No doubt most curmudgeons begin their careers as a high school cynics, as smart-mouthed skeptics equipped with highly sensitive antennae tuned to hypocrisy. More often male than female, these snarling scoffers tend to mock propagandists dedicated to transforming them into productive contributors to society.
Burned as idealistic children who naively believed the blandishments of their elders, they eventually begin to realize that life’s rewards and punishments can be ridiculously unjust. For example, even though Bobby copies his homework and bullies smaller kids, Santa showers him with $800 skateboards and brand name clothing; meanwhile, the rule-obeying future curmudgeon treats others kindly but ends up with a can of Play Dough and a Wal-Mart fleece.
“Yeah right,” becomes the sardonic rejoinder to uplifting quotes in the morning announcements.
But let’s face it: constant negativity is not one of Dale Carnegie’s strategies in the pursuit of winning friends and influencing people. Although the most talented high school cynics can be fairly entertaining, their shtick can get really, really old after a while.
Eventually, though, with a little luck – a good marriage helps — these young cynics can marinate over the decades into well-seasoned curmudgeons who cultivate a sense of absurdity’s humorous possibilities, rather than becoming outraged at the human tragicomedy. Life becomes not a “tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” but a “spiritual pickle preserving the body from decay.”
So on this Thanksgiving Eve, I choose not to mock my Facebook brethren for typing “adorable” beneath photos of non-photogenic babies; I choose not to mock sentimentalists for cajoling me to like and share cloying idiocies like “if you ‘heart’ your mother click like and share.”
No, instead, I’ll share, these inspiring quotes from some of my favorite curmudgeons for whom I’m especially thankful. They, by my book, truly have made the world a better place.
Jonathan Swift: “Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse.”
Mark Twain: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”
Amboise Bierce: “OBLIVION, n. Fame’s eternal dumping ground. Cold storage for high hopes. A dormitory without an alarm clock.”
Oscar Wilde: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.”
HL Mencken: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
Dorothy Parker: “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”
WC Fields: “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”
Lenny Bruce: “I won’t say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: What I’m going to be if I grow up.”
Kurt Vonnegut: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”
But when it all comes down to it:
TC Boyle: “I was in the water for six hours. Shivering, praying, scared full of adrenaline. I kept making deals with the Fates, with God, Neptune, whoever, thinking I’d trade places with anybody anywhere – lepers, untouchables, political prisoners, Idi Amin’s wives – anything, so long as I’d be alive.”