Decrepid poppy blossom photo
11 JUNE 2000

. . .As I write this, my wife is watching "Touched By An Angel," an episode in which the managing editor of a publication suffers from cynicism, "the most contagious disease in the world."
. . .As you know, I am the managing editor of a publication. I, too, am a cynic, one of the worst. Have you been inoculated and gotten a booster shot recently? If not, reading the following cynical diatribe may be detremental to your health. Proceed with caution.

. . .Friday night, during a break in the entertainment at the Buzz Ware Coffeehouse, I scanned the surrounding people and walls. I found no obvious threat but I didn't relax. Cynics find it hard to relax. They expect the worst to happen. They see the worst in people and in themselves. They are wary.
. . .I don't like being a cynic. The benefits are few. I'd like to think of myself as a recovering cynic, someone who tries to love, who with the help of God gets better every day. But, as a realist -- all cynics think they're realists -- it's hard for me to believe something so good could actually come to pass. Like I said, cynics see the worst in themselves. They have a deep distrust of God, too. I have all the symptoms of advanced disease. Or rather, I thought I did. Then a book found me.
. . .
Back to the Coffee House -- I was wary, remember? I scanned the room around me, not suspecting what lurked in the bookcase behind me. It was "The Portable Curmudgeon," compiled and edited by John Winokur. Suddenly I was compelled to steal it. I took it home and skimmed it. It was full of quotes of real cynics who put me to shame.

. . ."I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally." So said W.C. Fields.

. . .Oscar Levant said, "I'm a self-made man. Who else would help?"

. . .Hospitalized for alcoholism, Dorothy Parker's doctor told her that if she didn't stop drinking, she'd be dead in a month. Dorothy replied, "Promises, promises."

. . ."Love," said H.L. Mencken, "is the triumph of imagination over intelligence."

. . ."I do not believe in God. I believe in cashmere," said Fran Lebowitz.

. . .The editor of the book, an apologist, says curmudgeons are "just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy." He says, for these cynics, "offense is their only defense." The editor makes curmudgeons sound almost cuddly.
. . .
These barbed wits, the editor says, "don't hate mankind, just mankind's excuses." This sounded familiar to me. If it sounds familiar to you, you've been to Bible Study and heard that believers "don't hate the sinner, only the sin." The editor makes curmudgeons sound like Christians, real Christians, not the hypocritical kind.
. . .But, as I continued reading, an unpleasant fact about curmudgeons became apparent. Even those with successful careers seldom find their work or lives rewarding. For example, when told of one of Judy Garland's suicide attempts, Oscar Levant said, "Let's see, she's two up on me in suicide attempts, but I'm three up on her in nervous breakdowns. Or is it the other way around?"
. . .
To be a good curmudgeon, life has got to hurt. You gotta want out. People's evident hypocrisy has to cause you pain. Me, I like people. I hardly ever hurt. Life is often good. Even a cursory reading of the book was enough to convince me of my amateur status when it comes to cynicism and curmudgeonhood.

. . .Judy Garland and others did kill themselves. So have some of my friends -- not that I blame them. Some of my friends died before they could kill themselves. One was murdered at point blank range with six bullets to his head. Life's like that.
. . .
Now what have I said? A real curmudgeon would be wounded by unpleasant facts like these, and would have expressed them in a humorous manner. Did I? No.
. . .I don't have what it takes to be a curmudgeon or even an average cynic. I haven't had a suicide attempt or even a decent nervous breakdown. What hope is there for me? Why was I warning you of my cynical words, pretending to be this frightful sophisticated intellect? Who was I fooling? I'll never be truly hopeless, bitter, or caustic. No, I am not Phillis Diller, nor was meant to be. There's no hope for me!
. . .I'm going to go to the kitchen and get a strong glass of milk -- that's how bad I feel about it.

Go To Previous Sunday Letter
Sunday, 4 June 2000

Go To Next Sunday Letter
Sunday, 18 June 2000

Return to Home Page

"A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past, he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future." -- Sidney Harris