May 6, 2012


Today I did something I don't think I've ever done before.

I yelled at some people in a public place.

People I don't even know.

I think I was more shocked than the people I yelled at. It made me start to wonder if I'm turning into that angry old man who sends soup back at a deli. Is this how that begins? Just how do we transition to being difficult and crotchety?

Is it a gradual process? Or do we just wake up one day crotchety?

This is not at all like me. Or at least it hasn't been. I don't think I was crotchety yesterday.

I usually speak in a voice so quiet that people have a hard time hearing me. And I'm not the sort to chat up strangers easily, except as situations require. I make idle conversation in elevators, as the law requires, but other than that, I pretty much leave strangers alone.

I think today's yelling began at the crossing of the river.

I live near the river that was responsible for bringing hordes of people from all over the world to California about 160 years ago. Gold was discovered in the river, not too far from here, and the rest is fairly well-documented history.

A small village grew up on my side of the river, not too long after they found gold. And things have changed surprisingly slowly hereabouts since then. There are more people and houses now, but the place still has a casual and rural feel to it. There are small, meandering one-lane streets that lead to no place in particular. Most of those streets have no sidewalks. And there are chickens.

The chickens are the subject for another post, but the curious part is that the chickens are independent, belong to no one, answer to no one, go wherever they please, and yell at whomever they want to. Maybe I've become like our chickens.

Well, to get to where I ended up yelling in public at people I don't even know, I had to cross the river. And crossing that river is like travelling forward in time 150 years.

The other side of the river is much lower in elevation, prone to flooding, and over time had become a swampy, unsavory  morass of garbage dumps and junkyards. Until about 35 years ago, when urban planners, right-minded citizens, and greedy land grabbers decided it would be in their best interests if they cleaned the place up.

Which they did in a spectacular way.

They created one of the cleanest places you would ever want to see. It is now a model of model communities. Where garbage dumps and junkyards had been, arose a planned community where every last blade of grass is professionally managed and manicured. The people who live there now are well-manicured, too. Their dogs are manicured. Their houses are manicured. Their lawns and bushes and trees and gardens are manicured. You may not park a car on any of their manicured streets between the hours of twelve and six in the morning just so unmanicured vehicles will not start accumulating there.

It is all a bit surreal in an eerie and slightly frightening Tim Burton kind of way.

But it makes a great destination if you walk or jog for exercise, as all of those manicured streets are conducive to peacefully walking or jogging. And inevitably, there is a well-manicured shopping center there with a well-manicured Starbucks where all of the well-manicured people congregate. I say congregate because there are no churches there and I think the Starbucks serves as the church of the well-manicured people. At least, that's where they all go on Sunday mornings.

Call me perverse, but I like watching the well-manicured people in their well-manicured biking and jogging clothes with their manicured dogs and manicured children trying to impress one another in whatever well-manicured ways they can think of.

It's become a regular stop on my exercise route and I love going there with my wife for a cup of tea (has anyone noticed that Starbucks coffee isn't very good?) just to watch the show of manicured people in full display.

Well, I found myself in line with a throng of well-manicured people, waiting to order my cup of organically grown, artisanally brewed, and moderately overpriced tea, when the cashier called out for the next person in line to approach the altar - uh, I mean the register.

And it was at that moment that I came literally face to face with a cold, hard fact about the well-manicured people that I had until then found somewhat harmless and amusing.

The well-manicured people live in their own little world. They seem to recognize only themselves. Their own well-being is all that seems to matter to them. There may be other people on the planet, but the wants and needs and rights of those people do not seem to matter at all to the well-manicured people.

A knot of six or eight well-manicured people completely filled the space between me and the order taker (at a Starbucks, there may be half a dozen scurrying figures behind the counter, but only one is the designated order taker). The order taker called for the next in line, but none of the six or eight well-manicured responded. The order taker raised her voice and tried again. Again, no response.

None of these six or eight well-manicured people was actually in line to place an order. This was just a convenient place for them to gather to chat or text or browse the internet on their iPads or to model the latest in trendy designer jogging wear.

I finally realized that I was the next in line and so I said to three or four of the well-manicured people closest to me, "Are you in line?" I sort of already knew the answer to that, but this was my way of subtly suggesting that they unblock the way for those of us who were actually in line.

From the slack-jawed well-manicured people there was like, blankness, totally.

So I uncharacteristically raised my voice a notch and tried again. "Are You In Line?"

The well-manicured were like so not responding.

So it happened.

Not used to raising my voice, I may have overdone it.

"ARE     YOU     IN     LINE    ?????????"

echoed loudly through the already buzzing Starbucks.

A sudden rapt silence filled the Starbucks.

In the line that was not a line but a gathering of the well-manicured, conversations, texting, and iPadding stopped cold. Slackened jaws tightened. Eyes shot in my direction.

It was as if I had dropped my pants in public.

It was as if I'd shouted, "Fire!" in an eight-screen Dolby surround-sound Multiplex.

It was as if I had yelled, "There is no Jesus" at a Republican fund-raising event.

To add to the drama of the moment, I also had to physically push my way through the throng to get up to the register, as most of the slack-jawed, well-manicured people still weren't catching on that there were unmanicured people waiting in line, waiting to be in the space that they had filled up.

Somehow, I managed to place my order for a Grande mug of organic, herbal tea and a slice of banana walnut bread, as the usual buzz returned to the Starbucks.

But something had changed in me. I felt like I had become the angry old man who sends soup back at a deli. The world had become populated with the self-obsessed and the slack-jawed and the clueless, and I was the outsider.

Is it me? Has anyone else noticed that the self-obsessed and the slack-jawed and the clueless seem to be everywhere?

Or am I just getting old and crotchety?


  1. This stuff about coffee is above my comprehension level. Can you post a photo of a cleat hitch?



      Oh sorry, my anger management class doesn't start until Wednesday.

  2. Oh, and by the way, congratulations on the new theme of your blog. I thought that lady from England might have created the perfect niche with her blog about 'not sailing' and knitting. But you have gone one better with this new blog about 'not sailing' and crocheting. How do you do it?

  3. It's that pushy, East-coast nature coming out of hibernation and rearing its ugly head. And I don't condone guys getting manicures anyway.

  4. Tillerman, almost all of my posts are about sailing, but I often leave it to my readers to find the connection.

    Baydog, you may be right, but that's only half of it.

    The theme of this post is stress management, and what better way to manage stress than to go sailing? That's probably why I snapped at those people in line who weren't actually in line. It's been been far too long since I've been sailing.

    I think crotchet and crochet are another pair of words like yoga and yogurt. No one is really sure which is which.

  5. I'm lost. Which witch are we talking about?

  6. Are those oleander trees on the median?

  7. No, now that you mention it.

    While oleanders are everywhere around here, there are none of them anywhere in the manicured streets, parks, or gardens.

    It's a gated community, and only certain plants are allowed in. I guess oleanders didn't make the list. Maybe the management team is worried that the manicured people would eat the oleanders.

  8. "When I am Czar there will be no gates. It will all be walls."

    Random quote, probably remembered incorrectly, from some 1960's comedy show, possibly a Cambridge Footlights Revue.

  9. That was you who yelled at us while we were having a conversation about vacationing in the south of France. You're so mean!

  10. Sorry Joe, I don't know what happens to me when I don't get my organically grown, artisanally brewed, moderately overpriced herbal tea.

    Do you think they're putting something funny in it?

  11. Starbucks Barista, Store #666, Happyland, CA5/7/12, 6:58 PM

    As the presiding barista at the time, I reported this alarming incident to SBUX CCC (Caffeine Central Command). The indiscreet outsider, a tea-drinking sailor on furlough from the high seas, apparently "snapped" when he encountered our slack-jawed, well-manicured patrons who drink COFFEE, and its very high margin derivative drinks!!.

    For our happy and loyal flock, it was as if he had entered our caffeinated place of worship (store #666), and suddenly dropped trou!

  12. The gated community is certainly Stepford, with the technology applied to most of the population, not just the wives.

  13. Perhaps it was something to do with the Supermoon...I also had a strange angry moment on Sunday when I found myself snarling "WE ARE NOT GIRLS, WE ARE WOMEN" at a clubmate. And I am not one who is given to feminist diatribes and it was very weird to hear myself snarling those words.

    There's a gentleman by the name of Chris Raab who has a business called Tuktu Paddles. One of his lines of business is running paddlemaking workshop -if you can collect at least 6 people who are interested, he'll make customized blanks for each of you and then he'll bring the blanks and a truckload of hand tools to your location and guide you through the process of turning your bandsawed blank into a beautiful hand-finished Greenland paddle. Very cool, and very popular with the local clubs. He's done a few at Sebago that I wasn't able to join in on but this year I finally didn't have any schedule conflicts.

    We ended up with 7 participants - 6 women and one rather slightly-built guy.

    Chris was just getting everything laid out to get going when a clubmate came walking up to our group, took a cursory glance at the setup, looked at Chris and said "Teaching the girls carpentry today, huh?"

    I saw red.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Fortunately, he had the good sense to go away before the 2x4's got passed out.

  16. I'm thinking what a formidable force half a dozen trained paddlers would be, armed with 2x4's and driven by righteous indignation.

    Your antagonist was wise to leave when he did.

  17. I got into trouble with the chair of the US Olympic Sailing Committee a while back for referring to women keelboat sailors as "girls" on my blog. He went so far as to write an online rebuke to me (on Scuttlebutt I think.) I responded by posting several examples of where the girls in question had referred to themselves and each other as "girls."

    I guess it all depends on the intent of the speaker and whether they meant the word in a derogatory or demeaning way. Which, of course, was not at all what I intended.

  18. That's actually exactly why it felt so strange to find myself reacting the way I did. "Girl" is a funny sort of term. In and of itself, it's not something that bothers me. We used to joke about "All-Girl Crew Days" when I was working on the schooner - we had a pretty even split between the genders and it was pretty common for the scheduling to work out that the crew would be all female. I think if I were to post about some sort of personal paddling triumph on my blog and one of you gents were to say "Atta girl!" or something like that, I'd come back wiht a perfectly happy "Thanks!".

    I don't know whether he meant it to come across the way it did, but this guy's tone, and the way he addressed the question to the person he thought was the only male present, was straight out of "Mad Men".

  19. I do wonder how our slightly-built male felt about it...

  20. As it happens, the 'people' in my little docudrama were all women. But I took some pains not to mention that in the telling. I think that would have weakened my argument and distracted from the point I was trying to make.

    And it probably would have pissed off some women - you know how touchy they can be.

  21. I think the difference is that usually these days, "girls" does not infer some underlying assumption that the person being thusly referred to is automatically incompetent. This guy acted like the only files we could possibly have any experience with were nail files.

  22. Oops, O-docker, we were typing at the same time. Anyways, I totally didn't mean to turn this into some gender studies class, sorry - I was just laughing about a similar situation where I found myself being crotchetier than is my normal wont.

  23. Of course, I'm a girl, I'm supposed to crochet.


  24. Now the funny thing was a tiny bit earlier Chris had asked if any of us were "biters". We asked what he meant & he explained that the very first step was for us to draw guidelines on out blanks & that assuming nobody was going to bite, that would go faster if we held the rulers for each other. We all laughed & said no, we weren't going to bite.

    Five minutes later I was going all militant-feminist on this guy's okole.

    Six minutes later I looked at everybody else in the group sheepishly & said "ooops. maybe I am a biter after all..."

  25. I've always encouraged the conversation in the comments page to take whatever direction it will - as that's usually more interesting than what I have posted about.

    I think this is one of those rare blogs where the opinions in the comments page are consistently more clearly stated and better written than the posts.

    And I hope no one was seriously injured in the making of your kayak paddle.

  26. I was reading a story this week in the magazine that my son's college sends to alumni. It was about a professor teaching a course in product design. At one point he has one of the female teaching assistants "ride" a toy pony in front of the class. He asks the TA if her pony bites. She answers, "No." He then proceeds to pet the pony and then pretends that the pony bit him...

    "I thought you said your pony doesn't bite."

    "This isn't MY pony."

    The point being to make the students question assumptions. (I think.)

    Sorry. Thought you would like a story about biting. And product design.

    Perhaps that's the same reason Chris asked about biters?

  27. Ah, so this is where all the commentators have gone.

    O'Docker's blog is like the kitchen in a party - where everyone ends up.

  28. This is the best place in the blogosphere for comments. I think there might be a blog here somewhere too.

  29. The kitchen is where most of the misfits gather who have tired of making polite conversation. Who really cares if Keynesian theories are now obsolete? I want to know if anyone else thinks that Marcia Maplethorpe wore that short dress because she's tiring of her boyfriend and is looking for a replacement.

    It's where you can say what you really think about that hideous poster the host has hanging in the living room.

    And of course, it's also where you can mix your own drinks.

    1. All true (though please share with us some details on Martha?)

      You really hit the nail on the head with the last comment. Waiting for your busy host to notice that your glass is empty; too little ice in the glass when he/she does; a 2-finger pour instead of 3 or 4. DIY in the kitchen! Priceless.

      What say you, Joe?

    2. A good drink is 50/50, spirit to mixer. As a host, I make 'em that way for everyone unless otherwise instructed. In the kitchen. Does anyone use the other rooms?

    3. That's a good rule of thumb, Baydog. There is also the Yogi Berra rule: a good drink is ninety percent spirit and the other half is mixer.

      After I've been in the kitchen for a while, there is one other room that I use, and it is very small...

      ... though I will happily I stand in there returning the spirits I borrowed, while looking at the amusing poster the host has hanging above the WC.

    4. All the while holding on to the towel rack to keep from swayvin'.

    5. Indeed, and it being springtime (i.e., asparagus on the menu), the other hand is pinching the nostrils.

      ... but wait a minute, that leaves no hands on the...

      Oh, so THAT'S what the neatly pressed guest towel is for.

    6. Try a clothespin and save the towel. On your nose that is...

    7. You party-loving americans could learn a thing or two about tried-and-true plumbing fixtures

      ... granted there's no towel rack.

  30. Was Marcia hitting on me or was that my imagination? And yes that poster is hideous. How many margaritas shall I make?

  31. This is so funny! Love the post!

  32. T and M, thanks for stopping by O Dock.

    If you're going to leave comments like that, you can come back as often as you like.

  33. Can you please stop this annoying habit of publishing just one brilliant post every month or so, punctuated by total silence in between them. Stop being a snob; start publishing a hastily written crap post every day or so like real bloggers do. You are making the rest of us look bad.

    1. Or do what I do. Post hastily written crap once a month, punctuated by photos

  34. This token blogging may have to go on for another six weeks or so until I leave the tedious routine of work behind me.

    It may go on beyond that, as I intend to spend at least the first week of retirement just sitting on my deck with a bottle of wine, staring at trees for hours at a time without thinking once about file servers or databases or whining computer users, just because I can.

    And be careful what you wish for. I may start posting about basil again.

  35. This talk of retirement has been going on for some time now, O Dock. Are you procrastinating?

    BTW - "a bottle of wine" will just last you through lunch on your first day. A full case for your first week is more like it! ... and probably more if the missus is there staring at the trees too.

  36. That's the thing about a job - you're always on someone else's schedule.

    Before I can get my mojo working, I've got my working, Mojo.

  37. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the blog posts you didn't write than by the ones you did. So throw off the lines that tie you to Twitter. Sail away from the safety of Facebook. Catch the RSS feeds in your sails. Blog. Dream. Discover."

  38. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

  39. oooooh! partytime, again!
    where you wearing your viking horns when you made your inquiries?

    1. I need to be very careful not to wear my horns there.

      In that neighborhood, if you have horns they think you are a Democrat.

    2. DNC Super Pac (...but don't call us that)5/22/12, 7:02 PM

      Dear future retiree - Let's chat. Can we talk privately?

  40. ... not to mention a pointy tail.

  41. Of course, the professor borrowed the biting pony gag from the Pink Panther Strikes Again's Inspector Clouseau.
    Clouseau: Does yer dewg bite?
    Inn Keeper: No
    Clouseau: Nice Doggy (bends down to pet a dachshund - it snarls and bites him)
    I thought you said yer dewg did not bite!
    Inn Keeper: Zat... iz not my dog!
    ( )

  42. Could well be Pat. Shall I report him to the Academic Ethics Board for plagiarism?