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Growing into curmudgeon hood l Off Kilter


Last updated 5/8/2019 at Noon

As kids, we all knew an older person who lived in the neighborhood and would scream loudly whenever your ball wound up on their front lawn: “Get off my lawn!”

That, to me, is the absolute definition of someone who has become a curmudgeon. There are many other indications that, whoever you are, you have entered into this realm of adulthood.

There are many reasons why someone becomes a curmudgeon. Most often the person does not even realize that that is who they have “drifted into.” It is a gradual process, much like having your hair turn gray.

You all remember how that went right? Mostly your hair turning gray is a function of who your ancestors were. (I always think of Woody Allen and his Academy Award-winning Annie Hall. When describing his ancestors to Annie’s parents, who were as lily white and vanilla as all get out, who asked Woody what country club his parents belonged to, he answered: “My grandmother was too busy being chased by Cossacks to have time for that.”)

I have a first cousin, both of whose parents were “prematurely gray” in their late 20s. Sure enough, my cousin turned fully gray also at about the same age.

OK, so having a certain amount of gray hair is a prerequisite to being a curmudgeon. What are the other key requirements? Well, you can be one whether you are a man or woman.

When I was a teenager, we lived next door to an older woman who definitely was one. Here is my evidence:

One day my friends Howie and Jerry and I were playing catch on our front lawn. Sure enough our ball “got away from us” and wound up on the neighbor’s front lawn.

The older grandmother who lived there was, of course, sitting in her rocking chair (another prerequisite to being one).

As Howie walked onto her front lawn to retrieve the ball, Sadie (another prerequisite – you must have an old fashioned sounding name) called out, “What are you doing on my front lawn?”

Howie answered, “I’m getting our ball.” I think he also mumbled something under his breath that was most likely unflattering to our neighbor.

To this day, I doubt that Sadie actually heard what Howie mumbled, but Sadie then said: “What is your name boy?”

Howie answered, “Howie.”

Sadie then said, “Well Howie, you are the stupidest person I have ever met.”

For the next several days, whenever the three of us were together, we simply cracked up laughing. Why on earth Sadie had to know Howie’s name to berate him is still unclear to me.

It was probably that she wanted to be certain that Howie knew he was being insulted. Just saying that out loud without Howie’s name would have been less certain to Howie, I suppose.

There have been films made that depict curmudgeons perfectly. I think my favorite is the movie of “The Odd Couple” starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Walter plays a man so persnickety and unlovable that he is one without doubt.

I think that curmudgeons are made, not born. My observation is that people who turn into curmudgeons have had a life full of disappointments. Being extremely negative about life is the result of those life experiences.

Mostly we probably feel sorry for them. They don’t seem to be able to enjoy a minute out of their day. I suspect that inside they are using their negativity as a defense mechanism. So they are only “happy” when they are actively “raining on someone’s parade.”

Am I a curmudgeon? If you ask my granddaughters, they will say, “I don’t know what a curmudgeon is.”

I don’t mind if kids play ball near my front yard. But please: “Get off my lawn!”

Michael Gold, a self-described “gadfly” who lived on the East Coast before moving to Mill Creek, then the Picnic Point area, is a serial entrepreneur who combines his East Coast/Left Coast perspectives to offer an “Off-Kilter” look at our world.


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