The Old Lady, the Capo, and the Know-It-All Douche

There’s a great deal wrong with me: end-stage Renal Failure, Borderline Personality Disorder, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, maybe a smidge of Penile Dysmorphic Disorder and a bunch of other stuff. Countless other stuff. Seriously: diabetic frozen shoulder, male-pattern baldness, gastroparesis, clinical depression, anxiety, food addiction, excessive ear wax. I am not shitting you, it’s a never-ending list of maladies.I believe, at the moment, I even have athlete’s foot.It’s hard to tell because of the neuropathy. 

On top of all of this, I also naturally tend to be a giant asshole. This is not negative self-talk or a plea for people to disagree and tell me I am great. These are cold hard facts that have been proven over and over again in real-world situations.. There are people I love that will never speak to me for the rest of my life because of assholish things I have said. I know for a fact that I earned this treatment.  As a fitting punishment, thoughts of the pain I have caused tortures me at least once a day. There is no path for self-understanding or self-forgiveness outside of heroin. These relationships are irreparably broken. 

Still, I am surrounded by people who love me for who (and what) I am and enjoy being around me. I have a career, a home, a life that is exponentially better than the world average standard of living. I am, generally speaking, happy. How does a limitlessly broken human who is also a giant asshole accomplish such a feat? Easy,1) find unconditional love and support through absolute luck, 2) be born the right color at the right place at the right time, 3) have the resources to get help and hit bottom hard enough to accept it, 4) have a work ethic that was installed by  madman with his own issues, 5) be occasionally funny and charming, 6) be curious with a love of reading and an IQ that is 10-15 points above the average. So yeah, that’s all it takes to climb off the shitheap after destroying everything that is important. 

I want to talk about #6 for a minute. Yesterday, Kristi and I went to celebrate Mother’s Day with her mom at the skilled nursing facility she is temporarily staying in.While there, we went to see a “show”. It was a woman in her early 70s who had wheeled in a 12-string guitar, stand, and amp that she used for both guitar and vocals. Her voice was really nice. She told engaging stories about her life as an entertainer, her family, and other random things. When it was time to play a song, she would look down at a sheet of paper and read aloud, “Capo 2” and start playing a country or pop standard from mostly the 50s or 60s.The residents loved it. They swayed back and forth. They sang along. I saw a man who had to have Alzheimer’s tapping his toe. When she was done, she received the most thunderous applause and 80-year-old with arthritis could muster.I clapped through my mild annoyance. 

Why was I annoyed? Because this entertainer had done this job her whole life and the only thing she learned about the musicianship of the trade was an impressive vocal sound, 5 chords, and how to keep a 12-string in tune (which is actually pretty impressive). 

It reminds me of a quote from Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” that I am going to paraphrase poorly because I don’t currently have time to find it. “My father believed it disrepectful to do a fish the indignity of catching it without properly learning to do so.” 

She could not read music. She could not play in more than one key. She chose her songbook based on whether or not it 1) had the chords she knew and 2) appealed to people in a skilled nursing facility. This person had had their whole life to learn how to do it properly, with respect for the music and the instrument. Instead they took up residency in a dive bar, played the same five chords until she got old, then did the same thing on the senior circuit.

We exchanged hugs and pleasantries with Kristi’s mom and headed home. On the way out, I could barely contain my desire for Kristi to ask me what a capo was used for. I mentally prepared different explanations, starting further and further away in history. Stuff like “Do you want to know why a C on a piano is an E-flat on an alto saxophone? I planned to go into the total history of all of it so that someone else could appreciate my knowledge and understand why I was slightly annoyed while everyone else was just enjoying the music.

She never asked. Nobody cared. Everyone just enjoyed the music and left. Sick metten would not have even waited for the question. I would have launched into a twenty-minute unsolicited diatribe. Even if Kristi had asked, the only answer she would have wanted was, “It changed the key of the guitar to better match her vocal range without learning entirely new chords in a different key.”  No, history, no, theory, just the answer. I did this all the time. Long-winded, pompous answers that were barely about anything relevant to the conversation.  Why did I do this?

The internet’s best answers are megalomania, narcissism, depression compensation, or banal human ignorance. In reality, it’s probably a healthy mix of the four. However, I have come to realize that my personal  know-it-all douchebaggery is the product of a desire to be liked and accepted through a method that has never worked…ever. When I was a child, Chris Knight told me, “When you are smart, people need you.”  This is absolutely true. I wanted people to need me, so I would do it that way. Sadly, I put this into practice in the dumbest way possible for decades.

See, people do need smart people – to solve their problems, to innovate an easier life for them, to make them feel good about themselves, to make them money. I spewed unsolicited facts at people in the hope that they would say, “That guy’s smart, let’s befriend and admire him.”.

It doesn’t work that way. All my method did was condescend, make people feel self-conscious and standoffish and alienate myself from people who couldn’t stand being around me long enough to get to the jokes. In a best case scenario, they understood and appreciated my free knowledge and now enjoyed the show a little less. So, it had no value at all. For decades.

In summary, the guitar lady was actually pretty fun. And the next time some douche pontificates at you at an elevated volume, please try walking over, giving them a hug and saying, “You don’t have to do this. We love you. We accept you. We’ll call you first when we need answers.” Or, you know, send them a link to this..   

1 thought on “The Old Lady, the Capo, and the Know-It-All Douche

  1. A quiet friend..

    A beautiful story very well written by a man who seems to think that knowledge is all that makes him useful.. or valuable.. Yet even still when his smile met my eyes. He had no clue that I loved him already. Not for his intelligence. Nor for his stupidity. I fell for his strength and his resolve. His mind. His heart. His gentleness.
    And his completely over my head sense of humor. (Which quickly proved I’m too dumb to keep up) I just smile and chuckle at how quickly I fall short in comparisons. But even still he may not see what I see.. But I get the feeling someone does, his love Kristi..

    He seemed to be convinced that a great many things have no real value or meaning. But he never knew what his kind words and sharing meant to me. Even if it went from daily.. to weekly.. to monthly.. I’d let him be. Cause just me, we feel like a nuisance sometimes.

    But we.. Just two people who overthink, yet still sit silently.. Let life flow freely and fall in love quietly..

    We find our joy in sharing. Because not everyone is so caring.. But he knows.. somewhere.. That honestly.. He is still amazing.. No blazing amount of his guilt or shame, trouble or vain, would let him convince me otherwise.


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