It’s not that kids are irritating, or even that I don’t understand them. It’s mostly that kids, regardless of how delightfully cute or endearingly funny they can be, serve as an ever-present reminder of how painfully awkward being a child was in Walker, Minnesota. Home towns are silly that way, too, at least in this neck of the woods. Every time I return to the City on the Bay—the water tower’s words, not mine—I feel so oddly adolescent. I feel like I’m going through puberty all over again. I get sweaty, struggle to speak, and frequently find myself saying “wow, that wasn’t there before!” In many ways, entering this little city is just a stream of flashbacks, of repressed memories, of secrets and lies woven into the fabric of growing up. Dairy Queen is still around, but they have touch screen computers now; The Village Square still serves the best pizza, but the menu looks different every year; and the casino is still loud and colorful as ever, but the parking lot is fuller and fuller each time the stoplight changes from red to green.
But that’s sort of the nature of life, right? Places change, people change; friends move on, tourists become locals. Change is inevitable, in same way that love and sorrow and grief and joy are inevitable. You accept that everything is capable of happening, and that everything, indeed, does happen.
So it’s not surprising that being home this time around is full of little changes, of alterations barely noticed. Zona’s is closed on Mondays for now. This is neither awesome nor helpful. How am I supposed to marathon drink over spring break without my favorite bar open twice a week? I swear things have never been worse! My mom and dad have their own new homes, both of which are superb and absolutely fitting for each of them. Scout is a little grayer in the face and her shoulder rarely fails to bother her. Mambo still has one eye, but at least her leg is back to functional. Lucee is whiter, a little slower, but thinner than I remember her being. The speech team has lost anyone I recognize, I’ve grown too old to know any of the young blood that’s tearing up the circuit in the northland.
But, if there is one change that seems to be prevalent in my own life, as of recent, it is this: Josh Plattner is a newly minted asshole!
I know, I know. Pish-posh, right?! Me, an asshole? Pardon?! At the risk of sounding like the very word I am trying to deny, I am nothing if not positively wonderful to be around and in demeanor. Asshole? Ha! I couldn’t be one if I tried.
(That last statement probably throws up a red flag for most of you. Yes, I can be an asshole, and I have been one before, but I really don’t think that if I tried to be one that I could pull it off. Whenever asshole-mode-Josh comes out, it’s not because I’m trying. It just sort of happens. Ugh…that totally sounds like I AM an asshole, but I promise I’m not. Not completely. But, hey, we all have our moments, yeah?)
I don’t think I’ve ever been seriously called an asshole in all of my 21 years of life—not seriously, anyway; friends can joke, people tease, etc. But within ten days of each other, I have been called an asshole with the intention of actually labeling me as, you guessed it(!), an asshole. So being the smartass that I often am, I just had to look up what qualifies being an asshole on the Internet’s most trusted website for realistic definitions: UrbanDictionary.
Here are a few of those definitions:
1) Your current boss.
2) Someone being rude, arrogant, obnoxious, or just a total dickhead…
3) An inconsiderate, arrogant, uncaring, selfish, borderline sadistic, apathetic, mean, spiteful, dishonorable, bastard of a man who could tempt the Pope into a fight.
Now, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but really? Really?
I am no one’s boss, let alone the person in charge of the two gentlemen who think I’m an asshole. Though, currently, I cannot help but think how wonderful it would be to actually be in charge of their employment. Oh, the maliciousness!
I am rarely rude or arrogant, and never a total dickhead. Obnoxious? Yeah, probably, I’m loud and weird all the time, but, contextually, I think we can agree that I slip passed this one too.
If anything, I am too caring, too willing to invest in others. I’m not spiteful, dishonorable, or sadistic, and I certainly would never attempt to fight the pope. (Although…that’s a funny image right? I would totally take that hat thing after I broke his feeble, feeble knees and wear it around my house.)
If anything, the closest definition of “asshole” I came across, the one that gets closest to yours truly is this little gem:
An obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered male who women can't seem to get enough of.
If you get rid of two of those adjectives, I am, indeed, an asshole! Most of me believes that this definition was just poorly sorted. It probably just belongs under the heading:
Don’t even pretend I’m wrong.
Tangents aside, I have been called an asshole twice in ten days! More importantly, both of the people saying it meant it! To be fair, the first instance was in a fit of rage from my ex that quickly subsided when he checked himself. (Sometimes we need to be read, need to hold up that mirror!)
The second instance happened just this afternoon. With that said, I’d like to tell you a little story. I think it’s a good’n.
I finished my book just in time for a family of five to walk in, order some ice cream, and talk quietly amongst themselves about what a quaint, comfortable little town Walker is. (For those not in the know, ‘quaint’ and ‘comfortable,’ when used by tourists or passingthroughs, mean ‘boring’ and ‘uneventful.’) I was on the verge of tears when they came through the door—my book was that good—and when I set Beatrice and Virgil down, I accidently knocked the book off of my table. When the book flopped onto the tile, and because I often forget that I am in public where people can hear, view, and respond to my insanity, I loudly said: “Yann Martel! What are you doing on the floor? You get back up here.”
I realized the family was watching me. The two youngest children, around 6 and 10, giggled because I was a) using an odd voice, and b) taking to myself. I smiled and picked up my book, and then started the second novel I had brought to the coffee shop. As I siftedged through the slippery pages of Skippy Dies, the children that had been laughing earlier decided that asking me an enormous amount of questions would be a better use of their time than mowing down there chocolate shakes.
“How old are you?”
“What are you doing?
“Can I trade my drink for your computer?”
“Are you reading?”
“Is your favorite color blue?”
“What’s your name?”
Instead of humoring them with answers, I would shake or nod my head, keeping my eyes glued to the pages of my freshly started novel. When they asked for my name, I looked up and said, “Josh.”
And they laughed! Is that really all it takes to make children laugh? Speaking? Maybe my name sounds funny to young ears. I guess I never thought of Josh as chuckle-worthy. Mostly it’s commonplace, a little boring. I even tried to switch what people called me my freshman year by introducing myself with my middle name. Alas, Leo never stuck. Wah wah.
Anyway, they were loudly commenting on the rainbow sticker I have on the back of my laptop and its “JUST WEAR IT” counterpart in the shape of a condom—do kids really know what those are at that age? Seriously, I would have been like, “look, it’s a wand!” or “wow, that’s an odd hat!” But these boys knew what a condom was, which sort of impressed me. But then the oldest one said:
“I use condoms ‘cuz I’m gay and weird and gross.”
Here’s a look at what went through my mind:
But then I realized, his dad and mom are both listening, surely they will say something. And, they did.
“Hey, boys, leave him alone. He’s working. Mind your language.”
I was impressed. Good work, dad! I thought.
The kids continued to pummel me with questions as I pecked away at my keyboard, editing some short pieces of writing I had done earlier over the weekend.
“Where are you from?”
“Do you have friends?”
“What are you typing?”
“Are you a writer?”
“Who is your favorite pokemon?”
Oddly, I only responded to two of them.
“I am typing some stories, and my favorite pokemon is Starmie.”
They giggle again.
As their father is getting up, I step away from my table and take out my earbuds so that I can scamper off to the bathroom. As the dad passes me he says: “Sorry that my kids are bothering you, they can be a bit much.”
“Not at all,” I say with too much Minnesota Nice. “They’re not bothering me.”
“Well they should be. They’re annoying and can be a bit obnoxious.”
“Nah, they’re just being creative,” and I mean it. I think it’s important that kids ask questions and act silly. But, then, I say: “No reason to squash their creative energy.”
At this point he turns and looks at me sternly, and I get sweaty and lose the ability to speak and suddenly I think I am pubescent all over again. (There really is something about this town, I think…) He is clearly upset. “Are you saying that I’m doing something wrong?”
I laugh to ease the tension, “Haha! Oh, no, not at all. I just would hate for them to feel punished for being creative and inquisitive.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my kids, buddy.” I’ve never been called buddy by an angry adult. It really is the strangest thing to be called when someone is becoming argumentative. I can’t help but laugh.
“Yeah, because that’s what I’m doing, I’m attacking your parenting.” I roll my eyes and then suddenly remember that not everyone knows me well enough to wade through the sarcasm that I feel flooding out of my mouth.
“And what would you know about parenting? How would you know how to take care of kids?” He is asking these questions in a series of quiet yells. It’s that way of speaking that sounds really loud to you and the other person, but no one else has any idea that there’s even a problem. Not that there is anyone around anyway…we’re the only six people in the non-restaurant portion of the shop. “How would you know anything about setting an example for your children?”
And, because I am me, I reply: “I know you’re setting quite the example right now.”
I don’t think he liked that.
“Listen, asshole…” but I cut him off.
“Asshole? This from the guy who thinks creativity is bad for kids and yells at strangers in public.”
Well that seemed to hit a nerve or something because the gentleman got rather huffy and puffy and blew out a significant amount of hot air and turned to his wife and children to say: “We’re heading out. Let’s go.”
The bells above the door eventually stop jingling and I stare through my computer screen into the blustery outdoors where snow and ice have built up around the window panes. I am flabbergasted for about a year as I sit there thinking about what just happened, replaying the conversation over and over in my head. I can’t decide if I was wrong or not in snipping away at his comments, but I debate the situation for some time.
I ask myself: What just happened?!
Eventually, I come to the same conclusion as the children, the ones that were so full of questions just moments earlier: