Old Aesop tells this story:
A dog had fallen asleep in a manger. When the cow came by to feed he stood up and kept barking, so the poor cow could not get near her hay. She said to the dog, “You cannot eat hay, yet you would deny it to me!”
Moral? Don’t be a dog in the manger.
Smug? I should know that word, as part of knowing people. Not to be a psychologist, but to be a writer. Not that I want to write the “great American novel.” Nobody I know does. Not that I want to write a best seller, either. Most folks I know would be happy just to be published. Somehow. Somewhere. And on that blessed day they’d be happy, surprised and even cheering, anything but smug—a word you don’t hear much. Coincidence? I think not. I think some people just don’t like “smug.” Not in others, I mean.
How strange. I would want my pet dog to be smug, if that were possible in a dog. I would want a smiling pre-schooler to walk over to me looking smug. And if I visit my grandpa, and he’s showing his man-cave or his latest wood carving, I would want him to be smug. Yes, but we give the very young and the very old a free pass in life, just as we don’t peer-pressure them to wear the latest clothing styles. But if a person in the mainstream wears a smile, a person we can relate to, then—watch out!
I don’t suppose a person humble in spirit would mind someone being smug. Not me. I’m no dog in the manger. But a lot of other folks sure are. I can say so because of the fate of the Segway. You know, that futuristic two-wheel contraption where people standing up can roll along the sidewalk, or mall corridors, or river park trails. Well then. Got Segway? Me neither. What happened? They were supposed to be the next big thing.
What happened, according to web-essayist Paul Graham, (link) was they were developed in secret without any prototype testing. What happened is that after they hit the market, users found out the hard way that other people thought they looked too “smug” standing easy as they rolled along. Paul said people in cars called out rude things. Not an affectionate “get a horse!” Rather, an abusive “Too lazy to walk, ya fuckin’ homo?”
Being a dog in the manger, I suppose, is a close cousin to being jealous. I didn’t understand this while growing up under abuse, as back then I couldn’t find it in my heart to be jealous of anyone. Not when I felt so worthless. During childhood I noticed that if I, or any boy, was friends with a girl then others would tease and scorn and escalate to get us to stop. Call me naive, but I never understood. Each time it took me by surprise. Now that I’m an adult with better self esteem I get it. Back then children were jealous. And I was too naive to understand they weren’t honest enough to face their own feelings.
Therefore if, say, you’ve been to Australia and picked up a cool hat, or you’ve been to East Asia and learned a way to carry your furled umbrella hands-free, then you’d better either keep a poker face or smile broadly like an idiot. A smug tiny smile will attract big social scorn! At least from passing cars.
Recently a radio announcer remarked to his studio partner that he feels angry resentment when he hears others laughing, although he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s that dog thing. I asked my waitress, Chelsey, at my hang-out greasy spoon: She doesn’t mind laughter; in fact, if she hears customers laughing, she’ll go over to their booth to see if she can join in. Yes, but Chelsey has a generous soul. She’s the sort I would call over to read aloud my a funny novel.
Meanwhile, if I’m reading a comic novel at my cafe booth and laughing long and loud… I attract angry jealous remarks. How strange, because no one would give a care, nor offer me any kindness, if I stood sagging against the juke box crying from hearing Good Night Saigon. No, maybe because for sadness they wouldn’t be jealous of my artistic depth of feeling. However, for me having fun and laughter, yes, they would be jealous. Anyways, I guess that’s why I don’t see anyone else laughing alone in public. Unless they are smiling broadly like an fool.
As for me becoming an excellent writer, well, maybe I should keep studying grammar. Wait, I know: I could laugh out loud, even when I’m alone in a cafe, and play that Beatles song on the jukebox, and then one day I too could be that “fool” on the hill, “seeing” the world and characters going around, using my “keen eye” of a “real writer.”
I hope, dear reader, you have permission to laugh, too.
Fondly recalling the Lido cafe
~I wrote of the Lido in my essay The Old Lido Cafe, archived September 2016
~I’m still learning how some people can be so ridiculous in their jealousy: On the Internet comedy magazine site, Cracked, a commenter was quite angry when a comedian used a proper “an” not “a,” to say “an historical…” Heck, that’s not being snobbish, that’s just common sense, we all learned to say that back in elementary school.
And hey, as long as I’m sounding old: We all learned in grade school that Hallowe’en is followed by All Saint’s Day, not by the Mexican day of the dead. (which must therefore be November 2nd) Hence the apostrophe between the two e’s, for the missing v. The last evening of the month was the dark creature’s big chance to go abroad, on an “all hallowed evening,” before all the saints took over for their day.
~My spell check, as it happens, will allow Hallowe’en spelled both with and without the apostrophe.
~For the listening pleasure of all my humble, non-jealous, non-smug friends, my telephone digital answering machine goes:
“If you know what you’re doing, leave a message. If not, join the club.”