After five years of living in Maryland, I was called an asshole by an elderly woman the other day. On the second day of college, I was called an asshole by a guy playing the piano in our dorm’s lounge. So I must be maturing. Of course, these stats only count being called an asshole to my face: as the Bife sweetly pointed out, I’ve probably been called an asshole loads of times behind my back.
Back in college, I really was being an asshole—see, I have matured. Jimmy was playing the piano while the TV showed the Giants playing the Cubs in a one-game playoff to be the Wild Card team. So I thought it would be appropriate if Jimmy could imitate an organ and play the “Charge!” music while the Giants batted. He tried, I corrected him since he’d evidently never been to a baseball game before; he tried again, I corrected him again, and then he finally said, “Has anyone told you how much of an asshole you are?”
Okay, technically he didn’t call me an asshole, but merely alluded to it. I guess I could’ve left him alone, and I certainly could’ve avoided correcting his piano playing: I probably should’ve avoided saying repeatedly “That’s not how they do it on TV! They use both hands!” since I know nothing about music. So I guess I was an asshole. The Giants lost the game too, and I blame that asshole Jimmy and his goddam inability to play “Charge!” correctly—so much for being mature, I guess.
Eventually in college I became a humor columnist for the newspaper, giving me more opportunities to be called a sphincter, though not for my writing like you would expect. At one newspaper party I did deserve to be called an asshole. This one girl thought she had comedy gold: she spent at least ten minutes “amusing” people with her theory that anal sex should be called “German birth control.” After a few bottles of wine and hearing her act again, I famously had enough, and yelled at her “I’m paid to be funny, and you should just shut the fuck up!” My friend Debby told me the next day that I was essentially a big asshole. Deservedly so, I feel.
But last week, for the first time in my life, I got called an asshole totally undeservedly. Because it was raining on the day the kids had the day off from school, our plans for the zoo were scuppered. So I decided the best place for kids who had been cooped up all morning and were about to kill each other was hanging out in a library instead.
We walked in like we normally do, which means the kids went into the kids’ room while I returned books. At the return desk I put my books on top of the shortest stack of books already on the desk. When I’d finished, this older woman turned to me and loudly complained, “Sir! You put your books on top of the ones I was going to check out!”
Ever the nice guy, I said, “I’m sorry. This is the return desk, so I thought they were being returned.”
The lady looked at me like I was stupid enough to not know how to return books properly.
“You shouldn’t make such assumptions like that,” she said.
Usually I am adverse to confrontation, but there was just something in this woman’s tone that suggested that I was so completely in the wrong—when I clearly wasn’t—that I just couldn’t let it go.
“What?” I asked. “I shouldn’t assume that books on the return desk are being returned.”
“No,” she said. “You shouldn’t make assumptions that this is for returns.”
For a split second, I even thought that I could possibly be wrong, so I checked for signage. And there, right above our heads, was a large rectangular sign, white letters on a teal background, reading “RETURN.”
I experienced a short little burst of glee because I would deliver the finishing blow. Just like I imagine every presidential candidate does while winning a debate, I even got aroused in the excitement of being right.
“So, this sign saying ‘RETURN’ doesn’t mean you return books here? Instead you check books out under the sign reading ‘RETURN’? Got it.”
She was fuming. Honestly, I only gloated for a second before I heard her say, “Yes, asshole,” she said, just loud enough for me to hear it, but not the librarians sitting four feet away from us—coincidentally under a similarly large sign reading “CHECK OUT.”
There you have it. One time sorta being an asshole, one time definitely being one, and this time, where I wasn’t the asshole. For the first time I was innocent. Though just to be sure, as we left, I later took a picture of the sign with my phone just to prove my innocence in a court of Facebook. Though, as my friend Adam pointed out, there is probably an older woman posting about the asshole who tried to bury her books at the library. But she’d be wrong.
I’ve finally learned that there is no reason to pick fights with old ladies, but when you do, play to win. And winning, know when to exit gracefully: instead of responding to her, I just turned and walked into the kids’ room, looking for my kids that I know love their daddy, whether he’s an asshole or not.