One of my younger brothers, John, has lived in Minnesota with his wife and children for the past 26 years. He makes one or two trips to Peoria each year to visit with the family. A couple of years ago, he came to spend a few days and attend a family get-together, and he and I spent some time talking and catching up on what had been going on in our lives since the last time we talked.
At one point, John asked me if I had ever seen Bill O’Reilly’s show on the Fox News channel. I answered that I had seen the show on a few occasions. He asked me what I thought of O’Reilly, and I responded, “He’s all right, but there’s something about him that rubs me the wrong way. I don’t like the way he acts. He’s obnoxious. I get irritated when I watch his show.”
I asked John what he thought of O’Reilly and he said, “I like watching his show. A lot of what he does reminds me of you.” Of course, at that point I thought, I just told you that O’Reilly is obnoxious and that he irritates me, and you’re now saying that he reminds you of me? Am I that obnoxious? Do I irritate people the same way he irritates me?
I followed up with the question, “Why does he remind you of me?” John responded, “Because he’s not afraid to speak the truth. He doesn’t care what people think – he just says it like it is.”
In 1978, after Georgette and I started dating, a guy she knew who had previously asked her out, and was turned down, told her he was shocked that she was dating me. He said, “Harry’s the most obnoxious guy I ever met.” When Georgette told me about the comment, I considered it a badge of honor and told her, “He’s just jealous because you’re dating me and not him.”
On another occasion, when I was in college, I came down with the flu and was out of commission for a few days. After about a week, when I was back to full strength, I got into an argument with one of my roommates. After I had verbally beaten him down, he blurted out, “I see that you’ve recovered from being sick and that you’re now back to full obnoxiousness!”
I hate to admit it, but I derive a certain satisfaction from being obnoxious. It’s fun watching people squirm and react to a biting comment, and it’s fun putting people in their place when they get out of line.
Over the past few years I’ve been consciously trying to manage and control the way I respond and react to people’s comments and behavior. For a person like me, who’s used to shooting off his mouth before he thinks, it’s difficult to control what comes naturally – obnoxious behavior.
There are, however, times when obnoxious behavior can come in handy.
About five years ago I was talking to an attorney about a situation that had angered him, and he used God’s name in vain. More specifically, he said “God” followed by the word “damn.” I immediately cut him off in mid-sentence and asked, “Do you believe in God?” He stopped talking, hesitated, and replied, “What?” I repeated, “Do you believe in God? I’m asking because you just asked God to damn something. Are you in the habit of calling upon God to damn things?”
My questions completely threw him off. After about ten seconds of silence, he completely ignored what I had said and picked up where the conversation had left off. We finished discussing the matter without him using God’s name in vain again. My obnoxious way of dealing with his careless defiance of the second commandment paid off.
Last Monday (March 4), I stopped at Naturally Yours in Peoria to buy a few items. When I entered the store, there were several people lined up in front of each of the cash registers. I grabbed what I needed off the shelves and chose the line I thought would move the fastest. While I was waiting, a woman I know walked up to me and started telling me about how she had recently converted to the Catholic faith. After we talked for about five minutes, it was my turn at the cash register.
The cashier was a young man who appeared to be about 20 years old. While he was ringing up my items, I heard the man behind me grumbling about how long he had been waiting. Then the store telephone rang and the clerk who was waiting on me stopped what he was doing and answered, “Naturally Yours, may I help you?”
I noticed a look of confusion on the clerk’s face as he listened to what was being said over the telephone. He looked toward me and asked, “What did you say?” Since I had not said anything, I assumed he was simply looking in my direction while he was talking. He paused and listened, then looked up toward me again and asked in a frustrated tone of voice, “What did you say?” I turned around to see what he was looking at, and saw that the man in line behind me was talking on his cell phone to the clerk. He had called the store to complain about the slow service.
As I turned back around, the clerk hung up the phone and the man behind me raised his voice. “You have all kinds of people walking around here, and you only have two cash registers open!” The clerk replied in a frustrated tone of voice, “Who’s walking around?” The man pointed at another young man behind the counter who had his back to us and responded, “What about him? He’s just standing there!” The clerk shot back, “No, he’s not just standing there. He’s making a drink for the lady who’s sitting over there at that table!”
I turned around and said to the man, “They’re not usually this busy.” He replied, “Yeah, everybody must have decided to go to the store before the snowstorm hits tomorrow.” The man looked like he was in his early 70s. He was well built and appeared to be in good shape. He was tall, good-looking, and confident. He looked like the type of guy you would see in an old western – a no-nonsense, rugged, wealthy old rancher who sits in the local saloon and orders everyone around.
I looked at him and asked, “Have you ever been a farmer?” He replied, “Yes, I’ve been a farmer all my life. I was around when we had to milk the cows by hand.” I responded by saying, “I always thought that farmers were patient. They plant their seeds in the spring and then they have to wait patiently through the summer months, hoping everything works out.” A look of shame came over his face. There was dead silence. I followed up by saying, “I’m 55 years old, so I’m old enough to remember when loyalty and service meant something.” He responded, “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
I turned around and paid for my items. As I sat at a nearby table waiting for a smoothie that I had ordered, I watched as the farmer stepped up to the counter and purchased his items. He was courteous and respectful toward the young clerk.
I have to admit, it was kind of fun cutting the obnoxious old farmer down to size.