I won't tell you the teenager I was conversing with. We were talking about a grownup we both knew, one who was very active in the community. The youngster simply said, "Why does she have to be such a douche?"
I realize that the douche appellation isn't a pretty one, but I can think of many worse. Or at least overly elongated and bluer.
However, the young man's words rang true. Said woman was one of the most pompous, chest-puffing, uniformed, credit-absorbing, long-winded, mike-grabbing, abusive, brain-addled, self-important people I have ever met. In a more economical format: a douche. A grownup douche, or GD.
So I started doing some math, recalling the 8,927 douches I have met in my life. I realized virtually all of them are grownups. Kids can be ill-behaved, cantankerous and intractable. But it takes years—sometimes decades—to become a dyed-in-the-wool, authentic douche.
It's easy to identify celebrity douchebags: Kanye West, That Plumber Guy, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, plus various Jersey Shore people and Kardashians.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. QED.
But the small-time douches, they're the ones who give me the grist for my mill today.
By far, the epitomes of douchiness are volunteers. They demand salaams, kowtowing, trophies, logoed wear ... you name it.
One such person was livid after an event because the poobahs had spelled her name wrong in the program book.
Giving a person a reflective vest or a shirt that says "SECURITY." All bets are off. Such accessories can magically bring out the douche in grownups—sometimes within minutes. Mild-mannered Mr. Meeks, the local florist, can become a fire-breathing, Camp Lejeune maniac once you put him charge of parking for the Mildwood Crocus Festival.
I was trying to navigate my way around an elaborately labyrinthine high-school lot at a band show, when Mr. Grimace pointed at me to pull over. The big cheeses had given this guy a vest AND a hat. Whoa. He looked as if he had been ridden hard and put to bed wet. Of course, as in most things in life, I saw this as an opportunity for humor.
Grimace: "YOU CAN'T PARK THERE!" I had not an inkling where there was.
I said, "I bet I can. I am an expert at car-parking. Do you mean I shouldn't park there? I'm confused?" I awaited bomb-sniffing canines and a parental SWAT team.
"READ THE SIGN!" I had missed a hand-drawn sign. Looking back at it, I noticed the placard was fraught with poor penmanship and myriad arrows. One pointed skyward for "VENDERS."
I said, "I am not fluent in Farsi. But it seems as if you are angry with me. Why is that?"
"WE HAVE RULES HERE! Y'KNOW THAT BUDDY?"
"I have a deep-seated doubt that we are buddies, officer. Howsabout I park in the principal's spot, since he won't be here today?" With that I departed and found a remote lot. As I drove away, I could see his visage almost match his day-glo raiment.
Having been a Little League umpire for three decades gave me a front-row seat for parental GDs. To wit:
- A grownup yelling "SEE YA!" every time his kid struck someone out.
- A large contingent of GDs booing an intentional walk.
- An administrator screaming at kids before a big game for a faulty catcher's mask.
- My crew once needed a police escort from a game. Parents and coaches alike lined our egress in the parking lot, saying unkind words and making derisive gestures. All over a balk call I had made.
Sad to say, some teachers (a minority of them) can be douches of the highest water. One middle-school teacher spoke to us on parent night. All she did was present a course syllabus. She didn't utter a word about how she would conduct her job. I corrected all the grammatical and spelling mistakes on the paper and handed it back to her at the end of the session.
I know a school principal who, at the annual Memorial Day Parade, sits in a shady spot right before the end of the parade and then jumps into the line of march, in front of her band.
I knew a kid who became a career rent-a-cop. I saw him. dressed for work, with a tool belt full of scores of gadgets and gewgaws. I noticed a taser and some chipotle spray (he worked in a suburban town that had obviously needed a more upscale method of incapacitating malefactors) among his impedimenta. He muttered, "Friggin' cops wouldn't take me, 'cuz they said I flunked the psychological test." His glazed gaze was foggy and feral. I fled.
Once a municipally employed, armed cop pulled me over on a quaint country byway. He was fully armed and Kevlared. He had his hand on his sidearm as he asked for my stuff. I had no idea what I evil I had wrought.
"Your emission sticker has expired."
I kept my hands on the wheel and looked straight ahead as he wrote the ticket. I may have scowled.
"You got somethin' to say to me, buddy?"
I thought, here we go with the buddy shit again. I gave a negative motion with my head.
"Cuz if you've got something to say, say it now."
A slew of wisecracks careened in my bean. I think my best one was, "Say, do those wooden bullets actually hurt?" But, for one of the few times of my life, I shut my Krimpet-hole.
A few days later, I told the story to a Bridgeport cop. A real cop—the kind who get shot at and apprehend tattooed, sketchy perps. The cop said, "Wow. What a douche."
I do have a superlative in the GD category. This woman reigns as the pope of all douches. I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone who comes in second. I think she looked into the mirror every day and snarled at herself.
And she was a band chaperone for both of my daughters. First off, she bedecked herself in all sorts of related paraphernalia. Her band jacket was festooned with her name (I'll just call her Lucifress), her title and six dozen patches, all relating to what the kids had accomplished.
To boot, she looked like a character Kafka had created after a tiff with his Frau. Or a bridge troll. Or a Star Wars cantina habitue. One of those. Or all.
It didn't take me long to tangle with Lucifress. At Grace's first gig, an exhibition at a corps show, I was the emcee. I made sure to arrive early to wish her luck. The kids were huddled in a circle with their director (who could also, I learned, stick his chest out fairly well) so I avoided the group. Finally, my daughter and some mates headed toward the lavatories.
I pulled alongside the waiting line and briefly said my piece. I recall how proud I was to see her on the field for the first time.
Then Lucrifress swooped in, like a cormorant on a bunker. No greeting, just scolding.
"YOU CAN'T TALK TO HER!" Here we go.
I walked away, but she followed. "YOU KNOW WE HAVE RULES HERE! SHE'S WITH THE BAND AND CAN'T TALK TO ANYONE." For a moment, think of the most annoying and insulting tone in which you've ever been addressed.
I said, calmly, "Well, she happens to be my daughter, and as long as she's not in formation, I'll talk to her whenever I please."
"I'LL GET THE HEAD CHAPERONE, AND WE'LL SEE ABOUT THIS!" She was snarling by now. Flecks of ichor seemed to spew from amber teeth.
I said, "Look, whoever you are. Here's a newsflash: You are not my boss. I have to go to work now. Better yet, let's consult with this cop over here and see if he'll let me talk to my daughter."
Lucrifress waddled away. I think I could see steam emanating from the brim of her official "I'm Somebody" cap.
We tangled numerous times after that. Natch, she became the head chaperone the next season. I wanted to steal her jacket and re-embroider it with "Head Douche." Never got to it. She rode my daughters hard, finding fault with them constantly.
At the beginning of one season, a band parent called and asked me to volunteer my services. I immediately asked if Lucifress was still on staff.
He said, "No, thank God. She was a douche."
I said, "I'm in."
I often wonder what this woman must think—as if her Lilliputian brain allowed such effort—since she lorded over hundreds of kids, all of whom despised her.
Grownups of the world: I realize it's tough bring a grownup. There are multiple responsibilities and sacrifices. We can't find the time, the money or the help for what we need to accomplish.
But sooner or later, we learn to cope. I wish you all luck in such coping.
Just don't be a douche.
- Don't expect praise from on high; be happy in any success to which your hard work may have contributed.
- If you are in charge of kids, don't speak to their parents the way you you hector your charges; if fact, don't treat the youngsters that way, either.
- You may find this fantastic, but not everyone in the world is interested in your opinion.
- A uniform makes you a person in uniform, not a demigod.
- Leave the trophies, jackets, awards and wonderfulness to the kids who actually earned these accolades.
- If you shut up for a minute, you will actually learn from people younger than you; they are oftentimes wiser—and rarely are they douches like you.