I’ve already put the wrong year on every check I’ve written this month. It usually takes until June for that to stop happening. And that’s about when I feel disillusionment settling in about the new year.
I’ve long held the belief that optimism is highly overrated. We pessimists have an advantage over everyone else. We’re never disappointed. When a friend expresses disappointment to me, my reaction is, “What the hell did you expect?”
The main reason for thinking that 2021 is going to be better is based solely on the belief that nothing can be worse than 2020. But I checked my last column of 2019. I was so happy. Nothing can be as bad as 2019, I wrote. That’s the last time I allowed optimism to infect me.
Anyone downtown worth his or her salt knows that “s—t” happens. We’re born with that phrase on our lips. We never make the mistake of getting idealistic about our politicians, so our idealism never takes a hit when one of them goes rogue on us. We fully expect our politicians to put their hands in the cookie jar. We know that so long as a cookie jar is unprotected somewhere in the world, our politicians will find a way to get their hands inside it. It’s human nature. We’d be disappointed if they DIDN’T get caught with their hands in the cookie jar. And you know what, they never disappoint us. All we ask is that we get our share.
You can survive down here — even have a degree of serenity — IF you play by the rules. We ARE for law and order, but we DO have our own definition of the term. Dealing hot stuff is not under that definition. If you can get a good deal on a 75-inch TV that “fell off a truck,” you take it. You can buy a nice marbled steak out of the back of a station wagon if you look hard enough. Sometimes, it even tastes better BECAUSE it was purchased from the back of a station wagon. Violence is countenanced, even tolerated, if it is confined to payback for betrayal — and that it doesn’t spill over into the community at large. You want to blow up the “Chicken Man,” you make sure the explosion doesn’t take out the old lady next door. What we mean by “law and order” is no random violence of any kind in our neighborhood. That’s a no-no.
You see “social protest” as OK? Well, “Not in our neighborhood,” we say. And no sitting on our highways, either, when we’re driving home from work. Looting? Something we take very personal-like. Even when the looting occurs in stores that we wouldn’t be caught dead in. It’s the principle of the thing.
The smartest of us never let ourselves get disappointed when our sports teams falter — as they almost always do. A lot of us still believe that we dreamed Feb. 4, 2018 — the day the Eagles won the Super Bowl. We’re suspicious when something good happens to one of our teams. We expect our hearts to be broken. When the s—t doesn’t hit the fan, it disturbs the negative karma we thrive on. Fortunately, the Eagles have disappointed us every season since 2017. And in 2020, they fulfilled our every expectation that the owner, the front office guy and the head coach — all have their heads up their you-know-whats. Everything is back to normal for us. We’re miserable. As we should be.
The Phillies are the perfect baseball team for us. They haven’t gotten into the playoffs since 2009. When somebody asks us, “How’re the Phillies doing?” Our instant and unchanging reply is, “Those bums?” We especially love the Flyers because they haven’t won a title since Sinatra could hit every note on OLD MAN RIVER.
Down here, we know our real enemies. It’s every mayor who came after Frank Rizzo. There has been NO one we’ve called “mayor” since Big Frank. You want to know where Rizzo’s optimism was? It was in the nightstick he carried in his cummerbund. That’s what we call formal dress around here.
Yeah, we know who our real enemies are. They’re the “do-gooders.” That’s what we call the “Good Government” types. These folks are ALWAYS disappointed. Another bunch of our enemies are the editorial writers at The Inquirer. Unfortunately, most readers of this newspaper include me in this enemies list. I’m the guy my wife claims to love, but labels “Italian-lite.” I object strenuously. I’m as well-grounded in pessimism as any of my Paisans, but I get no free pass. Fran must’ve found out that I used to put mayo on my mother’s meatball hoagies.
The thing is our pessimism is handed down from generation to generation. You know that expression, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?” Around here, when the apple falls, it falls on top of another apple.
Tell the truth. It’s only five days into 2021. How many times have you the optimist been disappointed already? You’re unhappy you haven’t gotten to the front of the line to get your vaccine shot? You want to know how vaccine distribution should work in the REAL world? You know a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy. You slip the first guy a few bucks — the way you tuck a bill into a maitre d’s hand so he’ll give you a table near the front of the joint. That’s how you get your vaccine — AND get a pat on the back for being a good citizen.
What?? Is there some OTHER way to figure out who gets to the front of the line? ••
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