The View From Planet Kerth: Glad to see you, here's a big bouquet of irony for you

"Good morning, young man," the clerk said as I entered the hardware store. "Can I help you?"

He was looking straight at me, but I glanced over my shoulder to see if someone had entered behind me. After all, I will be eligible for Medicare on my next birthday, and the clerk was no older than my son.

I'm sure he meant well when he called me "young man," but his ironic greeting stuck in my geriatric craw. Because—let's face it—he would have to be blind or I would have to be delusional for his words to make sense to either of us. If anything, it seemed condescending. A pat on the head to make the old fart feel better.

He didn't mean any offense by it, I'm sure. And I'm sure he went home that night feeling as if he had done his good deed for the day.

But still, would he have gone home with as big a smile if I had matched his cheerful irony with a bit of my own? He was a bit chunkier than I am—would it have brightened his day if I had said, "How's it going, Slim?" He was losing his hair, too—maybe I should have said, "Nice day, isn't it, Curly?"

But I didn't do any of that. Instead, I just smiled, because his ironic howdy brought to mind a memory of another time in my life—a moment when the irony was flipped upside-down.

It was more than 20 years ago, at my son Dave's first high school soccer game. He had been an outstanding youth player in park district and travel leagues, and now he was looking forward to wearing his school's colors for the next four years.

My wife and I agreed to meet at the high school field to watch the game right after we both got off from work. She got there before I did, and as I walked into the stadium, team warm-ups were just finishing on the pitch.

As I strolled past the back of the goal at the end of the field where our son's team was warming up, a ball rolled past the net toward me. Dave stood near the goal, smiling when he saw me.

And then his irony gene kicked in.

"Hey, old man!" he called out to me. "Do you think you can kick it this far?"

His question was ironic on more than one count. In the first place, I was barely 40 years old at the time—old by his standards, but hardly ancient by any other measure. In the second place, I was myself a soccer player and coach, and I could easily have booted the ball over his head to the other end of the field if I wished. Barefoot.

His teammates, who all knew me, laughed. They wished it had been their father walking by, and that they had delivered the zinger.

So, I thought, you want to lock ironic antlers, do you? Well, young fawn, you're about to meet the alpha stag of that forest.

I picked up the ball in my hands and walked slowly past the goal, onto the field. Dave stood with his hand out, waiting for me with a grin on his face. His teammates grinned, too. As I say, they knew me, and they knew that something more interesting was about to arrive than a wayward soccer ball.

When I got to him, I handed the ball to one of his teammates. And then I reached behind my back.

Stuffed into my belt was a bouquet of flowers. It was September 7—my wife's birthday—and I had planned to surprise her at the game with them. But the irony muse stepped in to change my plans.

I handed Dave the floral bouquet, and his teammates snickered. And then I said, "Have a good game, Sweetie!" I gave him a hug, and then I turned and walked toward the stands, where my wife sat with a wry smile on her face, her head shaking slowly from side to side. She was too far away to tell for sure what was going on, but knowing both her husband and her son, she had an idea.

His teammates roared with laughter. For the rest of the game, whenever one of them called to him for the ball, he was called "Sweetie."

As a high school teacher, I knew that when a big glob of irony hits the fan, teenage boys don't care who is standing in front of it.

I thought of that long-ago September day recently, when the ironic hardware clerk said to me, "Good morning, young man. Can I help you?" And I felt my ironic antlers begin to rattle when he said it.

I smiled at him. I wanted to ask him, "Can you show me in which part of the hardware store I can find a bouquet of flowers?" But I didn't.

He probably would have thought I was having a senior moment.

- - -The author splits his time between Naples and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at trkerth@yahoo.com. Why wait a whole week for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Get T.R.'s new book, "Revenge of the Sardines," available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online book distributors. His column appears every Friday.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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