Thomas Wictor

My meandering belligerence

My meandering belligerence

About fifteen years ago, I used to listen to music on the radio. Easily the most annoying song in heavy rotation was “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” I couldn’t escape it. Someone produced a brilliant parody that I can’t find, but it contained the words “my meandering belligerence.” Someone must feel that way about my posts, because I just got sent a “take it easy” poem.

First, “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.”

I don’t know why, but I’ve never responded well to older people telling younger people how to live. Look at all the old losers out there—running countries into the ground, embezzling, making absolute fools of themselves in public…

And all the “advice” in “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” is from the Random Acts of Kindness School of Gimmickry. Are you old enough to remember when everyone was encouraged to pay the bridge toll of the person behind them or put money in parking meters? Nothing but superficial, self-aggrandizing schmaltz that doesn’t accomplish anything.

In around 2000 I was at a Jiffy Lube having everything done to my car: oil change, air filter change, transmission-fluid flush—the works. It was going to take an hour because there were so many customers. They had a lounge with a TV set, so I settled in. Almost immediately a crowd of about eight little boys came in. I gathered that some of their fathers knew the owner of the franchise, so the kids were allowed to come in and hang out. This was a Saturday.

The kids were all about eight or nine. Judge Judy was playing on TV.

One of the boys said to me, “Ooh, she’s scary.”

“Yeah,” I said. “She scares me too. I wouldn’t want to end up in her court.”

The kid laughed. After a few seconds, he said, “Can I ask you something?”


“How does ‘court’ work?”

“Well, what happens is that every city or state in the country has politicians who write laws. Police officers are given the power to make sure everyone follows the law. When you break a law, the police officer arrests you under what they call a ‘charge.’ That means the specific law you broke. A judge then decides if there’s enough evidence to send you to court, where a group of people called a ‘jury’ will decide if you’re guilty or not. The city or state has a lawyer who tries to prove that you broke the law, and your own lawyer defends you. The judge is like the referee in a basketball game, making sure that the rules are followed.”

All the kids had gathered around me. I was trying to be like this.

“What’s a ‘checking account’?” another one asked.

“A checking account is a way to keep your money safe in a bank. If you keep your money at home under your bed, someone might rob you. So you put it in the bank in what they call a ‘checking account.’ It’s kind of like a piggy bank, but they convert your money from cash into an amount. The bank sends you a ‘statement’ every month to show you that they’re keeping your money safe. They also give you a book of checks. When you go to the supermarket, you write on the check how much you want to give to the cashier. They send the check to the bank, and the bank takes out that much money from your account and gives it to the supermarket.”

“What’s a ‘credit card’?” another kid asked.

This went on for an hour. We talked about stoplights, how TV works, how car engines work, how food gets to the supermarket, how mail is sent, and how almost every other process takes place. They were like little sponges, absorbing everything.

When my car was ready, one kid said, “I don’t want you to go! You’re nice! You tell us things!”

My hope is that the hour I spent with them made a difference. It’s a rough part of the state; Latino boys face long odds. As I spoke to them, I tried not to feel like this.

I give advice only when asked. Sure, I’ve posted unsolicited advice here, but that’s shtick from the guy trying to sell books. The real person who writes these posts never gives advice unless asked.

Today someone sent me “Disiderata,” by Max Ehrmann. That’s all that was in the message.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical [cynical] about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

I’m not sure if the sending of the poem was sincere or not, because I’m getting all sorts of mocking, faux-sympathetic e-mails, and someone keeps signing up for my mailing list using my name. That’s fine. Lots of people are angry at me; they’re blowing off steam.

My father gave me just two pieces of advice in the fifty-one years I knew him:

1. Don’t wear your socks to bed, because that’ll make your feet stink.

2. In a fight pretend to be the opposite handedness that you are.

I wear socks to bed every night. Since I don’t smell my feet, I don’t know if Dad was right. As for the fighting, Dad told me that when I was nineteen. My fighting days were long over.

It seems like pretty good advice, though.

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