I don’t know if it’s the weather or the alignment of planets and stars or a bad haircut, but the last two weeks I had three unpleasant encounters with old men, and by old I mean people my age (60s).
The three encounters were separate. I don’t want to go into details except to say that in all three cases, it was clear they wanted to get me to argue with them. But I found myself being respectfully silent, saying only a few words, which I think got them angrier and to go on and on, until I simply turned away and talked with other people.
My son, when at that age where letters and words fascinated him, coined an acronym, COM, which means “cranky old man.” He used it whenever my father, his Lolo, would turn cantankerous. He also uses it sometimes with me when I get moody.
I had many encounters with COMs when I was younger, initially from uncles and assorted relatives and family friends, then, later, from older work colleagues. There are many of these COMs in universities — people who were really bullies, their victims being students and younger faculty. A visiting American professor once complained to me that UP was populated by silver-backed gorillas notorious for their male hierarchies, and with grouchy old apes who compensate for their insecurities, especially when threatened by young and bright colleagues, by being loud grouches.
To be fair, I’ve encountered these human gorillas even in universities overseas, although, in the West, they tend to be a bit more careful because students and young professors will fight back.
With older relatives and family friends, especially ethnic Chinese, I learned quite early that it is almost normal to be a COM, because the East Asian hierarchical relationships are more intensive, with young people obligated to suffer in silence… until they themselves become older and find victims to bully.
I’ve tried to be more understanding of COMs, rationalizing that perhaps they have untreated health problems like hypertension, which affects their moods.
Chronic health problems, great and small, have a way of gnawing away at the psyche: a toothache, rheumatism, arthritis, gout. Men, old or young, tend to complain more about these aches and pains, including the emotional ones.
Dementia, too, makes people cranky, sometimes even aggressive and violent.
What got me to think about writing about COMs was an incident last weekend. I walked into one of those Korean shops (I always tell the kids, Mi-something) and, as these shops go, there was a small army of sales clerks ready to pounce on you and try to get you to buy stuff you don’t need. One of them began, “Sir,” and I waved her off, saying, “ako na lang,” a polite way of saying “leave me alone.”
Then I thought, was I being a COM? Oh, but these salespersons — I particularly dislike the ones deployed in Mercury Drug stores, waiting to ambush hapless senior citizens — can turn the nicest people into, well, cranky ones.
There’s the paranoia spectrum. Older people get cranky, like I did in the store, because as we age, we can become more distrustful of people, having been fooled, lied to, conned so many times over.
Of late we’ve seen how two presidents, our own and the American one, play on their privileges of age and office to perform the COM role, as a way of intimidating people. It’s tempting when you have power, but there’s the danger that grouchiness becomes our default. People will humor you when you’re in power (political or financial), but even then, there will be limits. Eventually we drive away people, including people who do love us but can’t bear seeing us descending into the abyss of meanness.
Mind you, I see more cranky old women, too, and I don’t even want to use the acronym because it has sexist connotations.
I’ve learned from my son; when assaulted, I just grumble “COM,” and laugh away the unpleasantness.
One time, my father heard my son, which enraged him further as he demanded to know what my son had muttered. My son was quick: “COM, cute old man,” and he did mean it. Cranky old men can be cute — the type, though, not to take seriously.
Maybe we can do a bit of cognitive rewiring when we meet cranky old men and reimagine them with other C’s.
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