The authoritative gasbag is someone whose sense of incredulity and outrage at the world’s utter absence of common sense and moral decency forever vexes him. Tormented, he is overcome by the need to complain to anyone who will listen to him as he explains that he bears excruciating hardships because he alone assumes responsibility in a world of sloths, frauds, and libertines.
Like the novelist John Kennedy Toole’s rotund loudmouth fictional creation Ignatius J. Reilly, the authoritative gasbag feels he is a genius surrounded by a “confederacy of dunces.” He deems himself as an unappreciated original thinker who longs to have more power, perhaps that of a monarch, to implement his views.
Why can’t people be as good as he is? Why can’t they see things as clearly as he does? Why can’t they at least attempt to conform to his worldview and thereby benefit from his superior ways? Forever befuddled and embattled, the authoritative gasbag assumes that the world’s hordes are obdurate, contumacious children who, incapable of being reasoned with, must be controlled by elaborate rules, regulations, and constant nagging. He of course takes it upon himself to do the nagging and therefore becomes in the process what is commonly known as a “busy body.” He will mettle in other people’s affairs and will often assume authority he does not possess.
For example, he will like to be the self-appointed life guard at a public pool. He will admonish people for running across the pavement while pointing at the “No Running” rule on a nearby sign. Or he will remind people that bottled beverages and alcohol of all kinds are strictly prohibited. During the “kid’s time” in the pool, he will expel adults still lingering in the pool and vice versa during “adult’s time.” He will discourage loud splashing, rough-housing, and any other ruckus he deems inappropriate even though he has no credentials or official sanction to perform such policing.
When he cannot police and control others to his satisfaction, he will become a tattletale. For example, he will make a stink when he sees other airline passengers violating the no-more-than-two-carry-on rule and will gloat with self-satisfaction as he watches the airline attendant force the offending passenger off the plane in order to check in the third carry-on piece. Or he will notify an usher when he sees that a theater patron has, rather than purchase overpriced concession candy, smuggle champagne and fried chicken into the theater and he will watch with glee as the offending patron is expelled from the premises or forced to throw away his food stuffs and libations.
In true gasbag fashion, the authoritative gasbag cannot withhold his opinions so be leery if he is standing behind you in the grocery line. He will scrutinize the products in your cart and then admonish you for your lack of fresh fruits and vegetables and your preponderance for frozen microwave dishes rich in saturated fats, even going so far as to equate your shoddy food choices with the neglect and abuse of your children. A shopping cart full of too many sugar-laden cereals and trans-fats can spur this gasbag into getting out his cell phone and speed-dialing the Department of Social Services.
When not inspecting strangers’ grocery choices, the authoritative gasbag is commonly known to take on the mantle of neighborhood watchdog. In addition to keeping a sharp eye on suspicious loiterers, he will be the official dog crap monitor. Whenever a neighbor leaves a dog deposit on his lawn, he will insert a toothpick flagged with the time and date of the offense and photograph the deposit for evidence that he is amassing against the offending neighbor. The more high-tech gasbag will install security video cameras around his front yard and show, via live video streaming on the Internet, the dogs and their owners violating community codes of dog ownership, and in the process succeed at humiliating his neighbors for using his lawn as a dog dumping ground.
This gasbag’s love of wielding authority will draw him to types of employment that will maximize his dictatorial excesses. He may be a police officer. He may be a security guard at the shopping mall. He may be a school administrator or, as he likes to call himself, an “educator.” He may become a personal trainer, a nutritionist, a martial arts instructor, a fire safety expert, a neighborhood crime watch organizer, a health inspector, a social worker, a technology geek, a PTA leader, a marital advice columnist, or an inspector of television, radio and Internet smut.
Or if you are as unfortunate as I am, he may be your condo association president. I am thinking specifically of a man I will call Mel Barnes, the condo president of a condo unit I once owned. Mel was silver-haired and strong-jawed with cobalt blue eyes that roiled beneath a stare of perpetual self-righteousness and moral clarity. His proclivity for eating steak, a habit while growing up in Texas, gave him a pot belly on an otherwise slender body. He was, as are many condo association presidents, retired, and this gave him the time necessary to do all of a condo president’s duties, which were many. One of his most unpleasant chores was fining the condo owners, as laid out in the condo bylaws, fifty dollars every time they parked in the guest parking, or threw their weeds and garden trimmings in the dumpsters, or didn’t replace their batteries in their home fire detectors, or didn’t keep their cats inside their condos so that their cats illegally roamed the area and used other people’s flower beds as latrines, or didn’t lock the back gate that separated our collective back yard from the tennis courts so that any riffraff could get inside our property.
Mel Barnes was so distressed and frustrated over his vigorous condo duties that he had developed high blood pressure, ulcers, and Temporo-Mandibular Joint Syndrome. He grew to resent those who did not appreciate his vigilance and who did not follow all the rules and bylaws.
During my first week at the condo as I was tossing moving boxes into the dumpster Mel tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I hate to be persnickety but you need to tear those boxes into smaller pieces to make room for the rest of us.”
I did not want to get on Mel’s bad side and began shredding the boxes to his satisfaction.
About a week later I was in my little front patio area taking off my muddy shoes after jogging near the beach when Mel sauntered over, leaned over my wrought iron gate and told me a burglar had broken into our subterranean parking garage by squeezing through a window and using a garden hose as a ladder. Several items were stolen out of people’s cars, including a laptop computer. He told me the gardeners would have to disconnect the garden hose and keep it in the tool shed before and after every use. I apologized as if the problem were somehow my fault while he flexed his jaw muscles and looked down at my muddy shoes and my front patio with displeasure. After clearing out the weeds and brush, I had not planted anything yet. There was nothing but a bunch of dirt clods.
“My, your front patio looks rather bare. I suppose you weren’t planning on doing anything to it?”
I immediately went to a garden store and bought a bunch of “hearty” flowers, hoping that might keep Mel off my back.
He was appeased but only temporarily. A week later he came over to tell me my downstairs toilet was too loud. He could hear it all the way from his condo. He speculated that perhaps the water level in the tank was set too high. Or the tank ball was rotted and not sealing correctly so the tank got too low and was always filling. Or perhaps the fill valve was too long and was siphoning into the overflow pipe. I pretended to understand what he was saying, then called a plumber who recommended that I just get a whole brand new toilet, which I did.
The next morning I heard someone standing on a squeaky stepladder behind my master bedroom. I stepped outside and saw Mel using his bare hands to apply gobs of Crisco shortening to the top of our gate. I asked him what he was doing and he explained that kids had been trying to climb over the seven-foot high enclosure. The shortening would help deter their efforts.
“They could slip and break their necks,” I said.
“That’s not my problem. If they want to ignore our ‘No Trespassing’ sign that’s their business.”
He explained that we might have to tap our emergency fund to add another five feet, including barb wire, to the gate. Then he said, “I hate to think what this place would do without me.”
A week later he informed me that the mud clumps collected under my rafters were wasp nests. I knocked down one of the nests with a broom stick and almost got stung by a testy wasp. When I told him what happened, he chastised me for not using the proper equipment. He came over with his stepladder and a can of wasp spray. As he climbed up on the stepladder and sprayed under my rafter, dozens of pale winged insects flew outside. He said I had a problem far worse than wasps—termites. Winged termites, known as “swarmers,” provided evidence that termites were breeding inside my house.
“Any termite droppings inside your house?” he asked me.
I described some strange gritty substance I kept finding on my living room carpet. It looked like orange pencil shavings. Mel admonished me for not telling him about this earlier, disappeared, then returned with a flashlight and a pad and pencil. He knelt before a small mound of termite droppings on my living room carpet, then announced we had an infestation. He would sue the termite exterminators who, three years ago, gave the condo a ten-year guarantee when they fumigated the premises. The litigation could be lengthy and we didn’t have the reserves to pay for another full-out fumigation. But there were cheaper and safer alternatives that would not require that we tent up the entire condo and subject ourselves to poisons that would harm us and our pets. He had a relative in Orange County who could get him a special deal on XT-2000, a termite killer made from orange peel oil. He would also look into other phenolic compounds, liquid nitrogen, high heat, baiting, and topical fungus. His eyes gleamed and he sounded excited as if he were planning for a great war. For the next several days I would see him flooding other condo owners with technical information they did not want to know about the killing of termites. Polymethoxylated flavonoids just might do the trick, he said.
I realized that Mel was never so happy as when he was immersed in a crisis that allowed him to assume the role of an authority. Yes, he was a malcontent who loved to complain and talk about the enormous difficulties he faced as our condo manager, but take those difficulties away and Mel would have lost something vital to his being, something that kept him happy and alive, his excuse to talk ad nauseam about the woes and challenges that had befallen him.