Question: Have I Just Been Insulted?

Humorist Walt Jaschek ponders the connection between a recent series of “unintentional insults” and his sudden desire to launch a memoir.

“Have I just been insulted?” I’ve been asking myself.

“No, wait, that was an unintentional insult,” I think.

In fact, a series of recent “unintentional insults” made me think it might be time to finally write a memoir.

How do these things connect? I’ll explain.

First, though, I ask: Have you ever been unintentionally insulted? You know, when somebody says something insulting to you, but they didn’t realize they were insulting you (probably,) so it sort of doesn’t count?

Here. Let me describe four situations, and you tell me. Intentional or “un?”

Seemingly Unintentional Insult #1.

This story begins with me grabbing a late-night dinner by myself after teaching a college class. It was an ethnic restaurant here in St. Louis County, and I won’t say which ethnicity, ’cause it doesn’t matter. Visualize your favorite.

I had just taken my seat, when the 20something, male server approached with a notepad. I could tell from overheard moments seconds before that perhaps English wasn’t his first language. That’s okay, too; I’m not a “Speak American” guy. I speak no other languages; I admire people who speak at least two.

He smiled big at me and said:

“Yes, Old Man, can I take your order?”

Old Man?

I choked back a laugh and said, “Yes, sure,” and proceeded to order.

For context, I’m a grey-haired 66 and look it. I don’t look much older, but I don’t look much younger, and I am every bit a proud Senior Citizen.

I was just struck by the non-ambivalent wrongness of whatever he thought he was translating. I truly believe he thought he was saying something else, such as, “Yes, Distinguished Gentleman, may I take your order?”  Or “Yes, Greying Wizard, may I take your order?”

But sure enough, when my meal was done, he approached again, and said, “Yes, Old Man, may I bring you the check?”

This time I just smiled and nodded. I paid the check, tipped well. I’m sure he didn’t mean the insult. It was unintentional. Right?

I mean, I don’t know what “Distinguished Gentleman” would translate to in his language. So how can I expect him to know?

Dinner was great, by the way.

Seemingly Unintentional Insult #2

A week or so later, I was checking out some items at the local grocery. It was early morning and I was gathering a few items pre-breakfast. I had some black tea bags, a bottle of orange juice, and a Wall Street Journal.

The very tall, middle-aged woman clerk scanned the items, noting, “Wow, you have your coffee; you have juice; you have your paper; you are ready for the kitchen table.”

“Yes, I am,” I said, smiling.

“You are going to be a happy little man,” she said, handing me my receipt.

Happy little man?

I know she was tall, but come on, I’m five-foot-ten. I’m not that little. I’m average.

She breezily went about her business.

My wife heard this story and got a kick out of it. Every once in a while, when she sees me engaged in stuff I love – eating oatmeal with granola while reading a comic book and listening to movie scores – she’ll say, “Look at you. You’re a happy, little man.”

I’m sorry to say it’s caught on.

Seemingly Unintentional Insult #3

Recently I drove my wife and me to a family gathering. It was very fun, very nice, and during it, a family member who saw how I had parked my car outside his house, said, “Who parks your car?”

I said, “I did.”

“Oh, my God,” he said.

We looked and I had parked poorly… like three feet from the curb, almost as if in the driving lane. This family member went outside, took a picture of my parking job, and texted it to another family member…. Can you believe this? Everyone seemed to agree this parking was so bad, it could be a meme.

This, therefore. might not count as an unintentional insult. Because:

(A.) My parking job was pretty bad.

(B.) There was nothing unintentional about these remarks. It was more like, giving me shit for something I should be given shit for. I can take that, I’m plucky!  So was it an insult at all, intentional or not?  Riddle me that, readers, and also, note: you shouldn’t ever ask me to park your car.

Very Quite Intentional Insult #4

This also involves cars, broadly.

Recently I was driving a winding country road, doing the speed limit, but being careful because after all, I am of a certain age.

Tailgated by a black truck in a big hurry, a wrap-around-sunglass-clad 30something at the wheel was not enjoying my driving-the-speed-limit thing. He flashed his lights. Navigating those curves, I had no room to pull over for at least a quarter-mile, when finally, some gravel on the side gave me room.

He showed me a scowl and a middle finger when he drove by.

Okay, okay, there’s no ambiguity there. That was of course an intentional insult. Almost a relief in its lack of ambiguity!

Plus, I am getting immune to the flip-offs, horn-honkers, cut-offers, no-signallers and general impatient craziness of Drivers on the Road Today.

[ Old Man Waves At Cloud ]

But there’s a bigger point here, and, honestly, believe it or not, it’s one of gratitude.

I am grateful for these intentional-or-not incidents. They’re content, baby! They mine comedy gold from otherwise mundane situations. 

I mean, if you are looking at life seeking out material – as a copywriter and “humorist,” I guess I always am – then these zingers, intentional or not, are like unexpected gifts from the Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfields of the Great Beyond.

Conflict makes stories, and stuff like this has an internal conflict: even if it’s… “Should I be offended by that?”

Which makes me think: “Wait! Is this the beginning of a memoir? One in which I explain my quirky, funny life to at least myself?”


Let’s call it… “Walt in Progress.” It’ll be about developing life resiliency and internal harmony by honing senses of humor. And coffee.

After all, I’m not getting any younger. Or getting to be any better of a parker.

So (A.) thanks for reading…

(B.) Thanks for commenting…

and (C.) Please be assured, I am indeed…

A happy little man.

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