I have been a smartass for forty-seven years. That would be socially accepatble if I were one hundred years old, but the fact is that I am forty-seven.
Throughout the years, being a smartass has cost me plenty in immaterial ways. While attending second grade at a Catholic elementary school, I received several smacks on the hand by one of many crazy nuns, most notably for putting Alka Seltzer tablets in the holy water basins. The act itself didn’t cause much commotion, until I raised my arms and uttered loudly in the back of church, “Behold, the power of the Lord!” The other kids laughed. Sister Mary What’s Her Face did not. In junior high and high school, being a smartass cost me considerably when pursuing the affections of young ladies. I had made many jokes and cracks at their expense. I thought I was charming and witty like a young Jim Halpert, when in fact, I was mean and obnoxious like a Dwight Schrute. (I sincerely apologize to every girl that I offended from 1978 to 1984–that would be all of them.) As an adult, you’d think that the regulations and the discipline required of armed forces personnel would have made me quit being a smartass while in the Air Force. Not true. I still made smartass remarks from time to time to supervisors. I simply prefaced the comments with a “sir” or “ma’am,” you know, as a sign of respect. My family and friends are OK with me being a smartass because they’ve learned over the years to ignore my antics at will. Plus, most of my family and friends are smartasses themselves, albeit in a tamer manner than me.
Being a wiseguy is a conscious choice. I certainly know how to NOT be a smartass–that clearly distinguishes me from someone who is a “dumbass” or a “jackass.” I choose not to be ordinary or lame. The fun associated with being a smartass has always outweighed the cost. Until last week.
While playing blackjack at a casino in Colorado, I held a hand of A-3 against the dealers eight. Basic strategy called for me to hit, which I did by dragging the cards over the felt toward my body. The dealer gave me a ten, face up on the table. Fourteen. Using basic strategy again, I motioned for another hit. It was a face card. Twenty-four. I busted and lost. Here is where my brain and mouth shifted into smartass gear. In an attempt to be funny, I motioned for a third hit, thinking there was no way that the dealer would give me another card. I had two cards in my hand, plus twenty that was already showing in front of my hand. The sleepy dealer gave me another face card. Thirty-four. Even more busted. The dealer noticed the snafu the same time that I flipped over my cards and exclaimed, “Crap, I was just messin’ with you!” His expression was an equal combination of amusement and anger. He responded, “Hah, hah—you got me.” He then called the pit boss over who was not amused in the least. “Burn it!” she said loudly without lecturing me. The dealer took the face card and tucked it away in the discard pile.
The story takes a dark turn at this point. I was sitting on third base with only one other player at the table. The dealer continued the game by showing a four underneath his eight. He had twelve. The next card was another eight. The dealer totaled twenty. He would’ve busted with a twenty-two if I had not been a smartass moments earlier. The man sitting to my right had a nineteen. This man, who resembled a well-fed and well-connected mafia boss, was not pleased. You should’ve seen the look he gave me—it was the same look a guy once gave me at a bar in Daytona Beach while I was partying with a bunch of friends during Memorial Day weekend. The look came seconds before the guy cold-cocked my face, sending me to the floor with a black eye, because I had made a drunken, smartass comment. Meanwhile, my friends did nothing to help or protect me against the guy who cold-cocked me because they knew I had probably just made a drunken, smartass comment to the guy who had every right to cold-cock me for it seconds later.
After his $25 bet was whisked away, the large blackjack player to my right grumbled and started to stand. Something was gonna happen. I pleaded to the pit boss, “Please don’t make this guy lose because I was a smartass!” No luck. The pit boss said that the card must be burned since it was uncovered in play. The cards could not be backed up. In response, I quickly tossed the other player two $25 chips. One that he lost on the hand, plus another for what he should’ve won. I also quickly apologized with a beet-red face. The man sat down and gave me a sarcastic little smile, obviously still miffed, but satisfied at the turn of events. The incident was over. Being a smartass cost me $50.
Do you think that was the end of my smartassedness? No way. Just yesterday, as I was emerged from a pool after swimming laps with an underwater iPod adapter and waterproof headphones, a guy pointed to my ear and asked, “Do those things work?” I was a little confused by the obvious question, so I responded, “What do you mean?” The guy repeated, “Do those headphones work in water?” I was dumbfounded. He just WATCHED me swim and emerge from the pool wearing waterproof headphones and the iPod adapter strapped to my arm. My entire body was dripping wet. I answered, “No. They don’t work,” then rolled my eyes and walked away. Whatever the cost, being a smartass is way better than being a dumbass.