It's Official. I'm that old man.
I wasn't sure I'd crossed the line into "that old man" territory until today, when I went shopping with the missus.
A young family was in the store. When I say "young," I mean younger than me. She was a single mom with two kids, one being a teenage daughter and the other a pre-teen boy. I'd put their ages at about thirteen and ten, respectively.
The girl was cutting up, and when I say "cutting up," I mean she was being a royal pain in the ass, grabbing things off the shelves and shoving them at her brother, making noise, and being generally disruptive. Every minute or so, I'd hear her mother say brilliant words of wisdom, such as, "Elizabeth Renee, you put that down!" or "Elizabeth Renee, you stop that!" But it seems Elizabeth Renee was having nothing to do with obeying her mother. She was having too much fun bullying her brother and making noise in the store.
It didn't take me long to get annoyed. For one thing, I hate shopping with the passion of a thousand flaming suns. I dislike being around crowds in general, and crammed in with a crowd in a closed space like a small store, I get a little claustrophobic. For another thing, where I come from, when my middle name came out of my mother's mouth, it meant I had about four seconds to settle my hash, or suffer the wrath of Almighty God in the form of a warm bottom. But what pushed me over the top was the fact that this girl had grabbed a rubber ball from a store shelf (one which she apparently had no intention of buying) and was in the process of pummeling her little brother with it in her clenched fist.
I'm sorry, folks, that Strike Three. As I passed them in the aisle, I told the girl, "Young lady, in my house, that behavior would have you turned over my knee, I don't care how old you are." I pointed to the woman and said, "That lady is your mother. You respect her!"
The store went quiet. Too quiet. That kind of quiet that means something significant has just happened. Either the Children of Israel were going to feast on manna tonight, or the floor was going to open up and spew forth zombies any second. The girl dropped her ball and stared at me, jaw dropped open like Wile E. Coyote had just seen the Roadrunner in full afterburner. The boy stooped dead in his tracks. The mother was a mirror to the daughter.
Now, to be honest, I was expecting some kind of positive response. Maybe a murmured"Thank you," or at least a silent look of relieved gratitude But instead, the mother, after a moment of shocked silence, launched into me about how her daughter was only kidding, and why didn't I just go somewhere else and mind my own business?
I said nothing further, to my credit. I clamped my face shut and continued my search for sandwich-sized ziplock bags. Whatever would get us the hell out of there sooner. I didn't tell the woman she was raising disrespectful little bullies who had no concept of how to behave in public, and if she behaved like white trash that's all she'd ever be. I let her go to the store manager and complain all she wanted.
Let her. I don't care anymore.
Then it occurred to me that old men tend to be that way. We've lived by others' rules for our entire lives, been told when to sit down, when to stand up, where to go, what to do, what to eat when and where to eat it. We're told we're the problem the world is having, because we have to watch the rights and freedoms our fathers and grandfathers fought and shed blood for, stripped away one by one. We hurt everywhere, from treating our bodies as tools, as weapons, as playthings in our youth.
We know we're running out of time, and the youth of this generation grow up with less and less respect for the wisdom we've learned the hard way. We see a world turning more crazy by the minute. The leaders who used to make decisions in concert, have turned themselves into a new brand of nobility to turn our representative republic into an oligarchy ruled by the intellectual elite who have done nothing with their hands, never earned an honest dollar in their lives, and pass laws for blue collar citizens they would never dream of enforcing upon themselves.
So that little freedom we still have, we guard with jealous, reckless abandon. Our home is still our castle. That little green postage stamp we call a lawn is sacrosanct, a symbol of our fading liberty.
But we remember our halcyon days, of climbing unclimbable walls, of running faster, of working harder, of fighting with our very lives for the peace that you all enjoy.
So us old men, we get carried away sometimes. You can laugh at us as the grumpy old codgers we are. You can dismiss our advice on the better, smarter we we've learned to do that. You can roll your eyes in impatience as we make our painful way down the aisle toward the checkout line in front of you.
But what we do have is still ours. And that, young 'uns, is where the line is drawn.
Get off my lawn!
It doesn't mean I dislike your company. It doesn't even mean I don't want you on my grass. It just means I've had enough, and whether you disrespect your mamma in the grocery store, or you carelessly blunder across my new-mown grass with your dirt bike, you're being given the equivalent of your middle name.
Which means you have abut four seconds.