hell-in-a-handbasketDo you ever wonder about the appropriate age to transition from one generational club to another? I do. We can all remember that guy who was, like, 26 and still lurching around high school bonfire parties. While he served a definite purpose (being of legal age), it always seemed rather awkward and creepy to have him hanging around. I am curious to know if he is now, at age 43, still buying the cheapest beer known to man for hormone ravaged teens. God, I hope not.

On the other end of the spectrum, I also dwell on when I’ll be allowed to join the crotchety old curmudgeon set. My application has been in for years, and, according to The Wife, was accepted from the moment we had kids. I’ll admit to righteous fury when one of her salon clients takes liberties with parking on the lawn as opposed to the driveway; even after widening the driveway several times, SOME folks seem hell-bent on destroying my attempts at a nice yard. I have angrily concluded that this is the result of trying to navigate destroyer-sized SUV’s while chatting merrily away on cell phones.

My descent into a crab-ass state of mind was no doubt aided by the fact that 90% of my neighbors areĀ  grouchy old farmer dudes who love nothing more than bitching about the current state of affairs. On top of this heap resides Burl. Burl looks to be around 90 years old and drives up and down the state highway that is our road at a blistering 16mph. You can always tell Burl is coming from a long way off, because there will be an overwhelming din of car horns blaring from a stack of enraged drivers piled up behind him. This means nothing to him. He’s usually too busy eyeballing everyone else’s property for dogs he can shoot later on; in his mind he has NO DOUBT those damn dogs are running his cattle in the dead of night. Burl has absolutely no problem telling you about it, either. This man is both endlessly comical (to me) and insanely terrifying. Most people (particularly dog owners) loathe him which is how he likes it, thereby explaining why I am drawn to his presence. That, and the fact that he INSISTS on calling me Julio, no matter how many times I correct him.

It should be noted that the Dirtbag is also a prolific grump despite his relatively young age, and the look he puts forward is one that says “I will kill you if you come one step closer.” This is an extremely effective tool for keeping social interaction to a minimum. On one hand, I have found that behaving like an old coot can be incredibly rewarding, because when events inevitably go wrong in this life you can just snarl and tell anyone who will listen “I KNEW that would happen! Didn’t I tell you to never trust the media?!?” Also, it is a great excuse to shout at traffic, kids on the lawn, the meteorologist and rogue census takers. On the downside, it turns out nobody wants to spend much time with a person whose idea of a wild afternoon involves publicly and loudly broadcasting all the ways in which the youth of America steering this country towards Hell in a handbasket. That last statement is only subject to change when the room is FULL of angry old men, in which case it becomes mandatory discussion matter.

Turns out that most of these miserable old men generally can link their perpetual bad mood to an event, or series of events that soured them on the rest of life. Maybe they never moved off the farm in spite of a deep seated desire to travel outside the county lines. Perhaps they never DID ask that Italian exchange student on a date way back in high school. Or maybe their hip just hurts. But something I realized along the way is that this life has actually turned out pretty good, maybe even better than that, and my state of grouchiness is as seasonal as Missouri weather. I find that on balance people are reasonably fascinating. Most folks have a pretty interesting backstory if you can peel back all the layers of defense they’ve erected, especially the grouchy ones. As such, I’ll most likely keep on tolerating being called Julio by a man who is sure I am leading some sort of terrorist revolution out here in the country. And even if you catch me sitting in a lawn chair near the road pointing a hair dryer at passing speeders just to see how they react, chances are that if they stop for awhile and shoot the breeze, I’ll find them intriguing as well. They just better not park on the lawn.