Monday, February 8, 2010

Curmodgeonly Behavior

I’ll be turning 50 later this month and the process has begun. Clearly I’m starting to morph into a curmudgeonly old bastard.

I recently spent a Saturday coaching a group of high school students in an academic competition. My team was on track to place dead last, a fact that undoubtedly had affected my attitude. Three key students recently quit the team. To make matters worse, one of the top performers called off sick at the last minute. Another kid missed the bus Saturday morning. When she showed up late, missing four of the ten events, I asked what happened. She looked me dead in the eye and told me she couldn’t find her phone. She was ;ate because she couldn’t find her phone.The bottom line is we competed with students in just four of the nine slots. Now wouldn’t you call this a bad way to start a Saturday?

The students were off for two hours of testing, leaving me with a reasonable amount of time to regroup. There was a gas and gulp joint down the road and I figured I might walk over and pick up a cup of coffee. A long transcendentalist walk in the fresh morning air might help me clear my cranium. Before I made it out the door another coach stopped me and pointed me toward the teacher’s lounge.

It was like nothing I’d ever seen. There was an enormous bay window overlooking cool green athletic fields and cow pastures. Facing the window were eight leather recliner chairs. Fighting back tears of joy, I filled up a cup of joe and dropped my bag beside a chair. Falling back into the chair, I reclined, sipped and opened up the paper. Teacher Heaven, baby – nothing less than Teacher Heaven.

At the time I hit the recliner there were perhaps five coaches in the room. Within five minutes the lounge was filled with coaches, all but one from a particular school district on the other side of town; I’ll call it District X. The District X people filled in the recliners and commenced to hooting it up. The conversation was cliquish so I tried to make small talk with the other non District X teacher. To say the coaches from District X were loud would be an understatement. One guy had the loudest voice I’ve ever heard; he kind of sounded like Darth Vadar, only nerdier and much louder. And then there was the woman sitting next to me. When she laughed she cackled like a chicken with a pitch so high it should have broken the bay window. This lady’s cackles absolutely pierced my skull. Every time she cackled, I shuddered - and I got a little angrier.

After one particularly noggin blasting cackle, I sprung to my feet.

“That’s it! I can’t take it.”

I headed for the door. One of the District X women asked me if I left my computer. I didn’t answer; I just waved her off and got the hell out of there. It wasn’t long before I realized I’d left my bag. The woman was talking about my bag. When I returned to the room my chair had been filled and the district X people had settled into a calm, quiet conversation.

I snatched my bag up and the woman asked, “What’s the matter with you?”

This is the part where I turned into the cartoon thermometer and the mercury exploded through the top.

“Lady, you’re asking me what’s the matter? You know what the hell’s the matter. You wanted the chairs, YOU GOT THE CHAIRS!”

Not exactly witty, but I got my point across.

Actually I felt pretty stupid.

To make matters worse, I kept running into those people all day. When I passed a couple of younger District X women, they put their heads down. I heard one of them stifle a laugh after they passed.

Pretty curmudgeonous, huh? All I needed was a cane to wave around.

Then again, those District X people were behaving rudely.

The truth is I could have quietly turned to the cackler and asked her to tone it down. Or I could have quietly got up and left. But the pendulum could have swung the other way. I could have called them all sons of bitches and tipped over all of the recliners before I left. That would have been cool – curmudgeon cool…