Published July 14, 2011
By Bettina Huseby
The married couple next door hadn’t seen me in quite awhile. They were afraid that living alone had made me nuts, just because I talk to myself and kiss dogs square on the mouth.
So the husband rang my doorbell and said point-blank it was time for me to start dating. He told me to “friend” him on Facebook first, and look at pictures of all his “friends.” If I saw one I liked, he’d introduce us.
My neighbor is a fireman, so I felt pretty sure I’d like his “friends.” Firemen are usually big, with big hearts and even bigger moustaches.
The late, great Lewis Grizzard was having his own moustache trimmed when his barber explained why moustaches don’t bother most women: “They don’t mind going through a little briar patch to get to a picnic.” I agree.
So I did what was asked and looked at all the pretty firemen on Facebook. One had a particularly nice Sam Elliot vibe, so I messaged him. We met for dinner.
At least, I think it was him. The man who greeted me at the door was completely clean-shaven. “Where is it?” I asked. “Where’s what?” He said. “Your moustache,” I answered. “Oh, that thing’s been gone for months!” He said.
I had a nice time, and he was good looking, no doubt. But he may have been disappointed with me. My Facebook photo was a quick self-portrait. I had to crop it tight to get the toilet bowl out of the background. So needless to say, Sam Elliot never called me again.
It’s awkward now, because the matchmaking couple next door is afraid to come outside. I haven’t seen them in quite awhile. We even take turns going to our mailboxes.
One day, when it was my turn to go, the mail lady had left me a catalogue. Guess what the cover said? “L.L. Bean men.” Now that was something I could use: a L.L. Bean Man. And it said they were “ … shipped for free … guaranteed to last … no minimum order.”
Well, heck. Facebook didn’t make promises like those. I began looking, but most of the Bean collection was too permanent-press for my taste: mama’s boys, all of ‘em, standing idle on front porches next to hunting dogs that won’t hunt. Bean did have a ringer on page 9, with tousled black hair and sun kissed olive skin. He wore the summerweight poplin shirt in blue plaid. It hung on him to perfection. So I decided to hang onto page 9 and place an order. Now my heart skips a few beats every time the doorbell rings. Soon the ringer from page 9 will be standing on my front porch, holding a picnic basket. I’m sure he’s on his way, because his poplin shirt got here yesterday.
You know, it’s sod but true.
Bettina Huseby is a Jasper resident and a grass widow (woman who is separated, divorced, or somewhere messy in-between).
At college, the joke was that my BA degree stood for Bad Attitude – this emanating from my habit of debating certain professors who were less of the Socratic method than the school of you-little-heathens-shut-up-while-I-deliver-this-lecture.
Even today, people say I have a bad attitude. I thank them – a genuine bad attitude having nothing to do with being unpleasant – and point out that somebody’s got to dispute our daffier cultural assumptions. Moreover, a bad attitude is indispensable to my moral code, filtering out the BS in order to get at the truth. Martin Luther King paraphrased Socrates on a person’s need to “rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis.”
Over time, BA anneals into a kind of minor courage wherein one is swashbuckler enough to twit the status quo and heretic enough to confront the various social myths.
So it is that when some smileface maven avers that I have a bad attitude, my heart smiles. The attitude travels with me, a lighthearted companion slightly drunk on intellectual ambition, sustaining me on the cutting edge of culture where all of us, know it or not, live. And where a healthy skepticism is essential if optimism is to endure.
Oh and one more thing – a kudo to the old school iconoclasts/cynics/ contrarians who blazed a trail of skepticism for the rest of us to follow. We disrespect you, your work, your traditions. We are in your spiritual debt.
The essential bad attitude -- published 2011
Moscow, 1884. It was obvious from the first vodka that Alexi Tolstoy had little truck with happiness in the American sense. “If you want to be happy, be,” he shrugged in that annoying way fatalists have.
Seeking to enliven the intellectual climate, I smashed my glass on the hearth in what I assumed was a symbolic rite.
Tolstoy groused peevishly that it was his best stemware and how happy would I be if he came to my house and smashed things?
“Gimme a break, Alex,” I told him. “A Russian – the original gloom culture – lecturing an American on happiness. Listen pal, Americans are happy because we know how. It’s a trait we cultivate.”
Alex pointed out that a bowl of potato soup could make a Russian happy, so who was better at it? I told him belligerently that I was 10 times happier than he could ever hope to be and how did he like that! He yawned and said it was fine with him, then, to spite me, told a joke – some vapid bêtise about a walrus from Murmansk.
I responded imprudently that his Uncle Leo’s novel War and Peace was interminable and had too many characters.
“You’ve read it?” he asked.
“Skimmed it. Got the gist.”
Actually I had no idea. “Don’t invade Russia in the winter?” I looked around for more vodka only to find that Tolstoy’s wife had hidden the glassware forcing me to swig from the bottle. “And one more thing: War and Peace needs a happier ending. Tell your uncle to read Chuck Dickens’ Christmas Carol – now there’s a happy ending.”
Tolstoy shrugged again. “If you want to be happy, be.”
Back on the train, I sulked most of the way to Warsaw. What would make me genuinely happy is to win just one argument with a fatalist.
The essential bad attitude -- published 2011
My rule of thumb is this: Live the little moments well and the big ones take care of themselves.
Like the cashier at the convenience store who caught me glancing through a tabloid while in line to pay for gas. As I offered up money for the tabloid, she looked both ways and whispered, “You don’t have to buy it; you can look at it and put it back.”
We grinned at one another in a moment of absolute understanding.
The next day, filing random thoughts, I didn’t remember the stories in the tabloid. But I remembered the lady at the convenience store. The subtext of life is actually the text, I decided. Or as someone put it, “It’s not how you behave on the dais when you’re being honored, it’s how you behave on the way to the ceremony.”
You and I are destined to dispense nobility in those odd, awkward asides where nobility and grace and meanness get defined. The thing is that for the very best stuff you ever do, nobody will hand you an award.