Saturday, October 14, 2017


Today is my birthday and I have reached the age where I have officially become a curmudgeon. I was seven years old the first time I heard the word curmudgeon, or at least saw it in print. I used to read TV Guide every week, back in the days when it was an outstanding publication, not a ghost of its former self. Each week there was a one-page column by critic Cleveland Amory. In addition to being a television critic, Amory was an author, reporter, commentator, and animal rights activist. I would grow up to have much in common with him (ironically, he died on my birthday in 1998). But when I was seven, he was a grown man and we had completely different tastes in television. There were two things of which I could be certain when turning to Cleveland Amory’s review page in TV Guide each week: first, I would completely disagree with his opinion of whatever television show he was reviewing; and second, his weekly column would consistently be the best written feature in the magazine. One thing Amory taught me is that well-written prose can be entertaining and informative even if you don’t agree with the writer’s premise.

Amory had the same mixture of snark and ballsiness to which I’ve aspired most of my life. When the American Legion planned a “bunny bop” rabbit-killing contest he used his position as a commentator on NBC’s Today show to propose a hunting club where hunters would be tracked and killed for sport, arguing killing hunters in cold blood would be humane because of their overpopulation. He was armed with rapier wit and no reluctance to use it. The first time I encountered his use of the word curmudgeon may have been in one of his TV Guide reviews but it was not his only use of the phrase. Amory also wrote a column for the Saturday Review entitled “Curmudgeon-at-Large” and many years later two books entitled The Trouble With Nowadays: A Curmudgeon Strikes Back  (1979) and The Cat and the Curmudgeon (1990). I immediately liked the word, probably because my seven-year-old self had never heard it before and had no idea what it meant. Fortunately, Amory went on to define it in that TV Guide article as “a grumpy old man”.

At seven, the idea of becoming a grumpy old man – or any sort of old man – seemed too distant to imagine. After all, I somersaulted my way across the living room; old men were hunched over, wrinkled, covered with liver spots, and walked with canes. I did a few more somersaults and an aborted cartwheel attempt, somewhat jealous that Cleveland Amory got to be a curmudgeon and I couldn’t.

But now I have become one. All things come, apparently, to those who wait. I haven’t yet started yelling at kids to get off my lawn, but I do notice that – as with other older people I’ve observed through the years – as we have more years behind us than ahead of us we realize the value of each moment wasted and we have exceedingly less patience for those who would waste even a few minutes of our valuable time remaining. As advancing age brings us closer to death’s door, which could swing open at any moment, we can no longer justify standing in long lines or waiting interminably “on hold” on the other end of the phone. We spent our lives waiting our turn, and now it is our turn because we simply don’t have that much longer to wait. Younger people don’t understand this, so they see us as old and grumpy, which I suppose in some respects we are. But age has its privileges and one of those is laying claim to the label of curmudgeon.

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