Joe the Curmudgeon

Joe Queenan is a crowd-pleaser at my house. When The Sons are home, and we are lingering after a long breakfast served at 1:00 p.m., Queenan’s Wall Street Journal column is good for a laugh. He’s a curmudgeon, especially about things modern.

“Uriah the Hittite” is a family meme:

[A] couple of years ago, when baristas asked for my name, I started saying ‘Ramon,’ which is so much more mysterious and evocative than Joe. I even went out of my way to roll the ‘r,’ to create the impression that the sound was bubbling up from the pit of my stomach. I love it when the barista calls out: ‘Double-Skim Venti Latte for Ramon.’ Soon I had a second fake moniker for Starbucks, so I also get to hear ‘Lemon Chamomile Tea for Thor.’

After a while, I got so much pleasure out of this masquerade that I started using even more esoteric names, like Wotan, Mercutio, Tybalt, El Greco, Romulus Augustus and Uriah the Hittite.

From today’s column, an instant classic about remakes:

Popeye the Sailor Man has resurfaced in a series of YouTube videos, this time with ‘a youthful appearance and a more eco-friendly position, growing spinach on the roof of his diesel-punk style houseboat.’ There’s nothing like eco-sensitive houseboat-based spinach farming to get today’s kids excited. Nothing.


Having recently subjected myself to the mandatory Student Evaluations of Teaching, I feel I have earned the right to enjoy a re-reading of a classic Queenan, “My Candid Reviews of the World’s Wonders”:

The Amazon Rain Forest (2.6). Overrated and smelly. Piranhas ate my dog, and the squawking toucans kept me up all night. Epcot was way more fun.

The Nile (4.2). Tourist trap. Muddy, crowded, too many crocodiles, meanders too much. A joke compared with the Mississippi. I’d rate the Volga and Tiber much higher. Maybe even the wide Missouri.

I’ve also read both of his books, his heart-wrenching memoir, Closing Time, and the chronicle of his lifetime of reading, One for the Books. In One for the Books, Joe the Luddite describes his quest to save books that are being purged from his library because they haven’t been checked out:

I felt like the very last acquisitions director at the library of Alexandria on December 22, A.D. 640, feverishly stuffing a few dozen plays by Euripides down his trousers twenty minutes before the Arabs showed up and set the whole place ablaze.

But Joe isn’t just a curmudgeon and a Luddite. He’s also a softie:

A reading life, a friend once told me, is an adventure without maps where you meet unexpected soulmates along the way.

Come to think of it, he has his own signature blend of indignation, sentimentality, and silliness (the tagline for my blog). The Sons will be home later this month. I look forward to breakfast served late and shared laughter over Joe Queenan’s wry observations.

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