Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I think my high school yearbook got it wrong

It would seem I have become a curmudgeon. This brings me neither shame nor pride at this point in my life, it simply seems to be a fact.

It has never been a goal. In my high school yearbook (Roosevelt High School, Yonkers, N.Y., 1966 L'Envoi), under my senior picture, it does not say, “Longs to be a curmudgeon by the time he's in his middle sixties. Would settle for grouch, but aims for loftier heights.”

Under that picture, though, it did say something about the red hot flair for writing. That was amazing in and of itself, since I had written maybe two stories for our school newspaper, The Crimson Echo, both of which I remember as being pretty rotten. One, I recall, was a story about a Roosevelt Indians (Indians! Yikes!!) football game that I wrote in the fall of 1965 with access to neither a roster nor any real idea of how American football worked. I'm sure there was no lack of enthusiasm, but I doubt that even people who were at the game gained any sense from it.

Having realized this curmudgeon status, I must also say that I believe the heyday of the curmudgeon has passed. Work with me, brothers and sisters. As a kid, wasn't there someone on your street everybody called old Mr. or Mrs. (Fill in the blank). It was the person who left their lights off on Halloween. Yelled at you if you went on to their property to retrieve an errant toy. And if you employed that time-honored manner of getting even- ringing the doorbell and running away- they did indeed call your parents if they saw you disappear from view.

Now, though, things have changed so much that someone like that would be reported to the police the first time they yelled at a kid on their lawn. And probably rightfully so. But at a time when people working with youth are routinely being found out to be predators, I'm not sure we haven't lost the thread somehow.

Anyway, regardless of what else it means, I am a curmudgeon with a thick skin and a chewy center made up of annoyances, short-temperedness, perceived slights and no real arena in which to display my curmudgeonly ways. Back in the day, we virtually all lived in some kind of neighborhood that had a definable beginning and end. So a curmudgeon could be old Mr. Wilson down the block, or maybe Old Mrs. Hart, who didn't seem to have one, from around the corner.

I get less sense of neighborhoods now, especially when we can all get in contact with anyone in the world without leaving our house; play games with others in any country we chose.

But, this isn't one of those, “Why in my day...” sorts of things. I'm just thinking this out and realizing I'm a curmudgeon out of time. This has nothing to do with my having cancer, by the way. Or at least, I don't think it does. Then again. it may be exactly because I have an incurable form of cancer. I don't know. Is it the constant stomach pain? Another good question. Again, I don't think so, but I'm coming to realize that chronic conditions can have an overwhelming effect on a person and their peace of mind.

I can't even point to an increase in the number of people who seem to find me cranky or crankier than usual. No one is saying anything. But, then, riddle me this... why do I find almost every living creature on God's green earth annoying? Very annoying. Of course, I don't mean you. I mean everyone else.

And, if I'm being truthful, I think everyone is probably a bit of an overstatement. My children and Sheri are exceptions, though they do ruffle my kerfuffle at times, but usually with reason. The general curmudgeonness, though, comes from nowhere. You can't do anything to not annoy me. It''s...Well, for example... all that breathing- in and out, in and out. You need to stop that. It annoys people. Yeah, so you're thinking, “How can any human being say that about another?” It's easy.

These are the types of things, though, that cause Good Jim and Curmudgeon Jim to battle: GJ- You can't say that; CJ- Sure I can; GJ- No you can't; CJ- Sure I can; GJ- Well you can't act like you mean it; CJ- Watch me.

When I'm in this state, like now, every interaction with another person, at least in my head, begins with, “Shut up. Just... Shut up.” But, I keep that to myself so people will not know whether that's what I'm thinking or if I'm actually thinking something nice, or not thinking at all. It's better than opening my mouth and removing all doubt.

My being a curmudgeon is actually like my multiple myeloma. At this point it's incurable, but it is treatable. I'll always have multiple myeloma, and, as it appears now, I'll always be curmudgeonly. But, I don't always have to act out. I can be a curmudgeon in remission.

Or as my kids used to sometimes say about the curmudgeon on our street when they were growing up: “Mr. Marshall must be having a good day today. He yelled at us to get off his lawn, but he didn't throw anything and he didn't threaten to call you, dad.”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere