Posted by: johnhourihan | November 19, 2012

Be thankful for grumpy old men

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that I am a grumpy old man. The alternative is not as inviting.
I remember being young — but only on good days — and I want to apologize to Charlie Espanet.
You don’t know Charlie, but you really do. In my teen life, he was to me the prototype of men not growing old gracefully. Now, many people see me in the same way. They want to call it grumpy, but it is really frustration with having to suffer the incessant repetition of foolish behavior by successive reincarnations of the same foolish people over a long period of time.
Charlie ran the town park — see-saw contusions, tether ball arguments, lawn dart impalements, Wiffle ball tournament fights, baby sitting all the over-hormoned, peer pressure driven adolescent urchins in town. By 2 p.m. every day, Charlie was no longer a patient man.
That is when I flew by in my black ’62 Olds Dynamic 88 that I had proudly christened “The Jet.”
I was just another idiot with a lead foot, a fast car and all the consideration of a hired killer. In short, a 17-year-old.
I circled the pond and came back to rest next to the group of girls near the swing set. I was 145 pounds of wild hair, collar up and Luckies in my white shirt pocket.
Charlie walked over to the car. As we get older we lose tolerance for the stupid things we have seen over and over and over until the mere mention of it makes us nauseous.
He stood near my window looking out over the park full of kids and bit his tongue taking deep stabilizing breaths.
“I know your father,” he said finally. “He was my first football coach, so I’m not going to do what the voices in my head are telling me to do to you.” He leaned down to the open driver-side window. His steel eyes told me I should just shut up.
“If you go by this park that fast again,” he measured his words, “I’ll beat you to death with a stick.”
“I’ll sue you,” I chirped, the common retort of suburban teenage tough guys.
He stood up and looked into the park again.
“Besides, Mr. Espanet, You’re too old.”
I watched him melt down right in front of me. His memory of youth stolen, his tolerance faded, his will to be considerate flushed down the toilet of time — of having seen this kid a thousand times, with the same vocabulary, the same vacant grin, the same inconsiderate arrogance, and the same cigarettes in the same pocket.
At my 6oth birthday I began to understand what makes old men grumpy, what went through his head that day, and I am truly sorry.
It was the same thing that went though my head at 1:15 on a Thursday morning, driving home from work down a nearly deserted Connecticut Route 8 a handful of years ago.
Just ahead of me, and to the right, was an on-ramp filled with headlights. With age comes wisdom, so I slowed down and let them enter in front of me. At least 30 cars, most of them those little jet skates that do 0-60 quicker than I can get out of bed in the morning.
They weaved back and forth, their tail lights looking like a bunch of drunken fluorescent red ants.
Then they filled up both lanes and slowed down — to a stop.
Kids got out of their cars and started walking back and forth across the highway talking to people in adjacent cars or running up to collect nourishment from friends.
As I tried to remember when I was an idiot child, they began moving again. Slowly at first, then they pulled off to both sides of the road to leave a gauntlet that those of us who were on the road for a legitimate reason passed through.
As I passed, two of the migrants heading back toward their cars walked straight down the center of the road. I smoldered as I waited for them to pass, just like Charlie, and I thought, “Should I show them the difference between infantry and tanks? Should I run the little fruitcakes over and push ’em into a ditch? It would be so easy.”
I know now what Charlie was thinking as he looked over my car and into the park, and then, in a moment of measured restraint, he pointed at my face and said, “Slow down.”
He bit his lip and walked back into the park.
I drove home.
So the next time you call someone a grumpy old man, consider the alternative that is rolling around in our heads.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful I’m just a little grumpy.
You should be too.



  1. Trying to figure out how you got the time to write this story about my husband! Good chuckle and oh so true.

  2. I never saw Charlie grumpy.

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