Bar Jester Chronicles 15: In Praise of Smartassery

Rock Island, IL

If you find yourself called to the lowly ranks of the professoriate; and if, moreover, you find that your first call is to an all-girls’ college; and if years later you find yourself the center of attention in a tenure hearing at another institution, being asked to comment on what it was like to teach at an all-women’s college; and if by way of response you find yourself not at all against your will or better instincts saying, “I felt like a pork chop at a bar mitzvah,” you may be sure your true calling is not so much to the professoriate as to the noble duties and obligations of smartassery.

If in the same hearing you are asked about your “perceived arrogance,” and if, leaning back, legs crossed lockerroom style, you say, “well, I don’t know about ‘perceived,’ but I’m damned sure arrogance is no misdemeanor,” then you may likewise be sure you were marked long ago for—indeed, called from your mother’s womb to—the holy office of (you guessed it) smartassery.

No doubt at one point in your undergraduate career you were summoned by the dean of students, who expressed in sincere and lofty tones his worry that you were developing a “cynical attitude.” (This is because you filled out a questionnaire meant, apparently, to be taken seriously, in blue crayon with yellow illustrations.) And you, no doubt, looking him straight in the eye, said, “I’m afraid you’re a little late.”

No doubt a high school teacher, unable to put to rest your line of inquiry, once pulled out this old chestnut: “Do you think you are the only one who knows the truth?” And you, not quite able to help yourself, said, “No, sir. In fact I know several people who do. Some are in this room. It just so happens that you are not one of them.”

(The Bar Jester doesn’t aspire to autobiography. Invention is ever his principal interest, second only to his disinterest in principles.)

Now the scorn that patient merit of the unworthy takes (like the insolence of office and the proud man’s contumely) is another matter altogether; it goes by various names, including “assholery,” and it is not to be endured. This the Bar Jester acknowledges.

But who can think ill of an untenured man, sitting in a meeting with a rambling colleague going on and on once again about how she has been silenced her whole career, who breaks in and says, “yes, thanks very much for all that, but how do you square it with the fact, apparent to everyone in this room, that not a soul on earth has ever known you to shut up”?

I think you must praise him for his smartassery.

You see, the world’s grown very serious, gravely so since 12:15 p.m. on the Tuesday after Diogenes died. Some say the world needs more tolerance and diversity. Some say it needs more government planning. Some say it needs more brotherhood and free love. Others, coming nearer the solution, say it needs more rums and coke, or gins and tonic, or scotches and soda.

I say it needs more smartassery (and maybe more gins and tonic).

Take the Broncos. They’re winning. What’s there to say about that? For one thing, a lot less than is being said, and certainly not enough in the smartassery vein. To the east of Mile High, in the city of All Time Motown Low, there’s a boy named Suh on whom a lot of spleen could be vented, and yet the members of the Jockocracy are yelling at each other about a guy whose greatest crime (next to his throwing motion) is his apparent goodness. Are there no smartasses out there willing to point this out?

And where is the wag who can develop the matrix according to which the Tebow effect balances out the seasonal War on Christmas, together with its embarrassing red-headed step-child, the War on the War on Christmas?

Apparently too few people grew up on Bugs Bunny.

Or let us close our eyes, plug our noses, cover our groins, and turn briefly to politics. A man apparently bearing the mark of Cain drops out of the presidential race because he’s dogged by charges that are somewhat, ah, injurious to the family-values party, which is having a damned difficult time getting its act together. (Turns out this candidate was Her-man indeed.) And its rival party, which should have been able to but couldn’t get its act together under Clinton, isn’t doing much better under its new guy. Where’s the smartass who will ask the pertinent question, to wit: what does this tell you, America, about your chances under the current arrangements? How long will you go on and on about being the greatest nation on earth and then submit every four years to be governed by the better of two urinal fresheners?

I mean, Haysus H. Xristopholos!

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