Books Where The Main.Charaxyers Story Is Only.Told Over Christmas A Brief History of Snarky

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A Brief History of Snarky

I thought I learned about pride from the old man.

“Your father admired your arrogance,” Jerry Stein said in his admiration for my father. I sat back and nodded, full of self-satisfaction.

The Old Man was utterly contemptuous of the neighborhood and people of Bloomfield Hills. At neighborhood New Year’s Day parties, the main focus was college bowl games, particularly the Michigan game. People milled around, yelling and second-guessing Bo Schembechler’s game calls. I saw Aaron sitting alone stroking his chin. I was familiar with that look; Baba is looking at these people, shaping them. It was a sight that terrified all who saw it.

I went up to him and asked “What’s going on?”

“I could own all these people, every one of them. They’d be hungry and their kids would never go to college. I’d do it in a heartbeat but I know it would upset your mother.”

The old man put this pride in my brother and me.

But every kid around had the same inflated sense of self-importance. In the 70s and 80s the American middle class wasn’t just the arena of factory workers or small shop owners, it evolved. Our parents were college educated; They owned their own companies or worked for large corporations. Their expectations of their children were high, getting into college was not good enough, our people wanted doctors, lawyers and captains of industry. We were sent to gifted and talented programs and encouraged to be as creative as possible. We were spoiled, teased and told we were special and different at school and at home. On a family vacation to Beverly Hills, CA, Mom took me shopping on Rodeo Drive. I snorted looking at the high end stores.

“We have all these stores in Birmingham,” I said.

Ma openly wonders how she can raise such a vow but she is joking. The more fired we were, the more our parents respected us. We were encouraged to be snarky.

“Snarkyness precedes inquiry,” John Winokur, author of The Big Book of Irony, told the New York Times. “It’s just a posture that rejects everything in its path.”

One July night in 1982 at Claridge’s Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, when the old man was hitting the house at baccarat, I saw our humor on TV for the first time. I watched Late Night with David Letterman.

I read a lot about the Letterman show but was not allowed to stay up late to watch the show. Letterman was considered a young Don Rickles, an insult comic with a new twist: snarky. Unlike Rickles who would go about his attacks and give them a big hug, Dave was mean, dismissive and judgmental.

I was hooked from the first monologue. My friends and I would stay up and watch who and what he would skewer at night. With all the weird characters he came up with, it was like watching Elmer Fudd beat up Bugs Bunny in real time. His wry sense of humor matched our middle-class teenage sensibilities. David Letterman is one of us, middle-class Midwestern boys. He was our pride. We responded by staying up late to watch the show every night, discussing the way Letterman had ripped Larry Budd Mailman the night before as the high point of homeroom small talk.

As we grew up, my generation didn’t outgrow our snarkiness, it was accepted as our main personality trait. We are a bunch of emotional cripples who can’t express any feelings other than our own contempt. My generation may have been smart but polite teenagers, now we’re bitter, caustic adults insulting what we don’t like, which is pretty much everything. We are slackers who put our rightful society’s vision above achievement and get on with life.

A few years ago, I broke up with my beautiful, loyal girlfriend Darla for Amanda, an aspiring fashion journalist. Amanda broke up with me three months later.

Our exit interview was a contentious scream fest on my stoop. I asked him why he wanted to break up with me.

“There has to be someone better for me, Alex,” she said. “The right guy has yet to be out there.”

Although annoyed by his snarky comments, I gave him credit then as I do now. Same reason I left Darla for him.

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