Being a diabetic with hearing problems (especially in crowds), I have days when I probably shouldn’t be “out and about.” A few months ago, when I was attempting to read the menu in a local restaurant without my glasses, I noticed that the decibel level resembled Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve. The lights were too bright, the TVs (several of them) were proclaiming world disasters and a child was screaming in the next booth. I guess I ended up staring about in confusion. Then, the waitress smiled and said, “And what does Mr. Grumpy want this morning.”
Mr. Grumpy? Was she talking to me? Then, I caught my reflection in a mirror above the counter and saw that I looked a bit like the old Irish actor, Barry Fitzgerald – a crusty old geezer who always looked like he was sucking a lemon as he threatened folks with his walking stick and said things like “Ahh, you dirty git.”
Now, here is the thing. I wasn’t feeling especially contentious. In fact, this was one of my better days. The problem was that my facial expression was at odds with my disposition. When I told a friend about the comment by the waitress, his response surprised me. He said that I had a reputation as being a bit ... crusty.
“Yeah, you know, a bit of a curmudgeon.”
“Really? Well, thank you for brightening my day.”
“There now, see what I mean?”
OK, so I am a bit testy. Aside from the fact that I think a lot of this has to do with ill-fitting dentures. Anyway, I’m not sure that I am ready to let my acquaintances provide me with a “label.” I mean, isn’t that a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy?
Since I have become aware that I am “Mr. Grumpy,” I feel a kind of obligation to act like the person I am perceived to be. Now, when people don’t agree with my taste in literature, movies and politics, I realize that I have an opportunity to be downright abusive without actually offending anyone. They merely look at each other and smile because they have “pulled my chain,” and I have lapsed into my role as a contentious old geezer. The Rhodes Cove Grinch.
So, the fact that I usually have a frustrated expression on my face ... well, this facade does not honestly reflect my inner self – my complacent, gentle soul. Now, it is true that I am occasionally disgruntled by some computer problems ... (AOL is a blundering, incompetent and arrogant entity, and I have told them so frequently), and come to think of it, I had a number of unkind things to say about the IRS when they mistakenly attached my Social Security check last year. Then, too, I was a bit outspoken when Duke Power doubled my electrical bill.
Well, come to think of it, all this rancor developed about the same time that the company contracted to pave the street in front of my house cut down more than 20 trees on my property without consulting me, and I began proclaiming my discontent to the neighborhood. But, usually, such events are just minor blemishes on my otherwise sunny disposition. Really.
Recently, I have been eating lunch in the Jackson County Senior Citizen Center, and I think I have stumbled into a brotherhood there. Yesterday, an old coot sat his tray down at my table and stared at me.
“Aren’t you the jolly soul,” he said.
“There are plenty of empty tables in here. Why don’t you move?”
“Well, to tell you the truth,” he said, “I feel it is my civic duty to run you out of here so the rest of us can eat without looking at your face.”
“Lots of luck,” I said. “Who the hell are you anyway?”
“Don’t recognize me, huh? I’m one of your old neighbors from Rhodes Cove. If I remember correctly, you once shot me with your Daisy air rifle.”
“Good for me,” I said.
After more of this camaraderie, I finish my lunch and got up to leave.
“See you tomorrow,” he said.
“Not likely,” I said. “You dirty git.”
Frankly, I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s lunch. Chicken and dumpling with a kindred soul.