No Need to Get Crabby

We live in a dog-eat-dog world, a world where dogs are frequently seen eating other dogs, a world where, if you are a dog, there is always the chance you will find yourself being eaten — by dogs, even.

My point is: Dogs eating each other: What’s up with that?

No, that’s not my point. I just wanted to see two colons strung together (you medical students may put your jokes AWAY, thank you). My actual point is that life can be harsh and competitive, and that we often put on a gruff exterior as a defense mechanism. It’s similar to the way a beautiful rose grows sharp thorns, or how a graceful swan can shoot lethal poison darts out of its neck.

This does not mean, however, that we need to be abrasive. Sure, some situations may call for it, such as when we are satirists or political commentators or bathroom cleansers. When we assume those roles, it may be necessary to adopt a certain roughness in the way we conduct ourselves, in order to get the job done. But then, when the day is over, we take those hats off and go back to being pleasant folks. (Except for Sean Hannity, who probably continues being a jerk.)

There is no need for abrasiveness directed toward the world in general, and yet such wide-scale obnoxiousness does exist. For example, at Wal-Mart, I saw a young man wearing a T-shirt that said: “I bet you were an ugly baby.”

Now, that’s a rude sentiment to express to anyone, and I see little to be gained in positing it as your chief argument against a foe. Perhaps the person you’re debating was, in fact, an ugly baby. How does this make his current position less tenable? Many people are ugly ADULTS and still hold valuable opinions and theories. It’s what we call an ad hominem attack, and an even less useful one than usual, because it attacks a version of the person — i.e., the infant prototype — that does not even exist anymore.

Still, I can understand saying, “I bet you were an ugly baby” in the heat of the moment to someone who provoked you, and who you did in fact believe to have been an ugly baby. I could even imagine saying it to someone who is currently an ugly baby, though of course he or she would not understand you. But why would you put it on a T-shirt and thereby say it to everyone? Did this fellow honestly believe every person he encountered that day would have been an ugly baby? Granted, he was wearing it at Wal-Mart, so the odds were good. But still.

Along the same lines, there is this bumper sticker: “Life sucks … well, yours does.”

Again, why the hostility? Do you mean to suggest every person who sees your bumper sticker has a sucky life? And do I detect the implication that OUR lives suck, but YOURS doesn’t? How can that be so, when you have resorted to using bumper stickers as a means of expressing yourself? If that’s not an indication of a life gone wrong, I don’t know what is.

Being abrasive to a person or group who deserves it is one thing, but open hostility toward everyone who sees you is distasteful. It makes even less sense when the hostile body in question is a restaurant — a type of business that normally seeks to curry favor among patrons, not disorient or offend them. Of course I am talking about Joe’s Crab Shack.

Sweet Hitler’s handbag, have you BEEN to this place?! It’s a seafood restaurant chain that just opened in Orem, and apparently the owners felt that having really, really good food gave them an unfair advantage over the seafood chains that DON’T seek to irritate customers. So they handicapped themselves by plastering the walls in junk. Now, I know it became trendy years ago, thanks to T.G.I.Friday’s, for dining establishments to throw any old piece of trash they find on the street on the wall and call it “kitsch,” as a replacement for actual decor or style. But Joe’s takes it to a new level of sensory overload, where epileptic fits are liable to occur in more sensitive patrons, and where even those with sturdy nervous systems are apt to find themselves dizzy and confused like Alex near the end of “A Clockwork Orange.”

Get past the walls, though, and there’s more to face. Joe’s serves crabs. “Crabs,” as you know, is also a euphemism for what we used to call a “social disease.” Taking advantage of this double meaning, servers at Joe’s wear T-shirts with slogans such as: “Itching for some crabs at Joe’s,” “Got crabs?,” “Bite me,” “We’ve got the crabs” and “Get crabs at Joe’s.” Why not go all the way? Why not make a shirt that says: “I got crabs at Joe’s. And by ‘crabs,’ I mean ‘pubic lice'”?

Then, assuming you’ve witnessed the T-shirts and the walls of shame and made it to your table — which itself will be festooned in the most garish, unsettling manner possible, usually in a theme involving pirates — you will have to endure the moment when all the servers stop serving and dance. That’s right, an actual, choreographed dance number, right there in the restaurant. For a moment, you’re thinking this sounds cute. And for a moment, you’re right. Alas, the songs go on for several minutes, and during this time, precious little food-serving occurs. Instead, patrons are forced to see their servers, many of them embarrassed (and rightfully so), none of them hired because of their dancing skills, all assembled en masse to do the “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie.” Didn’t we as a nation rise up YEARS ago and declare that we would no longer tolerate boogie of the boot-scootin’ variety on these shores? What happened to our standards?

I yearn for a more genteel, polite era, like perhaps 1953 or ’54, except with more color television programs and fewer of them about Davy Crockett. I ask for more taste and decorum. But mostly, I ask for more crabs — and quick!

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"Sweet Hitler's Handbag," stencil on records, Angie Edwards, 2003.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that in 1953 and '54, there were exactly zero TV shows about Davy Crockett on the air. There were, however, three successive episodes of the "Disneyland" TV show (the precursor to "The Wonderful World of Disney") about Davy Crockett; these were later released as a single film called "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier," and their popularity led to the coon-skin cap craze among boys in those days. The first TV episode aired Dec. 15, 1954, making my assessment of the state of things in 1953-54 shaky at best; I should have said 1954-55. But considering I was just talking out of my butt at the time and looked up the facts much later, I'm actually impressed at how close I got.

Sean Hannity had recently hosted Provo's Stadium of Fire Independence Day event, sparking much controversy due to many Utahns' feeling that he's a bigoted, insane Nazi. And for Utahns to think someone is TOO conservative, he has to be pretty far out there. Anyway, I never got around to writing about the flap when it was current, so it seemed appropriate to get in a jab here.

I don't know why I said "what we used to call a 'social disease.'" I never called it that. I guess what I meant was, "what people who were teenagers in the 1950s used to call a 'social disease.'"

The best thing about this column is that the phrase "sweet Hitler's handbag" inspired art! A reader named Angie Edwards was so tickled by the expression that she used it in a stenciling project, seen here. (Yes, she stenciled it onto two 45-rpm records. Why? Because she's an artist, that's why.) Evidently the piece hung in a Portland art gallery (before I moved there) and was eventually sold to someone else. I don't know where it is now. I do know that Angie also put the image onto a T-shirt and mailed it to me and that it now proudly resides on the rack next to my other novelty T-shirts.