The Crotchety Express

Some words just sound good, you know? They might have a pleasing rhythm, an effective combination of hard consonants and short vowels, or that onomatopoeic essence that poets love. Me, I’ve always liked the word crotchety, the way it suggests the harshness of the attribute, and how saying it just right makes your face contort, just as the crotchety one’s might as he begins his next rant.

The epitome of which I speak

Of course, now in mid-Crisis, I realize I run the risk of being labeled crotchety, especially as I show less patience for the flaws and foibles of others. And if I’m not quite at the crotchety phase, I know I’m pretty darn close to being labeled a curmudgeon, the cousin of the crotchety in our midst.

Efficient transportation - or a rolling hell?

I thought about this as I rode Metro North into New York twice this weekend. Spending that much time with strangers in such close quarters is a rarity for me, given that I‘m usually holed up in my office. But the little mobile microcosm of privileged Connecticut society really got my curmudgeonly dander up.

On one trip, it was the well-dressed Gold Coast types who couldn‘t be bothered to pick up their trash when they got off the train at Grand Central. Because, after all, there’s people to do that sort of thing, hmm? Pick up the magazines and water bottles still half-filled and maybe the remnants of the morning croissant. No need here for personal responsibility, or just basic civility.

I watch them get up, laughing and chatting amongst themselves, and I fight back the urge to shout: “Is that how your mother raised you, to be a slob?” (Ooh, that would have been a stinging mot juste, I know.) Or maybe just pick up the waste, run up to them and say, “Oh, sir, ma’am, you forgot this.” I can imagine the range of reactions: from dumbstruck incredulity to downright venomous retorts.

Man, I hate litter...

I’m sensitive to the garbage thing, I know, because of my own anal qualities and the years I spent collecting and then dumping others’ trash when I cleaned offices. But something about the sense of entitlement these privileged riders showed, the sense of, “Someone else will take care of ME,” just made me want to scream.

And in that second, I knew I was just a few breaths away from entering Crotchety World. I could either take deep ones, and let the oxygen calm me, or erupt into the shallow, quickening pants that signal fight or flight. And I was itchin’ for the former. But my cooler side prevailed.

I kept my inner curmudgeon on the short leash again the next day, when it was the aural onslaught of constant cellphone jabbering that almost sent me over the edge. Dude, it’s Sunday morning – there cannot possibly be that many people who want to hear from you now. But he kept yammering, calling first one poor soul than another. His was the dominant voice, but there were others, and each one added to the symphony of verbal irritation that almost sent me over the edge.


Now, I know people of all ages could have been upset by these things, probably are on a daily basis. But the way I feel in these circumstances, or the impatience that boils every time I drive through West Haven and confront some of the dumbest, rudest, most selfish people who ever to managed to insert a key into the ignition and begin their rolling journey of endless stupidity – it seems to be getting worse. And I am getting old. So maybe there is a connection. Maybe I soon will – no, god forbid, or already have – enter the Crotchety Zone.

I don’t want to be like that. I want to be mellow. Non-judgmental. Letting the irritants dissolve in my mind’s pool of serenity. I want to be like the elderly couple that sat behind me on the ride home.

I noticed them when I sat down. He was in a suit; she wore a pin on her simple outfit, and a proper hat on her white, precisely coiffed head. They did not annoy with inane small talk or endless phone calls. They did not, I noticed after they left, leave behind whatever waste they may have generated on the trip. As I watched them amble off in Darien, I imagined that this was a routine repeated for decades on end: a Saturday trip into the city, a fine meal, a night at the theatre or the opera. Accommodations at a four-star hotel, or maybe a stay with the successful child in her Manhattan co-op. They separated briefly on the platform. She, the seemingly more spry one, walked down the handicap ramp, while he, more frail it first seemed, took the stairs. Appearances do deceive.

They were the epitome of aged refinement. No self-important bluster. No histrionics. No crotchety complaints. Just two people still able to enjoy each other, the city, life, without a seeming care. Please God, I thought as the train left the station, let me be like them. Nip this inner curmudgeon in the bud. Give me the strength to face the Crisis, and beyond, with dignity.


But barring that, another simple request. God, give me chutzpah and quick wit enough to really zing the next set of Gold Coast assholes who leave their crap on the train for someone else to pick up.


~ by mburgan on March 1, 2010.

5 Responses to “The Crotchety Express”

  1. You are an amazingly gifted writer! I could feel your pain…. The CT turnpike people are the worst!!

    • Thanks for the kind words. Yeah, I’m always struck by one of the other many reasons why I miss Chicago–the drivers are much nicer, even in a city of that size. People here are just so stupid-rude.

  2. Love this post! I’ve decided that after 50, I’m going to use “salty” language when I feel like it – without feeling guilty. I’ve tried to be proper too long. F*ck that! ;).

  3. Salty language–I love that expression. Glad you liked the post.

  4. […] impending milestone birthday (impending no more; give me my AARP card and be done with it). But as I alluded to last time, I feel a growing urge to let my crotchety freak-flag fly, and today I want to wave at it at some […]

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