People are fascinating. I don’t mean this in a condescending, scientist-observing-rats kind of way, I mean it sincerely. Although that’s exactly what a rat observing scientist would say to make it seem that he’s not enjoying sticking electrodes in areas of those rat’s bodies that did not evolve in an electrode-accommodating fashion. I don’t know, I’ll let history decide. Because, obviously, this is exactly what historians will be preoccupied with in the future.
I say people are fascinating because I try to observe them more and more and learn about them as much as I can, and this in turn has led me to some very interesting learnings. I realise this may seem like a worthwhile intellectual endeavour, I assure you it’s not. I want to learn about what makes people tick as part of my metamorphosis into the ultimate life form: the Grumpy Old Man.
The Grumpy Old Man is a very specific character. Many men in history have aspired to this accolade, few have achieved it. It’s not for lack of trying, or even success in their endeavours, the main problem has always been a poor definition of what qualities the Grumpy Old Man embodies. Sure enough, most men might intuit correctly what makes up most of the Grumpy Old Man’s character, but the nuances and subtleties of this noble creature are so intricate that a misstep can easily make one slip into one of its closely related, however immensely differently perceived, alter egos: the Stupid Old Fart, the Crazy Old Fool, the Angry Old Fella or the Dumb Old Grunt. I don’t mean grunt, but I’m keeping it clean. It’s my educated estimate that 99% of men aspiring to grow into the Grumpy Old Man have, in one way or another, slipped into one of those other selves (I really hope someone notices the cunning use of the english version of alter ego, because I’m not going to make a big deal out of it myself). I intend these lines to be a warning to men of the present and future, as well as a quick and handy guide for those who want to learn more about the Nirvana of male evolution.
The first basic requirement of being a Grumpy Old Man is the notoriously hard to achieve feat of being born male. This is an endeavour with roughly 49% chance of success which, as the more cunning statisticians could notice, is worse than a coin flip. It’s worth mentioning that, in today’s gender fluid world, this percentage drops considerably, to somewhere around 10%. If that. More on that some other time, in some other text, with some other type of alcohol in my glass. Being born with a penis is hard… to achieve, so once that’s done we should all have a bit of a sit down and pat ourselves on the back, maybe have a parade to celebrate our accomplishment. Because, as many fiery individuals born in one country or another, enflamed by songs and stories of past successes in murdering some poor soldiers of a different nation, who shed a tear whenever they hear the name of their country uttered in any scenario could attest, being proud of something we had absolutely no input towards lays a solid foundation on which a life worth living can be built. But more on this some other time, with hard liquor in my vicinity.
The second basic requirement in achieving Grumpy Old Man status is getting old. A formality this day and age, the life expectancy of roughly 200 years ago would catch a modern man somewhere between grunt (I meant grunt now) and middle management on the corporate ladder, barely a few team building exercises into a fruitful career. Slightly fewer wars, plagues, a pill or two more in doctor’s repertoire, and some top notch plumbing have made old age not only possible, but reasonably certain. So few were the grumpy old men in times of yore that, if they had similar numbers today, they’d be put in specially designed habitats and encouraged to mate.
In addition to the two base requirements, there’s a list of five conditions which define the Grumpy Old Man, each with their own particular twist: anger, frustration, contempt, indifference and a rich life. Let’s explore them individually.
The Grumpy Old Man is, of course, angry. His anger, however, is not your everyday, run of the mill anger; if it was, he’d just be an Angry Old Fella. Everyday anger is a surface emotion: a car is tailgating – you get angry, a car cuts you off – you get angry, a car honks the horn at you for absofuckinglutely nothing, what, can’t I just slow down in the fucking rain to make a left turn without killing anyone? – you get angry. The thing about this sort of anger is that it’s very intense in the moment, then it disappears without a trace a few minutes later. The Grumpy Old Man doesn’t have time for this sort of distraction. The anger that resides in him is deep, and is normally not caused by something that’s happened to him directly, but by something that hurts a much higher level of society, up to (and including) humanity itself. If aliens were attacking the planet, the Grumpy Old Man would most definitely be angry. Before Mr. Fermi can rest in peace knowing his conundrum was resolved however, there are plenty of things humanity is doing to itself to fuel the anger of the Grumpy Old Man several times over. The Grumpy Old Man is angered by pollution, by inequality, by the fact that obesity and famine are coexisting as leading causes of death around the world, by the abuse politicians exert over their gullible voters, by the gullibility of people in general, by corporate interests keeping most of the previous problems alive… you get the gist, a very righteous prick type. This anger simmers below the surface, and it doesn’t normally erupt unless the Grumpy Old Man is actually the Crazy Old Fool in disguise, in which case there will be a body count, the media outlets will be happy, and the hallowed status of the Grumpy Old Man will, once again, be tarnished and condemned to insult status.
The Grumpy Old Man’s anger doesn’t erupt, but it provides an everyday level of annoyance much higher than the normal individual’s. There’s no placid look of indifference on the Grumpy Old Man’s face, in place there’s a consistent scowl. The anger level doesn’t raise easily, but it never subsides.
The Grumpy Old Man has dreams and aspirations, much like mere mortals. His aspirations are, however, quite grandiose and involve some level of veneration by fellow humans as repayment. Despite the grandiosity of his dreams, the Grumpy Old Man hasn’t achieved much in life. Sure, by normie standards he’s accomplished, had a good job (I say “had” because there’s an implication of retirement in the “old” bit of the name), decent pension, owns his home and probably has some mode of transportation which he also owns entirely. The Grumpy Old Man, however, is not impressed by material things. He wants a form of success which involves recognition, admiration and respect from (if possible) mankind. He wants a statue of himself to be commissioned by no lower administrative level than national government, with a fierce bidding war eventuating in the statue being made for free, simply for the privilege.
He dreams of having saved a significant number of lives. No matter the nature of his job, the Grumpy Old Man wants to have saved lives. If he was an accountant, he would have discovered an attempt at fraud which would bring the undoing of a major corporation using forced labour in an impoverished African or Asian country, thus saving those people who would’ve ended up either taking their own lives or losing them in the infernal conditions. If he was a computer game developer, he would have planted a code in a computer game which would simply shut the whole thing down when users were active more than a few hours at a time, thus saving the lives of children neglected by their gamer parents, or even gamers who couldn’t end a session for fear of losing progress or the connection to their online friends/campaign partners.
Alas, the Grumpy Old Man hasn’t done anything like that. Even if he had a job like fireman, the Grumpy Old Man has possibly never saved a life, and probably spent his working life putting out car fires and responding to false alarms.
The Grumpy Old Man had big dreams and, for him, none of them came true.
This is probably the most important trait of the Grumpy Old Man. Contempt towards other humans is paramount and omnipresent. The Grumpy Old Man holds everyone to a very high standard, not only of morality but also of perfectionism in general. Good enough is not in his vocabulary in regards to other people. On the flip side, the Grumpy Old Man can’t, under any circumstance, see his own flaws, either because he doesn’t have time as he’s too busy noticing everyone else’s, or just by way of being human. Considering he’s lived with himself all his life, and the movie he’s playing in his mind remembering it all goes pretty well for the main character, it’s hard for him to accept that many mistakes were made; after all, if anything about his life would have been different, he wouldn’t be where he is, thinking what he does. By that measure, his life was perfect.
Fortunately, his contempt appears only when a misstep or omission happens, or when someone missed some very important piece of a puzzle, which would have, otherwise, made a difference in the outcome of a particular happening. His contempt never transforms into judgement because, unlike the Stupid Old Fart, the Grumpy Old Man is in the 10th percentile of the population from an IQ perspective, so he knows that forming an opinion about someone’s character based on limited information (or even a single event) is moronic and wrong. His contempt also never slips into anger, and the reason for that is simple: most times, the person making the mistake is also the affected one. Say, for example, that a guy loads a shopping bag with too many groceries, and the bag rips, spreading its contents all over the sidewalk. The Grumpy Old Man will feel contempt for that guy because who on this planet can’t tell when the tension in a plastic bag exceeds the maximum load that bag is capable of just by the way it feels in your hand? What made him put the fucking oranges in, everyone knows they’re dense and heavy and, even though the bag doesn’t seem full, those stupid oranges are weighing it down like cement blocks? And how can he not tell that the handles of the bag are stretched more than usual, and that they give a bit more with every bouncy step? Now all the groceries are on the ground, the stupid oranges have rolled under some parked cars and he’s left quite literally on his knees trying to gather everything and cradle the groceries like a baby to the car. He looks like a fool. Did he need to look like a fool? No, this could have been easily prevented, but his lack of basic citrus density understanding coupled with a lack of awareness towards the bag stretch event have made it so.
The Grumpy Old Man looks down on people, but only for perceived momentary stupidity and not as a matter of continuous principle.
While deeply caring about macro events which affect humanity, or his nation, or even his community, the Grumpy Old Man doesn’t care about small, everyday problems which for some people might be quite important. He really doesn’t care if Sandra up the road said Karen’s kids were dumb because she fed them oreos for breakfast and then Karen found out and said Sandra only says that because she’s envious of the fact that Karen can afford oreos and Sandra has to raise chickens in her living room and collect their eggs to have something to put on the breakfast table. The Grumpy Old Man despises pettiness, and truly believes that everyone should be left to their own devices as long as they’re not hurting anyone else (except when what they do is contemptible, in which case he indulges).
Most times though, the Grumpy Old Man just can’t be bothered with your shit.
A rich life
I know it seems odd to have a rich life as a requirement for the emergence of the Grumpy Old Man, but it is quite essential. Should his life not be full of experiences, good or bad, the Grumpy Old Man is nothing more than the Dumb Old Grunt (I don’t mean grunt), often the same as the Stupid Old Fart. One of the more frequently found alter egos of the Grumpy Old Man, the Dumb Old Grunts and Stupid Old Farts are those men who, having reached a respectful age, think they are wise despite the fact that they went through life with hardly any challenges and got to where they are mostly by luck and the help of others. Yes, white old middle class men do over-index in this group.
A perfect, real-life example of the Dumb Old Grunt is this gentleman who featured in a documentary I once saw. I should pre-empt this by saying that I have noted the point about being judgemental, but since I’m currently only aspiring to be a Grumpy Old Man, this is one of the areas which needs improvement for me.
The documentary is about this guy, white male, in his 70s, an ex-american soldier who defected to North Korea across the demilitarized zone during the Korean war. Just let that sink in for a moment. Someone, regardless of who he was or where he was from, ran across the most dangerous stretch of land in the world, to escape INTO North Korea. From what I can remember, this guy wasn’t a nice kid back home, got into some trouble before joining the army and once deployed to Korea he didn’t like the fighting thing too much so he decided to try his luck in the north. Once in North Korea, he became some sort of superstar, touted by the media as a symbol of the success and appeal of communism over capitalism. Now I’m not one to laud capitalism too much, but I can honestly say that the North Korean model is roughly 10th on a list of the best 5 types of government systems. So this guy got given a place to live, an oversized food, cigarette and alcohol ration, and this allowed him to develop quite a hefty, rotund frame. He was also given women, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He was married 3 times I think, and had some kids as well, but never came across as a loving man. He was featured in North Korean movies, usually as an American capitalist pig of some sorts, but (and my memory is not great here) I think he never did actual work of any kind. Safe to say, he had a breezy life once he defected, and this came across the entire documentary. He was loving it and loving the great leaders who made it possible. My problem with this guy isn’t what he did, as he hasn’t actually hurt anyone, but his demeanor in the documentary was that of a sage. He wanted to come across as this outlier genius, who was one of the few who saw the true light that guided him through his cosy life, except that he seemed to be reasonably dumb. I don’t mean the whole defecting to North Korea stuff, that’s pretty clear but at least it can be written off as a spur of the moment or an event driven by circumstance. No, this guy just seemed of below average intelligence. He didn’t say anything of value, his reasoning was at no point sound – especially when trying to justify his actions, and this was worrying because he had 50 years or so to get this story straight in his head. In 50 years, he couldn’t manage to make his story sound like anything other than that of a man of weak will, who was convinced by material gain to give up everything in his life and move to a place where, despite being treated like royalty compared to the majority of the population, he thought he lead a normal existence. He chose the easy life over struggle, and the easy life was only given to him because he was a former white American soldier. He had no accomplishments, no achievements, and was now using the voice this documentary gave him to make himself sound like something more than just an insipid, shallow person.
So there you have it, the quick and easy guide to The Grumpy Old Man. Throughout a man’s life, these traits are acquired at different points, which makes the journey hard and filled with the contempt of fellow men, and, in more extreme situations, hatred and disdain. This is why many men give up somewhere along the way, and get stuck in one of the less desirable variants of the Grumpy Old Man, which leads them down a most unsatisfying path. Hopefully there will be fewer of those now.