Thursday, May 18, 2017

Curmudgeon 101: A Short Course for Finding your Inner Grouch

Do you suppose the word, "curmudgeon," is gender neutral? I associate the word with old men. Don't you? Merriam-Webster's definition certainly does: "a crusty, ill-tempered, and, usually old man."  In spite of that, I have long worried that I was destined to become "curmudgeonly." I'm already cranky, so I wondered if advancing age would finally tip my scale over to full-fledged, look-it-up-in-the-dictionary-and-there's-a-picture-of-me status. I found out last night. 
Before sharing my story, let me backtrack a bit. I come from a long line of grouches. If being a crabby so-and-so is an inherited, genetically-programmed trait, then I'm doomed. My father's favorite movie was "Grumpy Old Men." He fell over laughing at Walter Matthau's orneriness. This was a man who hoped his grandkids would call him, "Grumpy Old Gramps." For my father, grousing was an art form, everything from finely tuned rants of the "You kids get off that lawn!" variety, to well-crafted letters to the government of the "Your Post Office is a disgrace!" ilk. Nobody in our house dared make the slightest peep when dad was napping — which was most of the time. When the Mr and I started dating, he'd pick me up and call out to my dad whose head was stuffed into a pillow facing the back of the couch. "How are you tonight, sir?" the Mr would say. And dad would reply, "Mmmmmpppphhhfff." 

His sister was even worse. My aunt threw monumental snits if ever she were to be denied her full allotment of two-dozen-for-the-price-of-one, 8-pack toilet paper rolls on sale that week at Eaton's. For anyone crossing her path on her way to the bargains she would produce emphatic huffs of indignation. Nobody could do anything nice for the woman. My dad severed ties with her one fateful, sunny Sunday afternoon when he and Mum took her out for a scenic spin and she couldn't stop croaking on about how the windows in the back seat of the car were too small to allow her to see anything. 

Then there was my mother. To meet her you'd think she was a sweet little old lady. But our phone conversations were peppered with loud complaints about everything and everyone, especially once she got into the Assisted Living facility, where, "These people are so old!" and, "That (fill in the blank) is too big for her boots! Doesn't she think she's something!" and, "They gave us green beans for dinner again! I hate green beans!"  So, I figured it was only a matter of time before I became a crusty complainer too. Obviously, it's in my DNA.

For most of my life I have worked hard to keep this affliction at bay. It hasn't been easy. But I wear a witches hat, ironically, and give out candy to kids at Halloween. I bite my tongue when the Mr watches a Sunday game of golf on TV. I avoid conflicts like they're Bubonic Plague. I resist writing letters to the city complaining about the choking smoke from myriad back yard fire cauldrons, JUST when the first spring evening comes along when we can open the windows. I look away as dog after dog after dog leaves pee-mail for Riley at our front gate. And as much as I want to scream at the endless roar of lawn mowers, weed whackers and leaf blowers growling away all Saturday afternoon, even at MY NAP TIME, I try my darndest to invoke a uneasy, ill-fitting mantra of, "Live and let live." 

Something snapped last night. I don't know what came over me. I was out for a walk with the dog. I greeted passersby. I waved a cheery hello to a police cruiser that drove past. Feeling fine. I was just about at the high school, when a giant, Kermit-the-Frog green, tropical-island-themed ice cream truck screamed around the corner on two wheels, its tinny, steel-drum playlist plinking out, "It's a Small World After All." I gasped. It wasn't so much its appearance out of nowhere, like a ghost ship on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World. Nor was it the garish, kitschy-ness of its color scheme slamming up against the soothing Oakwood palette of brick houses and hardwood trees. It wasn't even the obnoxious soundtrack that took my breath away. It was the out and out surprise of seeing a mobile conveyor of frozen confections right here in our strictly by-lawed, overly-regulated, fuss-budget community. They are not permitted here! 

I spotted a neighbor coming along with his kids. We greeted each other with, "What is that doing there?" 

"I don't know," I answered, "There's a by-law against them." 

"I know," he paused, "Ach. I have no problem with it." Of course not, he's got kids.

"Hmmph," I griped to myself. I did have a problem. I've always appreciated the Code of No Ice Cream Trucks in Oakwood. If this was allowed to persist, I could see the future and it had a metallic "It's a Small World After All" musical score, grinding over and over again all day Saturday and Sunday every weekend for the rest of the summer driving me crazy and interrupting MY NAP TIME!!

My better nature told me to walk on by. But the devil on my other shoulder pulled me across the street where the smiling, good-natured driver was thrusting a cup of ice toward me with a dog biscuit on top. "Would your doggy like a treat?" I turned it down. She was distracting me from my mission. 

"I don't know if you are aware," I tried to be polite and pleasant, "But ice cream trucks are banned in Oakwood."

"OH, don't I KNOW it!" she chirped, too cheerily, "I've been pestering the city for years to let me do this! There's an event here at the school tonight, so I got to come out and park here."

I had to correct my stance. "Oh, well, that's okay then. It's just that I saw a police car a minute ago, and I didn't want you to get a citation." It was a lie. I said it to save face. I wanted her off the streets. 

I could not believe I had done that. Have I turned into such a crabby old lady that I've forgotten one of the iconic joys of childhood — running into traffic with a few coins in your clutched fist to get a Fudgsicle or a Sno-cone or a Klondike? When did I get this old? Was I becoming, gulp, a curmudgeon?

Continuing my walk, I only got a block away when the young lady ice-cream purveyor had packed it up and was speeding past me, disappearing into the gathering dusk, her theme song fading into the distance. "Good," I thought.

After all, the moral of this story is, don't underestimate some old crabby crank to turn you in if you park an ice cream truck in Oakwood. And, more importantly, don't mess with a senior citizen's NAP!