On not giving a fuck

“Your husband fights dirty,” the email announced to Pretty Wife, and she was right. I do.

I’m not my dad, casually and frequently ruthless but so cheerful on a daily basis that he personifies his own smarmy, self-assumed nickname, “Smilin’ Jack.”

I only smile when I mean it, and I may not be able to mean it indefinitely, but I don’t stab people in the back. I lunge full-frontal, every time, and it may be a surprise when it happens. Maybe even to me.

404 ErrorCrying used to work on me like garlic on a vampire but, like any strong drug, it provokes eventual tolerance — both in me, and in the crier. To my way of thinking, crying is like alcohol. There’s nothing dishonorable about occasional indulgence, but when it becomes a dependency it engenders damage, broken trust, and social awkwardness.

I saw my girl on the outside today, which is to mean “whichever barista sallies up to the window.” She gave me the Sunshine stand’s trademark radiant smile and inquired about my well-being.

“Not so good.”

“Oh, no! What’s wrong?”

“Little spat with the wife.”

She did that thing that young women do, maybe unconsciously or maybe by years of trained acclimation, where they put on an expression of sympathy, good humor, and sophisticated implication.

“I can’t even imagine that. You’re always so nice!”

I smiled back, but only just a little at the ends of my lips. My lips are skinnier than parachute cord.

You see, it’s dead easy to stay pleasant through a three-minute transaction. Anyone can do it. In fact, if you haven’t internalized that as a constant social obligation, you A) haven’t ever worked effectively in customer service, and B) are a dick. People who serve you are not the functional equivalent of doormats that serve you. They’re conscientiously working to make your day a little nicer, and you are morally obligated to reciprocate that kindness with a little human effort, not just your cash. Make the world a tiny dab brighter, instead of pissing down contempt because you think you own that status. As the Buddha might say, albeit with infinite compassion, “Grow the fuck up!”

She — the other she, the one at home — doesn’t just get me at my transactional best, though. She sees me when I’m in pain (and sharing) and in love (and maybe not sharing); when I’m generous and humane, and when I’m weak, scuffed, broken, angry, and cold. Nobody is nice all the time, but she’s with me most days and every night. Does she get most of the good stuff? Sure — and all of the bad stuff.

She — the one in the coffee stand — frowned at me then. “You weren’t being mean to her, were you?”

“Probably, yeah.” My phone dinged, announcing a text message. I turned away, checked the message, settled my bag.

She poked her head a little further out the window, leaning on her elbows with her head up and her eyes flashing, the way girls do. “Where are you going now?”

“Home, I guess.” I hadn’t ordered anything.

“Now?” She tipped her head a little to the side. “How come?”

And I smiled a real smile, the kind that isn’t obligatory.

“It’s where my sweetheart lives.”Joy!

That’s still true. And it’s still true that I fight dirty, that crying is cheating, and that I can’t fake a smile worth a shit.

She already knows all that.



  1. H Marc says

    Good one, Jack, the Buddha would probably be proud of you…

  2. GlennS says


    Seven months ago, I would not have grokked this. Now I do, thanks in part to you and your sweetheart’s good advice, born of hard-won experience. It’s why I asked you two in the first place. May hard conversation be a bit easier for you(plural), and may I get to toast your fiftieth anniversary.

  3. I don’t get it. It’s been too long since I’ve been there. Remarkably, it’s still evocative on a subconscious level.
    Keep up the good writing, and certainly the smiling, both forced and genuine. 🙂

  4. Paula Milburn says

    The fact that you go home Jack, says everything – and you work it out. Too many people (both male and female, neither gender can take full responsibility, just as neither partner should take *full* responsibility) won’t talk.

    Been luckier with that lately, both with G, and before him Bry and after him/currently, Paul. I’m damned lucky, Can talkk about anything to him, even things that aren’t his ‘fault’!! And, importantly, these days I’m more willing to take responsibility for the things that *are* my fault!

    Keep Smiling – genuine smiles, my love to you and your sweetie xxx

  5. Well said, brother. That’s the greatest thing about a monogamous relationship, if you can hold onto it. Once the infatuation fades you get to see each other in every circumstance. And if she still loves you in spite of all your stupid shit you are indeed a lucky man. I know I am.

  6. Randolph Simmons, USMC (Ret.) says

    You have quite the cult following son. Perhaps you should encourage some of them to spend less time chasing old soldier stories and more time working on the future

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