It would seem I have become a curmudgeon. This brings me neither shame nor pride at this point in my life, it simply seems to be a fact.

Curmudgeonliness has never been a goal. Under my senior picture in my high school yearbook (Roosevelt High School, Yonkers, N.Y., 1966 L’Envoi), it does not say, “Longs to be a curmudgeon by the time he’s in his middle 60s. Would settle for grouch, but aims for loftier heights.”

Under that picture, though, it did say something about a red-hot flair for writing. That was amazing in and of itself, since I had written maybe two stories for our school newspaper, The Crimson Echo, both of which I remember as being pretty rotten. One, I recall, was a story about a Roosevelt Indians (Indians! Yikes!!) football game that I wrote in the fall of 1965 with access to neither a roster nor any real idea of how American football worked. I’m sure there was no lack of enthusiasm, but I doubt that even people who were at the game gained any sense from it.

Having realized my curmudgeonly status, however, I also must say that I believe the heyday of the curmudgeon has passed. As a kid, wasn’t there someone on your street everybody called old Mr. or Mrs. Fuddyduddy? It was the person who left their lights off on Halloween and yelled at you if you went onto their property to retrieve an errant toy. And if you employed that time-honored manner of getting even — ringing the doorbell and running away — they did indeed call your parents.

Now, though, things have changed so much that someone like that would be reported to the police the first time they yelled at a kid on their lawn.

Anyway, regardless of what else it means, I am a curmudgeon with a thick skin and a chewy center made up of annoyances, short-temperedness, perceived slights and no real arena in which to display my curmudgeonly ways. Back in the day, many of us lived in a well-defined neighborhood. So a curmudgeon could be old Mr. Wilson down the block, or maybe Old Mrs. Hart, who didn’t seem to have one, from around the corner.

I get less sense of neighborhoods now, especially when we can get in contact with anyone in the world without leaving our house or play games with others in any country we chose.

But, this isn’t one of those, “Why, in my day…” sorts of things. I’m just realizing I’m a curmudgeon out of time. This has nothing to do with my having cancer, by the way — unless it does. Or my constant stomach pain. I don’t think so, but I’m coming to realize that chronic conditions can have an overwhelming effect on a person and their peace of mind.

I can’t even point to an increase in the number of people who seem to find me cranky or crankier than usual. But, then, why do I find almost every living creature on God’s green earth annoying? Of course, I don’t mean you; I mean everyone else.

Although, if I’m being truthful, “everyone” is probably a bit of an overstatement. My children and Sheri are exceptions, though they do ruffle my kerfuffle at times, but usually with reason. The general curmudgeonliness, though, comes from nowhere.

You can’t do anything to not annoy me. For example, all that breathing — in and out, in and out — that you’re doing. You need to stop that. It’s annoying.

When I’m in this state, like now, every interaction with another person, at least in my head, begins with, “Shut up. Just shut up.” But, I keep that to myself so people will not know whether that’s what I’m thinking or if I’m actually thinking something nice, or not thinking at all. It’s better than opening my mouth and removing all doubt.

My being a curmudgeon is actually like my multiple myeloma. At this point it’s incurable, but it is treatable. I’ll always have multiple myeloma, and, as it appears now, I’ll always be curmudgeonly. But, I don’t always have to act out. I can be a curmudgeon in remission.

Or as my kids used to sometimes say about the curmudgeon on our street when they were growing up: “Mr. Marshall must be having a good day today. He yelled at us to get off his lawn, but he didn’t throw anything and he didn’t threaten to call you, dad.”

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.

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