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When I want something from someone who does not have to be nice to me, and let's face it, the only people who have to be nice to you are salespeople, my first instinct is to turn on the charm. Whether I am at the DMV, dealing with government workers, or trying to talk my way out one of those condo parking tickets at my HOA office, or attempting to return an item that I have obviously broken through my own ignorance or lack of mechanical skills to the department store from which it came, I go nice.

I ooze schmooze. I can go shyly sweet or ingratiatingly bold, depending on my audience. Usually I get what I want. Except from cops. Every cop who has ever pulled me over has recognized instinctively that I needed a ticket. In my misspent youth and also a good portion of my misspent middle age, I drove around the fine federally funded interstate highways of the American Southwest fast enough so I could get places. This resulted in tickets. On the rare occasions I get a ticket nowadays, I am always offered the chance to attend traffic school. I don't take it. I already have a PhD in traffic school.

During the last baseball season, though, I took to going to games with a guy with the exact opposite approach to interpersonal  negotiations. This was a man who used his profound irritation with the rest of humanity as a scythe to cut down any obstacles in his daily path. He once, it was said to me, told off the entire town of Prescott, Arizona, because the bananas in one supermarket struck him as small and stunted. In our time together, however, he mostly used his talent on  people blocking our view of the game.

I first became aware of this man's powers in the left-field pavilion seats located close to the rail. At this particularly game, between every inning, a crowd of maybe thirty prepubescent boys were getting up, marching to the rail we were seated next to, and imploring the players to toss baseballs up to them.

The players looked puzzled, as were we; what irresponsible adult told these brats they could get free baseballs by merely begging for them? After the third inning, they lined up at the rail again and after getting no baseballs, wanted to squish past us one more time to return to their seats, with some of them using hands sticky with candy and ice cream to grab our bare knees for balance. Kids will be kids, I thought resignedly, but my friend had had enough.

"Don't come back this way," he yelled. "Go around the other way." Suddenly the whole line of grubby children started going backwards, like a Slinky backing down the stairs and marched back to their seats in the opposite direction, blocking other people's view of the game, not ours.

"Wow," I breathed. "You just got grumpy. And you got results."

"Yes," he replied sagely. "Grumpy works." I noticed it kept on working, too; those kids avoided us like we were math homework the rest of the game.

"You must teach me the grumpy way," I implored him, adding, in case he didn't think I was serious, "oh Grumpy-Wan."

"Watch and learn," he replied.

The next game we attended, we were seated in a different row. This time we had a party of middle-aged adults in front of us. I knew they were trouble. They weren't wearing baseball gear. When you go to a game, you need to wear baseball gear. You can wear the colors of the home team. This is the safe choice. You can wear the colors of the visiting team. This is a bad idea in my native Philadelphia, but in my adopted San Diego, we are mellow enough not to assault you if you do so.

You can wear the colors of a team not on the field. This is pointless, but acceptable. You can even wear a football jersey. This means that you are expressing your personal angst at it not being football season yet. But you don't wear street clothes. All of these people were. After listening to their conversation for an inning or so, I learned that they worked together on the Internet from all over the country and had chosen to come together and meet in person at his particular baseball game, in this particular row, right in front of us. Like most people who are being reunited after a long time, or in their case the first time, they were standing up showing each other pictures of their kids and pets on their cell phones WHILE MY TEAM WAS TRYING TO SCORE A DESPERATELY NEEDED INSURANCE RUN WITH A MAN ON THIRD, TWO OUTS!

I said nothing. I knew a tall boy of grumpy was going to get opened up on them, and soon. "SIT DOWN!" the Sensei of Surly finally boomed.

They sat. Quickly, and without a peep of dissent. As far as I know, they still are. 


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