mirror reflection of those words. When I am feeling good about my work, my life, my family, I just don’t take the time to pay attention to other people’s weirdness. It’s all there, of course. Quirks and sickness. But it generally becomes inconsequential to my own well being.

So I resolve to recognize the things that make me feel content. There. Nothing crazy or monumental, and no pressure to completely overhaul the way I interface with the world. I might very well continue scrutinizing everyone around me, assuming the worst. But, just as a start, as a step in the right direction, I need to take notice of the moments when I’m feeling happy and normal. And you should, too. Document them in such a way that you aren’t simply counting blessings. The goal is to figure out where to invest yourself. To recognize those actions and moments that deliver the greatest payback, and begin steering your efforts toward those things. The good will and kindness might follow, but, for now, stop pretending that you are exempt from the human condition and the ubiquitous folly.

Pissing in the Kool-Aid

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

During the past twenty years or so, I have had a personal vision. We all have our quixotic fantasies, details of particular utopias unfolding during the course of the occasional shower. Mine involves a restaurant. Imagine an eatery where you are treated like cheap, stinking trash. Some aborted crumb from a Lou Reed verse. Ignored, abused, flat-out insulted. Yet the food is so completely delicious, so narcotically irresistible, that you come back, again and again, enduring all manner of vicious attack, wanton hatred and caustic rebuff. Anything, just to have a little more panacea.

I would own this restaurant, and I would be a terrible, terrible person. But customers would have no choice but to play by my rules. They might hate themselves for participating in such degradation, but that would never stop them from returning, from embedding themselves into the culture of my culinary hypnotism. The product would be irresistibly delicious.

Well, folks, this personal vision does, in fact, exist. In a way. It is called Apple Computer.

Apple has evolved from an education stalwart, to desktop innovator, to convoluted boutique contraption, to sleek, sexy sex-a-tronic sex-a-ma-jig. Before the iMac, I never considered owning a Mac, as they were simply too expensive for anyone other than a serious graphic designer. Then, during my temporary relocation away from the Midwest, I advised my parents to buy a then-new dinosaur-egg G3 iMac, believing it to be the simplest entry into personal computing. It turned out to be just as potentially crappy as any PC system, “intuitive” only to people who had already been using Macs for years. Buggy and sluggish. Once Apple dumped OS9, though, everything crystalized. They really did perfect the personal computer, resulting in beautifully designed, elegant, nearly indefatigable machines.

So I bought the Kool-Aid. Several times. I now have a few Macs, a few more up in the attic, and a smattering of iPods. Each machine has been a joy to use (except the one that stopped working after a system update, when Apple online support simply said “but it just works,” denying there was ever a problem, basically bricking the machine and forcing me to backtrack to an earlier OS, finally giving up all together . . . and buying a newer machine).

Meanwhile, I’m swimming in a numbing sea of trendiness. I know a person who wouldn’t touch a Mac back in 2002, was scared of the single-button mouse, considered Apple to be a fringe specialty computer that was nearly impossible to use. This person now owns two Macs, a few iPods and an iPhone. Why? Well, it seems rooted in Apple moving from selling desktop computers to selling “stuff.” They have become a go-to brand for people who define themselves through branding.

Apple has always fostered a cultish attitude about its products, but now it’s as cultish as owning a Wii or a Volkswagon. Can a “cult” actually exist around something I can pick up at Best Buy or an airport vending machine? People used to put Apple stickers on their cars, but now no one bothers. It is simply assumed that any hip person owns at least one Apple product. The cult mentality has flipped over to the stalwart PC creative-users, the people who refuse to trust Apple and don’t need a million hypnotized lemmings telling them what is “cool.” I completely empathize with those folks (I’m married to one), but I’m still buying Apple stuff, still chugging away. Lately, though, something has been different. A little off. As if a veil will be lifted, revealing supposed five-star dinners that are actually putrid, sculpted offal.

First: It’s all about beauty. I’m typing this on a relatively new Macbook Pro. As with all Apple products, it is incredibly well-designed. In fact, design trumps all for Apple. The guts of this computer aren’t particularly fantastic. Jobs claims that they decided to put outdated CPUs in these particular machines in order to keep the form factor compact. So the design is more important than the computing power. Even then, when these things are unveiled at the press conference, mister Jobs acts as if they are the most amazing, revolutionary products ever (just as he had done for machines that are now considered to be beautiful, incredibly well-designed doorstops). He is the fearless leader. He is feeding us what we need. I obviously agree, as I bought one.

Second: Apple products are built to be replaced. The normal replacement cycle for a computer is around four to six years. Macs follow this, but Apple presents us with an additional axis of consideration: sex. A new Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPoop, whatever, is like a tiny little sun, radiating pure sex. You buy one of these things and you feel completely fulfilled, as if you just found Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. This feeling sustains for around six months, sometimes close to a year. Then Apple pushes out their next wave of sexy stuff, and that beautiful machine seems like last year’s left-over hooker. Still sexy, but no longer fresh, no longer sparkling. Two years in, and you’re really feeling anxious, ready to upgrade, trade it all in for that rush of specialness, the omnipresent glow. If you can last for three years, you basically feel like you’re computing from a Mac ghetto, using a machine that feels outdated by a decade, smoking your way through a carton of stale Tareytons.

Apple has gone to great lengths to assuage consumer guilt over the constant impulse to upgrade. Their products have become increasingly recyclable. Note, these things are not expandable or extensible, as most PCs were throughout the 90s and early 2000s. No, they are simply made out of stuff that you can easily break down, so I won’t feel like an elitist asshole, upchucking techno-waste into landfills. It’s okay to want a new computer in less than two years. It’s okay to replace that iPhone, to get another iPod. Go ahead. You know you’ll feel great. Sex it up.

Third: The overhaul of language.

Some time around the advent of the iPhone and the iPod Touch, Apple broadcast a shift in user lexicon. Applications have become “apps.” Every time I hear the word, I want to kick someone in the head. No one specifically, just some random person. This is very dangerous. I should know exactly who I want to kick in the head. The term “app” just reeks of vacuous reduction, of consumerism, as if software is just a potato chip to be woofed down. Yet here I am, gaging on the Kool-Aid, and I, too, have used the word “app.” Apple gives us no other choice. These iPod programs are short and focused. They are ALL Apple-approved, too.

Really, “apps” are more like video game cartridges, discs, whatever. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft make tons of licensing money from third-party software creators, which is why they are able to sell their hardware at a loss (well, Sony and Microsoft – the Wii has always been sold at a profit). It is a closed system, and the end-users buy into it. That isn’t really a bad thing, and the iPhone works in the same manner. If a proposed app comes too close to a product that Apple already offers, it will not be approved and there will be no way for typical users to install it (how many Mail programs do you have on your iPhone?). Apple does not have this control over Mac programs, which are still considered “applications.” Anyone can create a Mac program and, as long as there are no intellectual property violations, distribute it (or just chance it and get sued).

That will be changing.

Apple has created an “app store” for the Mac, making it incredibly easy for people to purchase and install “apps” that are approved by Apple. This makes my stomach turn. I think there will still be the free market system of applications that will not be sold through the gated community of the app store, but they will become irrelevant. Consumers will drive up the demand for simple programs, and future versions of the OS will basically support only the apps. The app will become the mass-market paperback of the software world. Knuckleheads across the globe will be yammering “app” every other minute, exacerbating my impulse to kick random faces until it actually happens and I end up having to raise my family from behind bars.

This Apple-thing is not healthy.

And even as we are being formed into a generation of super-consumers, with instantly-replaceable computers and quick-fix apps, we are being told that we are the movers and shakers, the creative force, the ones who “think different.”

And even after this feeble attempt to piss in the Kool-Aid, I’m ready for another glass.

A funny way of persisting

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

I’m just inching past the age of 40.5, and, as I sort my thoughts for another Megablog brain dump, I’m realizing that I am well on my way to becoming an Old Man. This isn’t a statement of middle-aged regret. I’m feeling pretty good about my age, and I recognize that any age level changes with temporal perspective. I was in Colorado just after I turned 30, and recall meeting a couple in their late-20s. When I told them I had just turned 30, they both groaned, as if that was the inevitable Wall of Age. Even then, it was completely absurd. I knew that 30 was generally pretty young, and I always felt accomplished to be finally out of my 20s, out of the Stupid Zone. Of course, stupidity has a funny way of persisting, so it’s not as if my 30-year-old brain had suddenly developed into Highlander-Quickening-like omniscience. I’ll always have a copious abundance of stupidity cells floating around in my head, and I’ll just have to work hard to auto-correct every thought before it flies out of my mouth. That 20-something couple didn’t have their auto-correction properly attuned, so they sounded like a pair of immature idiots. Ten years later, I bet they’re really freaking out about the big 4-0. As for me, inching into my 40s, I’m thinking that throughout my 30s, during that entire decade, I was still wading about in the shallow end of the stupid pool.

So now I’m entering the age of brilliance. The middle of my life, when I’m finally starting to get it. Right? Yeah. Well, unfortunately, I’m finding that my Inner Old Man, the crotchety crab-ass who has been poking his head out for the last 20 years, is just about ready to take up the mantle of dominance. And I say this with full knowledge that 20 years from now I’ll be thinking of my young, stupid 40s, when life was getting thicker and I was still getting a bit dumber. I suspect that I will eventually temper my judgement, start to see the goodness in people, and finally move on from being an Old Man to becoming a Wise Man. For now, though . . .

This started while I was thinking of Facebook. That was going to be the blog post. I was going to title it “Facebooked!”, and proceed with an inventory of all the things that both delighted and infuriated me about the super-popular website/phenomenon. Last year represented a tipping point for Facebook. In a rush of just a few months, it seemed that everyone I know had established some level of Facebook presence. It culminated with Mark, my childhood friend, a person lost to time after having moved away in 1979, Facebooking me, reconnecting our lives in a rush of memories and updates. I had been trying to track him down, along with his twin brother Matt, for decades. I suppose that when you really want to find someone, you can make it happen. However, I never wanted to stalk him or pry him out of the world. I had no contact information, and I had been so generally unorganized throughout my life that I couldn’t even do much digging into my own past. Once information became interwoven with our culture, Googling didn’t help much, as Mark and Matt have a very common name with an uncommon spelling (and my impermanent brain didn’t help out), so I just couldn’t track them down. It was one of the great regrets of my life. These were my closest friends during a time when I was probably at my most creative. Everything we did was performance and collaboration, all pre-video-games, pre-vegetation. Those elements of Jimmy, the boy I once was, were lost forever. In November 2008, though, Facebook turned all of that on its head. For all of the weirdness and frustration of that site, that simple reconnection has probably been the most profound thing that the entirety of the Internet has done for me. Facebook represents the reality of the next-generation semantic web.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided that Facebook is a great big stinking turd of a site. It’s a time-sucker that promotes the meticulous construction of masks. It is working hard to destroy the subtleties of long-term relationships, collapsing all the people we’ve known into a list of “friends”. Friends. Really? My wife is a friend. My boss is a friend. Someone I hardly spoke to during high school and haven’t seen or thought about at all for 20 years is a friend. They’re all just fodder to add to the list, to keep that Friend number growing. And that’s the first thing you notice about anyone else. How many friends? Didn’t we all move past this when we finished high school? Does every network need to include some quantitative value, some demonstrable quotient of success? And what about the people who were once your friend? The amicable partings. We all have them. There is no great break-up or drama. You simply drift apart over time, accompanied by the mutual understanding that this is okay, that there is no ill will. And then, six or seven years later, you receive the Facebook request. Joe Blowass wants to be your friend. Well, yes, you were friends at one time, certainly. But that was back in your second year of college, or back in that service job, when you briefly connected, but, eventually, just found different paths in life. And, in the discovery of that divergent path, you realized that you really didn’t like Joe Blowass all that much. You would actually rather not see him again, and, if you ever happen to bump into him, you can be cordial and mature about it, but you won’t be giving him any means to stay in touch. And now he wants a declaration of friendship. My friends are the people who I hold dear to me throughout my life. There are pieces of my personality invested into my friends, elements of my soul. I believe in my friends. I love them. So no, I’m not going to say that Joe Blowass is one of my friends. It just isn’t true. Yet, is he an enemy? Of course not. There is no middle ground, though. Facebook demands that Joe is either a friend, or a not-friend. And either choice is a declaration, overriding the subtlety of the amicable drift. Now I have to drag it all out of the closet and actually say, “no, you are not my friend.” So you sit on that invitation for weeks. Every time you sign into the stupid site, there he is, with that silly thumbnail photo. Looks like he’s lost a little on top. And now he’s gone up to about 30 friends, faces from all over time and space. Ah, just ignore it. Just check the messages, erase the pokes and requests and surveys and calls for extreme navel gazing, close it all up and bolt out of there. And a week later he’s still there, with the fucking grin, and maybe it’s more of a style than actual hair loss, and 37 friends now, including someone you actually would like to contact, but she always had better taste than Joe. But she added him, so why not. Okay. Now he’s my friend. And friendship now means less than ever before.

And just when you’re going to leapfrog Joe and send a feeler out to that lost common friend, the one who’s thumbnail is in Joe’s growing list, you hesitate. What if she doesn’t want to hear from me? It’s been a few days now, and, being Joe’s friend, she can surely see that he has also added me. What if I’m her Joe? If I send her a friend request, she’ll probably accept it, just as she did for Joe. And it will be meaningless. Or, worse, she could actually say “no”, after having accepted Joe, shooting me straight into the gutter of lower-than-Joe, the lowest of the low. Fucking Facebook.

Meanwhile, it’s a party. A non-stop, 24/7 goddamned party. “Judy is baking cookies.” “Steven can’t wait for this day to be over.” Freddie has sent you a Little Buddies request. Would you like to be his Special Little Buddy? “Annie is having a drink.” Annie has now sent you a request to accept the “have a drink” app. Would you like to have a drink? Which drink are you? No, no, fuck off, Annie, get the hell away from me! No. You’re not my friend. None of you are my friends! I don’t care what you’re doing, and I don’t care if you’re late for work or feeling fine or injecting fluid into your cat or jazzed about tonight. Ugh! This is not a party, folks. Yet, with the constant tiny little updates, and the conglomeration of micro-statements flowing in from 50 different people, any boring old life sounds like its just crackling with excitement. We are all the stars of our group sitcom, our Sex in the City.

So . . . this is what has been popping around in my head. And as I filter it out, sorting, composing, trying to dig up my thesis, I realize that I’m just being an asshole. A cranky old man. And a hypocrite. I mean, I’m there, right in the middle of this fake party, and knee-deep in Twitter, as well. Twitter, however, is a bit more honest. It was designed as a broadcast tool for cell phone text messaging. “Jim is sitting in the back room, at the north end of the bar.” Twitter it, and you don’t have to bother individually texting all the people who were supposed to meet you at the bar, or the people who might otherwise be looking for you. Like everything else that’s online, it either evolves or stagnates, so now it has become a web-based micro-blogging tool. I admire the simplicity, the lack of pretense. Of course, like many other narrowly-defined web tools, there are folks out there over-thinking Twitter, trying to use it as a marketing device and even an educational tool. I’m a librarian, and I recently read a short article about other medical librarians using Twitter as a reference tool, broadcasting links to cool reference resources, bringing help to the people. Hey, if it makes you feel good about yourself, go for it. Some of us just call that spam, though. But maybe that’s just what the micro-blogging movement actually is: intermediary spam. Spam-lite. Keep it short enough, and we don’t feel as inundated with all of those informational blurbs, tweets and belches. Put it all together, though, and it just coagulates into static. “Follow” a few hundred Twitterers, and my voice eventually returns to what it really is: just one within millions. Meaningless.

An old neighbor of mine back in Park Forest, a somewhat cranky old man himself, once described his frustration over attempting to get his driver’s license renewed. He failed the driving test, claiming that the young DMV woman accompanying him was “picking the fly shit out of the pepper.” Man, do I love that phrase. It’s what I’ve been doing every day for decades. It’s easy to do, really. I think our brains are built for it. Wallowing in the details, winnowing away the days on jigsaw puzzles. The assumption, though, is that you can recognize the fly shit, that you know shit from Shinola. That’s the arrogance that usually gets you into trouble, or simply keeps you in your cranky little corner, gradually removing yourself from society. It’s dangerous and self-righteous, and even though I can recognize it, acknowledge this in myself, that doesn’t mean I’ve been able to alter this bottom line of bullshit.

FYI, we should be thankful that this woman from the DMV took the time to pick out the fly shit. This neighbor was shaky of both grip and mind, and was definitely someone who shouldn’t be commanding a vehicle of any sort.

So I spend far too much time going after the easy targets that tend to be interwoven with my daily routines. Such as Trader Joe’s. I’ve been at odds with TJ’s for years. Yes, delicious culinary luxury at okay prices. A good place for vegetarians and organic-o-philes. And friendly! Incredibly friendly. So friendly that I can hardly get out of the store without painting myself in puke. I’m sorry. I’m not a very enthusiastic shopper. I either get in there, list in hand, on target, on mission, super-efficient, or I wander the nebula of deliciousness, lost in a haze of exotic beverages, chocolate delights, 18 flavors of hummus and seven radically different varieties of organic farm-raised grain-fed antibiotic-free (but not necessarily pro-biotic) vegan eggs. So I either zip through the store, anxiously waiting in the checkout line, ready to complete my circuit, or I crawl into line after a lifetime of distracted shopping, dazed and stumbling as if emerging from the Sun’s Anvil in Lawrence of Arabia. Either way, the last thing I want to do is chat it up with the hipster at the register. Just shut up and tell me what I owe.

I’m in the minority on this one. For many of my fellow shoppers, Trader Joe’s is a complete package. Drift about the aisles, charmed by the “hand drawn” signs, sampling a bit of the bruschetta or limeade, finger of decision casually drifting over the fabulous array of chocolate-dipped/smothered plentitudes. It’s all champaign and peaberry. And top it all off with the cutie at the register, young, beautiful, so chatty.

Trader Joe’s is the flip-side of the indie record store. Attractive urban hipsters wait for you at the register. Their hair, clothes and piercings suggest a freedom of living you were never able to attain (unless you, too, work at a similar store). At the record store, friendliness is overshadowed by apathy or judgement. You’re never going to impress that clerk, and anything you say is always going to be either too droll or not droll enough. This is where Trader Joe’s diverges. They have gathered all the beautiful cool freedom-loving next-gen kids who are just too gregarious for the record stores. They don’t care what you look like. They love all, as if each one of them has been touched by Christ. Better yet, they will always support your purchase decisions.

“Oh, the Belgian-chocolate Madagascar prune-lettes . . . mmm, these are just . . . awesome.”

They always take notice of a few random items, claiming that the $3 bottle of wine is their “favorite,” or that they’re positively addicted to those ready-made stinkless-shit sandwiches. Always a compliment, always the wondering of how your day is going, what you’re up to tonight. Girlfriends, boyfriends, knowing grins and camaraderie. The customers eat it up, soak it in, some of them visibly twitching and bouncing as they get closer in line, approaching that hipster, the sunshine epicenter. So by the time I make my way to the front of this processional, I’m up against it. I feel as if I have to be “on,” to fire back a hipster-ism or a witty remark or some other flake of bullshit that I see coming from every other person in line. And they all look like assholes, every one of them. The clerks are assholes for being so chipper about working at a grocery store. The customers are assholes for acting as if they themselves are hip, cool people who just happen to be loading their designer food into their $60K vehicles. And I’m the biggest asshole of all for being there, for grunting my way through the transaction, stymied and shrunken and simply unable to act my way through it. There are plenty of other scenarios in life where I have to amp up my personality, put on a cheery face, shoot the small talk. I’m not going to do it at a freaking grocery store.

“Hey, cool, love these maple cookies, how’s it going?”


End of conversation.

Why should I even care about any of this? Why spend all of these words complaining, being nothing but a grump? Here is what’s been happening. Listen.

The pleasantries of life have become transparent.

I have become increasingly intolerant of the myopic apathy of youth, the affectedness of it, droll, bored during a time when life is infinite and limitless. I am angry with the “me” that I see in others, to see them pissing away the same things in life that I, too, pissed away. I was recently looking through some older family photos, pictures from several generations ago. Each generation has shifted its tolerance. The youth culture is an offense to the previous generation. Yet, one generation later, there is an even more offensive youth culture, and then another one. The circle of tolerance shrinks with each generation, and I’ve been living with that downscaling.

At 40, life is better, more solid. Now that I have my footing, it would have been nice to feel this security 20 years ago, or at least understand that this period of contentment was coming. What would life be like now if I knew all of this 20 years ago? Would I be even happier now, more successful and stable? This is recursive thinking. It is the path to madness. I am always comparing my success to others, particularly now that the President is almost in my peer demographic. The more I question my choices and place in life, the more critical I am of everyone around me. So it’s better for me to be a grump than to be paralyzed by all of this overthinking. This is the Curmudgeon’s Code.

Meanwhile, I am shocked over how few of my fellow citizens care about such things as not pissing on the seat, not talking on their phones in enclosed public places, not ripping out the last paper towel without turning the little wheel at the bottom of the dispenser so that there is a fresh clean paper towel ready for the next person, not throwing cigarettes, coffee cups and other jetsam out of car windows as if the world was their god damned ashtray, not eating fried chicken on the train or letting go of yourself to such a degree that you yourself smell like fried chicken (bad salmonella Popeye’s leftover coagulated grease fried chicken, not fresh and tasty fried chicken), not drifting aimlessly down the middle of the steps as the CTA train is obviously 20 seconds away from pulling away, not pushing your strollers side-by-side on the bike path and taking up the entire width of the path while oblivious to my ringing bell and hey-hey-hey and all attempts at warning that my 30-mph bike might be a substantial risk to your adorable little baby’s perambulation, not standing on the left side of the freaking escalator, not being a dope, a mope, an idiot, a stupid idiot just like each and every single one of them . . .

As I lay it out, it just seems like a disease. More a sadness than a madness. If I capitalized on all of this anger, I would be in jail, toothless and black-eyed. So I channel it into impotence, with the occasional passive-aggressive hand gesture or cold, hard stare. It is ultimately better to just let it go. Turn off the news. Erase the nodes of comparison and just be happy with the gift of life.

Still, it’s nice to be plugged in, to follow friends and artists on Twitter. It’s nice to still feel like a part of a society I thought I hated. I suppose it would be a good time to hop onto Facebook and fill out a “Which classic cartoon character best describes your lifelong dread and self-loathing?” quiz, join the “Misanthropes Unite” group, or just raise some hell in one of the hundreds of Pro Life groups. Whatever makes us feel better. That is, whatever makes us feel better than others.