By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) “He’s so serious all the time.” “When was the last time you saw him smile?” “He’s, like, really smart but never happy.” “Everything from him is either a one word answer or a snarky comment.”
Who do you think is being referred to in those remarks?
If you polled most of my coworkers at my other two jobs, these would likely be the most common responses you’d get if you were to ask them their thoughts on me. I’ve heard this stuff said about me countless times, sometimes to my face and sometimes not. It’s not splashed across newspapers or debated on talk radio, though.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, well, he’s not so lucky. His mood, his demeanor, his punch-me face, his interviews, his eye-rolls, his “Dude, did you seriously just ask me that question?” look—all are scrutinized almost daily. Definitely after a loss like the one the Bears suffered at the hands of the Green Bay Packers last Thursday.
And I empathize with Cutler. It’s annoying to have to constantly hear people actually care about the way you carry yourself when it has no effect on the way you perform your job—and it doesn’t. His facial WTFs don’t prevent the Bears from gaining yards. His bird flips and profanities don’t give the other team points.
Most fans would like to think the opposite is the case because most fans need to put a face on a loss, especially a pouty one. Most fans have to force the irrational romanticism of hollow sports terms like leadership and passion and desire. Most fans don’t accept their own hypocrisy.
I said that I empathize with the most scrutinized man in Chicago because on a much, much different scale I have to conduct my own painfully tedious press conferences most days of the week. There are not cameras or microphones, but there are a lot of mundane questions that make me want to take a cheese grater to my brain. The media is to Jay Cutler as small talk is to me.
“Hey, how’s school?” Actual answer: “Fine.” In my head: “The @#$% do you care? Really want to know? Okay. I spend six hours a day attempting to un@#$% the heads of 150 teenagers after 14-18 years of adults telling them that they have to absolutely fit in a round hole no matter how obvious of a square peg they are, and that not fitting what someone else thinks you should be is absolutely fine and probably even great. I try to do my very best to make these artificially inflated glass egos realize that they are not special and that the world owes them jack @#$% despite them being raised in an environment of ‘timeouts’ and getting everything they demand for Christmas—all without blatantly saying that their parents are not perfect, as no parents are, and actually are likely wrong about a lot of things because I’d rather not answer angry emails from my phone while I’m here at the restaurant where we’re having this awesome conversation. This while I have no idea how many of these kids have been or are still mentally, physically, or emotionally abused at home, or how many think about suicide daily, or which ones are having their social lives ruined on Facebook. Oh, and I actually got them to say that Macbeth isn’t all that bad and that Shakespeare is kind of interesting and funny for a dead dude. How are things with you?”
“Do you think Matt Forte’s absence could affect the running attack against the Rams Sunday?” Actual answer: “Matt hasn’t been ruled out yet, so I can’t speak to that.” In Jay’s head: “I want to kick you in the groin so bad. He’s our starting running back, you massive tool. But do you want me to say that Michael Bush can’t do the job even though he probably can against a Rams run defense that has been laughable so far? That would push your ink, wouldn’t it? Don’t ever look me in the eye again let alone speak to me.”
“So what classes are you teaching this year?” Actual answer: “Same ones as usual.” In my head: “I’m teaching kids that every single damn day amaze me at how creative, funny, and brilliant they are despite being ‘uncool’ for it. Kids who appreciate honesty and being treated like real people instead of Faberge eggs, and who, therefore, reciprocate that honesty and respect that is foreign to them in the outside world because they’re teenagers who don’t matter at all more than how susceptible they are to advertising. How are your kids, by the way?”
“There’s been a lot of talk about your behavior in the Green Bay game. Care to comment on that?” Actual answer: “Well, it’s frustrating to lose football games, and sometimes I let that frustration show.” In Jay’s head: “I don’t care to comment on that because it’s an incredibly stupid and nonspecific question. I hate your existence—not just you specifically, but that of all media—with every fiber of my being. You exist to feed the stupid instead of nourishing the intellectually starving. When I’m pissed off, I’m going to appear pissed off, okay? What is so difficult to understand about that, and why is it debated whether or not that translates into how the ball leaves my hands or a teammate stopping someone else from crushing me? Die in a fire.”
But, see, Cutler and I don’t say these things because that would make us really bad guys. Instead, we are terse with our responses, and that just makes us “aloof” or “cold” or “dbaggish.” We’d both like to be brutally honest, but we also both feel that the consequences just aren’t worth it. And so we both let the assumption that we’re just jerks perpetuate.
Keeping to oneself is the quality of a jerk. Not wanting to engage the media or chit chat is jerkiness. So says the society that demands we babble to each other about nothing in particular. Silence must mean there’s a problem. It has to, right? Who in his right mind would prefer silence over answering questions in a room full of cameras and lights? Why are you so quiet all the time? What is wrong? Why do you just stare at your phone, reading, all night? Something must be wrong with him if he doesn’t want to talk to us. Who wouldn’t want to talk to us?
And just like Jay Cutler, I genuinely do not care about such thoughts and questioning from others. I’ve long been used to it. That probably bothers people even more, in the same way it bothers people when Cutler so obviously doesn’t care that you care about him not caring about what you think. Oh, how infuriating for you it must be, this palpable apathy of ours.
Sometimes Jay and I are not apathetic, though. Once in a while we show emotion. And then it’s all cheers for us, right?
Well, not quite. For Jay this week he’s being criticized locally and nationally for his treatment of teammate and horrific postmodern Jell-O confection J’Marcus Webb. Webb’s play as a professional lineman could politely be described as colonic, no more so than last Thursday when his inability to not let men in green run by him continuously had Bears fans gasping every time a Packer lay what could have been a season-ending hit on the franchise’s quarterback. Or the running back in the backfield. Or Mike Tice’s wife. (Probably—I don’t know. Things got very bad.)
So Cutler yelled at Webb on the sidelines—something likely to the effect of “Hey, will you please stop having me almost die out there and stuff?”—and bumped the offensive O-lineman. I don’t condone the latter, and I would never get physical with a coworker. Cutler apologized for the bump, as he should have, but went no further, as he should not have. Webb needed to be embarrassed in public like that since he obviously wasn’t on the field. There’s professionalism, and then there’s not wanting your livelihood risked by a guy getting paid to play a lava lamp.
There’s professionalism, and then there’s “Oh, after two weeks of exercise after exercise and me singing songs to help you remember and asking, begging, pleading with you guys to ask me any question you still had about pronouns and you all swearing to me that you could pick out demonstrative, interrogative, and relative pronouns in your sleep—after all that—this many of you choose not to study and then fail the test? Well, you’re damn right I’m going to be pissed off and not the usual wise-cracking, let’s-try-to-have-fun-with-this Mr. Baffoe.”
That’s right. I have fun at work. Often, actually. If I’m not having fun, my students aren’t having fun and vice versa. I enjoy making the class laugh with the material, because if they’re laughing they’re listening. I like reading aloud in various accents like those of General Zaroff or Twainish 19th c. Missouri.
Showing up to work early and battling it out with patrons at the restaurant’s bar during Jeopardy! was one of the highlights of my day until Katie Couric’s stupid show bumped Alex Trebek to 2:30pm. I hate you, pixie woman. Going on Wikipedia adventures—letting the various links on Wikipedia pages take us to strange, comedic places on our phones—with my cousin, a fellow driver, when deliveries are few and far between at night. Trading good-natured insults in Spanish with the pizza makers. All great things about working at the restaurant five nights a week.
I’m sure Cutler has fun at work, too. Hell, I’ve seen several instances. The TV cameras tend to love the pouty faces and the cursing, though, because that’s what people would rather see and would rather jabber about. I happened to catch the NFL Network’s “Jay Cutler Mic’d Up” last week, and it had me laughing. More so, though, it had me thinking “Most people don’t see this Cutler, and most people would probably rather not because it hurts the established narrative they’re comfortable with.”
But notice where the laid back, witty, and dare I say jovial Cutler exists. On the field. Chatting with teammates during pregame. I feel him. Almost none of you will ever be able to observe me in my classroom, but any of my students can attest that I’m hardly rigid or surly. It’s where I’m most comfortable, dealing with people who don’t care about the superficial, people who go out of their way to make me laugh, people who every year find out my birthday and sing the song and give me a card made of notebook paper and two Centrum Silver tablets glued to it, people who after they graduate email me with a writing question or to tell me about a creative arts project they’re a part of at college or just to vent about how one of their professors is a moron.
Or in my car bringing food from A to B. Where I’m alone with the radio and my demented mind, within that force field of blue hatchback that makes my singing inaudible and my presence invisible to the outside world, all the while accepting the fact that I’m a glorified drug mule.
I’m sure Kristin Cavallari and Camden Jack Cutler see a much different guy at home than most talking heads portray and lambast. Pretty sure Daddy Cutler doesn’t walk in the door, give his kid the finger, and slump on the couch and demand to be left alone. I doubt if you asked Cutler’s parents they would tell you, “Oh, yeah, he’s always a moody bastard.”
Just like if you asked my friends and family if I’m the sarcastic agitator you find in my columns here, they would tell you… well, they’d tell you I am. Bad example.
A waitress at the restaurant that I’ve known for years once told me that I’m a Sour Patch Kid. I sighed, humored her, and asked why. “First you’re sour, then you’re sweet,” she explained. Whatever.
We both are perfectionists in our own right, Cutler and I. That’s where the pouty face on the field comes into play, that’s where the eye-roll at a stupid question appears. That’s where my deafening silence arises toward someone behind the counter who gave me the wrong two-liter of pop, and now I have to drive all the way back to the restaurant, without compensation, and then reverse two miles to the 250 lb. chick who’s watching her figure by drinking diet. That’s where I become a [expletive]ing [expletive] for daring to disturb your nap in my class by assigning you to write a letter of thanks to your parents for paying a hefty tuition for another place to sleep.
Intrapersonals in an interpersonal world. That’s what we are. Give us our space, let us do our things. Look, but don’t touch.
But to those who don’t know us, we’re ripe for criticism, especially when times are tough. “Dat Cutler needs to quit making dose faces so dat da Bears can respect him more and play better!” “Your audible sighs are not helping the pizza place be less hectic, Baffoe.”
We’re odd for not conforming or playing the part of the happy, smiley worker no matter what. Demanding the best from others makes us abrasive iconoclasts. Certainly Cutler would call me a dork on the one-in-a-million chance he’d ever read this and shrug it off as “whatever.”
And I completely agree.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.