MORNING COFFEE 16 - stupid and cheerful
by Susan Weber
I’m not your typical fan of radio advice shows. My listening tends toward politics. So when I happened on Dr. Joy telling her caller to apply the “stupid and cheerful” rule when informing her mother-the-control-freak that she-the-caller was moving out, I was not overly impressed. Stupid and cheerful were the go-tos I’d gone-to for defusing irksome situations since I was a girl. It was a useful combination I’d perfected over time.
For example, ten days after the divorce, my ex wanted to bring his date to Thanksgiving and to spend the night. “The kids will love her and she makes great pie!” he said. “The tent’s been leaking and it just might rain!” I said, reminding him to pack his golashes and a pail. No need to get upset, or fake the cheerful part either.
There was that time my co-worker tried to off-load his difficult client on me. “Great opportunity to flex your assertiveness, Margo,” he said. I suggested he host the three of us for an awesome baton-passing party at Ponderosa. Over twice-baked potatoes and a juicy steak I amiably compared my colleague’s time tested expertise to my vast inexperience. Self-effacement by a woman does not appear devious to your average male. By the time our chocolate cheesecakes had arrived, those two had bonded in the warmth of my stupid-cheerful glow. Their mutual-assured-annoyance continues to this day.
Jean and Jonny are nice enough neighbors, nice enough to inquire before inviting yet another swim-suited, towel-swaddled guest-list to dip its fleshy flanks into the frothy foam of my year-round heated tub. “They’re mostly Jonny’s work acquaintances!” Jean was quick to note recently, herself well-versed in the stupid-cheerful combo pack. On the afternoon preceding the party to which I was not invited, I set out a shovel labeled, “If the rats nibble your toes, a bop on their heads with this will scare them off. BTW rodents are excellent swimmers—they just love to surf the jets!” The tipsy turvy lawn crossing of the work acquaintances awakened me at one A.M., but something or other—the balloons, maybe, bobbing from the handle?—got them very quiet all at once. And thence the stampede back to my neighbors' porch.
The strategy worked fine through the decades until Dr. Joy came along with her nifty nomenclature. At first I felt smug, more advanced than the listeners who needed to be told how to handle obnoxious behavior. But once the helpful doc had named it for me, I began to watch myself being stupid and cheerful and it seemed kind of, I don’t know, manipulative? I almost want to say immature. Anyway, I began to encounter major snafus at the least provocation.
For example, last week on my way to the high school pool, a cheerleader lounging in the bleachers made some comment that may or may not have been directed at me. Her cute pals laughed in solidarity. My usual instinct to proceed toward the pool with a grin garnishing my face was interrupted by a vision that I also quite possibly acted upon. I saw myself pivot, clamp my blue-veined hands to my rheumatoid hips and snort, “I may be old but at least I’m not rude!” Which sounds stupid in its own right, but not remotely cheerful.
Then came yesterday under the blade at Rudoph’s salon. Something had possessed me (the devil?) to cut my hair so short, there was no place left to hide. No bangs, no cheek drapery, no swishy sculpted layers. Let’s just say I needed a change. As Rudy clipped, his young assistant broomed my tresses from the floor, her auburn curls tucked in a loose chignon. She leaned in to whisper to me, “I don’t think I’d have the guts to do that.” Suddenly, miraculously, I knew exactly what was called for.
“You’re loaded with guts,” I stated loud and clear.
She blinked, stepped back, and then stepped closer. “Why do you say that?” she said, still whispering.
“It takes more guts to comply with fashion than break away from it,” I announced.
“Isn’t it the other way around?” she said, her voice approaching a hearable volume.
She looked at me as though I were either an idiot or wiser than the wisest counselor on earth. The wriggle to her brow would deepen in time, but just then it inspired me.
“Conformity is ultimately painful, and pain endurance takes huge guts,” I said, getting up to pay the bill. She cleared her throat and resumed her sweeping.
Some might say that by abandoning the duck and weave response to stress, I’m inviting the ire of pushy people. Well, if somebody wants to have it out, we might as well get to it. I’m done with shenanigans and feel no pain. According to my best advice, I’m ready.
Photo by Michael McCullough CC BY 2.0