Sample Chapters

Labete, the Curmudgeon

Richard Bonte

Richard Bonte


cur·mudg·eon [ k?’mʌdʒəәn ](cur·mudg·eons)

  • Somebody who is irritable or stubborn
  • A bad-tempered or surly person
  • Curmudgeons are people with stubborn ideas oropinions
    (Wikipedia and Webster’s Dictionary)“L’Enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is Other People)

– Jean-Paul Sartre

Curmudgeonly Yours
© 2017
– By Richard Bonte
Front Cover: ‘The Curmudgeon,’ by Franci



Table of Contents




















Richard Bonte










Do you really have time to read this?

I’m amazed you’re even reading these words. You’ve gotten to the third sentence. Most people don’t read and won’t read books so don’t do me any favors. Apparently, I’m supposed to keep you interested so your attention doesn’t wander and if it does, then it’s my fault for boring you. Whatever.

Why should I do anything for you?

Most people only have time to talk about themselves. They don’t care about others. And they don’t listen. I listen. If I want to make a connection with you—and I hate to admit I want to do anything with you—I’ll have to speak fast before you talk over me about yourself, your lousy miserable self.

But then, it’s early in the day; the light is strange. You’re probably not even awake.

Yes, I am often bad-tempered, surly, crusty, irascible, cantankerous, stingy, unpleasant; I am a sorehead, kvetch, wet blanket, killjoy—your genuine curmudgeon–and what follows is what I’m getting off my chest, whether you like it or not.

– Labete


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Chapter One: Education

“Do you have time to talk to me?” “No!”
“I’m your dad, Son!”

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s silence. Kids today have really mastered this art.

“Would you pick up your clothes?”
“You got a couple of hours. Why don’t you do your

homework?” Silence.

“Did you have a good day today?”
I grabbed his iPhone, iPad, mini-iPad and two sets of

earphones. He said nothing but stared resolutely at the big screen of his desktop iMac and continued to play yet another video game.

I pulled the plug and all hell broke loose.

“Come on, Dad!” he ordered, “Why did you buy me these things if you didn’t want me to use them?”

“Good question. I made a mistake.”

“Come on, Dad!” he ordered again, with increasing vehemence.

“Come on, Dad!”
“No,” I said quietly, “I’ll pay you.” “Huh?”


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“I’ll pay you.”
“What do you mean, ‘You’ll pay me?’”
“I’ll pay you to listen to me.”
“Pay me to listen to you? How much?”
“Your college education and your first apartment.” “Those are in the bag.”
“In the bag?”
“Of course you’re paying for that, Dad. Those things

are included in my – I mean, I’m your son.”
“How old are you, Maurice? Technically I don’t have to

do squat for you. Those things are a privilege and I don’t have to do anything for you. Just make sure you attend school. No, you’re going to have to earn those privileges.”

“How am I going to do that?” he answered sarcastically.

“Easy, all you have to do is listen to me for one hour a week.”

“One hour a week! I don’t have time.”

“Of course you do. At a minimum your education is worth one hundred grand and your future apartment about the same so about $200,000 divided by 3650 days (which is 365 days a year x 10 years) = about $55 hours a day. There are only twenty-four hours in a day so obviously listening to your dad one hour a week (which is 1 hour divided by 168 hours in a week) is just a fraction of what you’ll be getting back in help over the next ten years. Think of it as pocket money with strings attached.”

It was my turn to be silent.
“Yeah?” he finally said with interest.



“We’re gonna take a trip on a series of Saturdays to see how the average Joe lives so we both find out what the world’s about,” I answered.

“A trip? One hour a day on Saturday?”

“What? Too much? Not enough? Tell me. We’re going to accelerate it so it won’t take so long. A few hours on successive Saturdays should do it and it’s paid time.”

“It’s Saturday today, Dad.”

“Precisely. And it’s time for breakfast. Your mum’s out with her team. Let’s go to McDonald’s!”

“For breakfast?”

“Sure, why not? Not content just serving the world sugar and fat for lunch and dinner, they’re now trying to corner the puffy breakfast market, too,” I answered.


“Yeah, puffy, as in chubby. Expanding. Overweight. Obese, you choose.”

“Wow, thanks Dad, breakfast at McDonald’s. Bacon and eggs and fries!”

“I suppose you’ll want dessert with that, too?” “Now don’t be sarcastic!”
“Me? Sarcastic? Seriously, when you grow up,

Maurice, you’ll be thanking me for not taking you very often to McDonald’s. Now run up and wash and I’ll blow up the tires.”

“On our bikes?” he said incredulously.
“Are you crazy? Why don’t we just take the car and go

to McDonald’s?”


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“Don’t you want to take your bike? I thought you were an athlete?”

He looked at me. He then began to run upstairs when he paused and said,

“How much will you pay me?”
“€10 an hour.”
“An average cleaning lady gets €15.” “Where did you learn that?”
“Mum told me.”
“€10. If we were in the States, it’d be $10.” “No, it wouldn’t. It’d be $25.”
€10. Take it or leave it.”
“I’ll take it, Dad. Thanks.”

It made me sick having to pay my own son to listen to me but that’s what the world had become. The fact was I couldn’t compete with Apple engineers and their video games.

Maurice ran upstairs to get ready while I went to the garage and pulled out two bicycles, oiled them and blew up the tires. We hadn’t used the bikes for a while. Normally, I’d drive Maurice to school and my wife, Nina, would pick him up. Since his day was packed with activities, it wasn’t practical to go around on bicycles, so cycling became more of a recreation thing rather than a means of getting about.

We lived in a manor home, a mini-château in France outside the capital equipped with a swimming pool, tennis court and Mediterranean gardens surrounding a statue of Venus, the Goddess of Love. This affluent area was like Atherton in the San Francisco Bay Area, Short Hills in New



Jersey or Beverly Hills in California. The average salary was €8000 a month, a huge amount. It was one of the most affluent areas of the Parisian suburbs with one of the best transportation systems in the world. There were many ways of getting around as well, unlike in other parts of the world where we’d lived like L.A. or Florida where the car was the only practical way. Nevertheless, the French, along with most of the Western world, were putting on weight because they drove to feeding troughs like McDonald’s, knocked down a thousand calories at a meal, and didn’t walk.

We donned our helmets and reflector vests. We had just ridden our bikes though the front gate when we were almost hit by a BMW swerving around a badly parked Mercedes sedan. French streets in the suburbs were about as wide as two lanes of half an average street in the States. At most. Depending on the time of the month, cars could only park on one side of the street because if they parked on both sides, one couldn’t drive through. As it was, traffic on the ‘parking side’ had to give way to cars on the ‘open’ side. It was the first of the month and most of the cars had parked on the opposite side of the street, except for this Mercedes.

“Connard! (Asshole)!” I yelled at the lightly bearded punk whose hair was pointing straight up like a rooster’s crest but the guy didn’t hear me because he was wearing earphones.

“Geez, that was close,” said Maurice, “You get his license number, Dad?”

“How could I? The guy was zigzagging between cars parked on both sides. Remind me to honk loudly at this


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Mercedes when we take the car out later! This piece of crap caused the problem in the first place!”

In the suburbs, French law requires that every two weeks, on the fifteenth and last day of the month, between 8:30 and 9 pm, cars must be moved from one side of the street to the other. This is for street cleaning purposes.

For some reason, the French never respect this rule. Often they don’t leave the table (they usually start eating at 8:15 pm after the evening news) to move their cars. They sometimes don’t move them the next morning if they don’t have to use them to get to work. In fact, some even take forty- eight hours to complete this operation and two weeks ago, I noticed a car without a ticket and still parked on the wrong side five days after the first of the month.

So when I drive, I often honk loudly every time I come across cars parked on the wrong side. I make sure there’s no pedestrian walking about because I would not want to scare them. There aren’t many people who like it when a crazy guy starts honking for no apparent reason. The best time is early in the morning or late at night on the 1st or the 16th of the month when the lazy bozos are in bed and their badly parked cars are making life difficult for the rest of us.

“You’d think the bastards would want to move their cars? You know, be responsible citizens and all?”

“I know, you told me last time, Dad.”

“And I’m gonna tell you every time we go by one of these crumb bums, whether by bike or by car.”

We continued pedaling for thirty yards.



As if on cue, a massive dog—or else it sounded like one–came bounding up to the extended fence of our neighbor’s property.

“Ruff, ruff, woof, woof!”

I jumped up with fright. I swerved and struck another badly parked car and fell over. I dusted myself off, picked up my bike and swore at the dog. Then I took my penknife and scratched this offending vehicle. I didn’t care; it was parked on the wrong side of the road.

“I’m sick of dogs and badly parked cars. They really piss me off!”

“You okay, Dad?”

My son is a really good kid. He always sees the good in life, the positive side of things. Obviously, I’m not trying to change that in him but I am trying to make him aware that people are selfish and crappy and do things they shouldn’t…all the time.

I’ve always loved dogs. As a kid, I had four wire-haired fox terriers and I’m sure Maurice wants one too but dogs are basically a pain in the neck. That’s because they’re needy. They have to be fed, scrubbed, taken out, sent to the vet, brushed, de-loused, have their ear wax removed but the biggest problem is that they clog up your life when you want to go somewhere; they have to be taken along. When you think about it, nobody really wants them. There are all sorts of laws against dogs: no dogs here, dogs on leash there, no dogs allowed in restaurants, on beaches, in stores, in many apartments, in the office. Most parents get them as a


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companion for their kids so they, the parents, don’t have to ‘waste’ time with their own kids.

However, things don’t exactly work like that. In a nutshell, the parent buys a puppy for the kid, the kid looks after it for a week, then gets sick of it as it grows older and smellier and needs the kid’s love. Meanwhile, the parents are stuck with feeding it and all the other chores I named above and now the kid’s adult dog has become the parents’ problem.

All these lousy thoughts were polluting my brain as we pedaled along towards McDonalds.

I had Maurice constantly in my rear view mirror and had to keep reminding him not to venture too far out in the middle. The streets were far too narrow. There were many offending cars that we had to ride around on both sides of the road. I wanted to kick myself for not taking the car. We were both wearing reflector vests and helmets but the cars came too close anyway.

McDonalds loomed ahead.

The stress of riding a bike in streets made for cars would be almost over.



Chapter Two: McDonald’s

We pulled into the local French McDonald’s complete with its McDrive, Golden Arches and sad, robot clown taking orders. We had to lock our bikes up because some shitbum always wants what you have.

This is the normal state of the world! When you think about it, does it seem customary to you to have to lock your bike up everywhere you go? To lock your house, car, motorcycle, briefcase, and letterbox…? The list goes on but here we are functioning in this neurotic state of affairs.

We made our way around a congested parking lot. The reason it was congested so early in the morning was that there were several other fast food restaurants and a huge discount supermarket sharing the tiny French parking lot.

Unlike Americans, the French like to own large living areas for themselves behind high gates and allow little room in the common areas where people go every day. It’s a way to keep the ‘friction’ of colliding bodies outside their walls. The only exception to this rule is Paris where the opposite seems to be true. There are huge boulevards and vast alleys, but little room in one’s living quarters. However, here in this McDonalds parking lot in the suburbs, the town planner had gone away.

Naturally, there was a new overpriced BMW van parked selfishly over two spaces. Its fat owner couldn’t make the extra effort to park properly. Maybe the owner wasn’t fat, but why give him the benefit of the doubt? Without my son


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seeing, (because I didn’t want to turn him into a delinquent like myself) I gave its car door a foot-long gash with my bike keys to punish him for parking that way.

My son stopped briefly to pat the McDonald’s clown in its gaudy orange and yellow outfit with non-matching red and white striped shirt and orange-brown hair. The clown was squawking through its remote-controlled mouth at the next overweight motorist ordering a Big Mac.

Maurice ordered ‘Zee Beeg Breakfast,’ which included “a fresh-baked buttermilk biscuit, fluffy scrambled eggs, savory sausage hot off the griddle and crispy golden hash browns.” At least that was what was written in the English translation of the menu. I didn’t check but that breakfast seemed to be at least four hundred calories. In McDonald’s attempt to be ‘healthy’ there was another note telling us that we could also “enjoy [zee Beeg Light Breakfast] with 100%, freshly grilled egg whites instead.” I wasn’t sure what the 100% had to do with anything but I ordered Zee Beeg Light Breakfast—two hundred and fifty calories right there just for the ‘light’ stuff–and orange juice.

There were only two other customers and a real live McDonald’s clown—off duty, mind you—scarfing down on Big Breakfasts, juice and espresso coffee. The clown didn’t look that young—well into his thirties it seemed—and had a frown on his painted smile.

My son and I chewed for a while and glanced at our neighbors.

After awhile, the two customers got up and prepared to go. They were young and overweight and wore the low-rent



uniform of today: cheap baseball hats worn high on the head like Charlie Chaplin; low-riding jeans exposing half their buttocks and sleeveless shirts revealing heavily tattooed arms. The only expensive thing about their get-ups was their designer-brand underwear; naturally they needed to show it off above their jeans.

“Do you think those two are employed?” I asked Maurice.

“Well, they’re either rappers or DJs and make a lot of money or maybe they’re students,” my son responded.

“No, Maurice, those two are stock boys in the supermarket over there. I saw them yesterday while I was buying groceries. They’re eating their Happy Breakfasts because they were probably too lazy to cook a normal one. In fact, they probably got up twenty minutes ago after a night in the discotheque because discos encourage you not to arrive before 1 am and not to leave before 5 am. They probably haven’t even brushed their teeth. Since when did the prime sleeping time from 1 am to 5 am become the working hours of discos?”

“But Dad, you went to discos when you were younger, didn’t you?”

“Sure, Maurice, in high school and a couple of times in my early twenties, but the dancing and music started at 9 pm and went till midnight or occasionally till 1 am. You didn’t have to give up a whole night of sleep and spend the next day recovering like you do today. Look at all the coffee they’re drinking just to be able to function. They’re only nineteen years old!”


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Maurice stole a look. One of them surreptitiously popped an aspirin that he washed down with orange juice. He then took a sip of his espresso.

“They’re trying to get sober. You see that aspirin he downed? The orange juice is the liquid needed to wean him off the alcohol, and the aspirin and bread he took are to diffuse the alcohol.”

Maurice turned back to study me.

“And for what?” I continued laughing, “Those idiots are going to spend the day stocking shelves so they can go out again tonight and waste their evening fighting or getting wasted.”

Maurice again looked at the men. He turned back to me,

“What’s wrong with stocking shelves, Dad, it’s a job like any other?”

“You don’t need an International Baccalaureate to do that,” I answered.

He looked at me keenly. Then, he nodded to the three McDonald’s workers working behind the counter.

“They don’t have IBs either, do they, Dad?”

“No, they don’t. I’d say they have the minimum level you need before quitting school at sixteen. Those two idiots probably dropped out at sixteen.”

“You want me to study, don’t you, Dad?”
“You got it! Why, what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s a place for everyone in this wide, wonderful

world we live in, but you’re not going to be a stock boy. You’re too bright for that.”



All of a sudden, one of the two punks we had been talking about came over to us and looked at me threateningly. On closer inspection, he couldn’t have been more than eighteen but he had huge bags under his eyes, dirty yellow skin and a rooster’s crest down the middle of his close-shaven head. His eyes were a yellow brown, and devoid of expression. He had several rings in his nose and lips and wore garish earrings in his large pierced ears. And when he spoke—he stood much too close to me–his mossy teeth spewed out toxic gas.

I noticed he didn’t address me as ‘Monsieur.’
“You and your grandson been talking about us?”
His tone was aggressive and he used the ‘tu’ or familiar

form of ‘you’ to me that was doubly insulting since I was mostly bald and three times his age. A properly brought up French boy would not have spoken to me in such a tone. With the people he hung out with, however, he probably wasn’t even able to use the formal you or ‘vous’ form. It would have required complicated French grammar that one learns by paying attention in school.

I stood up and pulled my head back a bit so as not to breathe in too much of his Camembert cheese breath. I was wondering what the hell he was doing there, so threatening and so close.

Frightened, Maurice was looking up at me and wondering what he should do.

Maybe I had raised my voice slightly because I was worked up, or maybe they had noticed Maurice or me looking at them earlier, or maybe he had even heard me call him an ‘idiot’ in English? It was hard to know.


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“Yes, my SON, not my grandson, and I have been talking about you!” I said very loudly and aggressively to attract attention although there was only his friend and the clown as well as the store manager and a counter worker present besides Maurice and I to listen in. I spoke in a very formal French with the requisite ‘vous’ form to address a stranger or an unknown or much older person.

“I was just pointing out to my son here how you two worked in the supermarket over there! We’re going shopping there after our breakfast. You got a problem with that?”

The manager of McDonald’s and his worker were staring at us.

Without realizing it, I had made fists of my hands and I was holding them in front of me. Maurice was all eyes and ears, not knowing what was coming next.

The punk looked at me suspiciously as if he didn’t believe me but I stood my ground staring hard right back at him, not yielding an inch except for his breath. Then he looked back at his friend and smiled sarcastically as if he could punch me in the face as soon as look at me. He turned around and looked hard at me again. Without excusing himself, he rejoined his friend.

He hadn’t said another word.

Just then a Muslim woman wearing a burqa came barging into McDonald’s,

“Mustapha and Mohammed,” she screamed. Then she yelled out some choice something in Arabic. From here, her monologue went on for about three minutes. I couldn’t understand a word of it but I saw the two Cocks of the Walk deflate as they murmured something and then followed her out



sheepishly. I watched as the three of them walked over to the supermarket. The mother was jawing at them the whole time. Before they went inside, however, both teenagers managed to look back at me and give me a dirty look.

I had had enough.

I grabbed Maurice and we went over to the supermarket. Meanwhile, the Muslim mother had stormed out and jumped into a Ford Escort standing by the curb. She seemed to be in a hurry and scratched out. Presumably she was going to work.

“What are you going to do, Dad?” Maurice asked. “I’m going to have a word with those two punks.” “Don’t do that, Dad. You’re gonna get hurt.” Talking with my son, I sometimes wonder who is the

father and who is the son.
“I’m not gonna get hurt,” I said as I left him and strolled

over to where I had seen the two punks loading pallets the week before. Sure enough they were there again and looked surprised to see me. I said in a great loud voice for all to hear,

“What’s the matter with you two punks? Impudently accusing me of things in front of my son?”

“What seems to be the matter, Monsieur?” said a short thick man, presumably their manager, who had just walked up.

“Bonjour, Monsieur. My name is Labete” “Bonjour, Monsieur Labete.”
“No, just Labete. That’s my name, Labete.” “Very well, Monsieur. Labete.”

“Yes. Labete, that’s my name. Anyway, at McDonald’s, your two employees asked me very aggressively whether I had been discussing them with my son!”


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He turned to them, “Is this true, Mohammed?”

Mohammed shrugged guiltily, staring at his shoes, unable to meet his boss’s eyes. He mumbled something incomprehensible. I could see he didn’t want to speak in front of us.

“We’ll leave you to talk about this privately,” I said to the three of them. “We’ve got some shopping to do.”

The boss and his workers, Mohammed and Mustapha, went behind the automatic door where all the pallets and produce was kept. I immediately heard screaming and name- calling with Mohammed’s voice louder and more vehement than the others.

A half-hour later, I finished shopping with my son and when we went to pack our car, the two punks were there, facing us.

“Thanks, you asshole,” said Mohammed, “We’ve lost our jobs!”

“I’m sorry to hear that, but my aim wasn’t to embarrass you in front of your boss. He just happened to be there and overhear.”

“We don’t give a shit what you meant to do. All we know is what you did. And now we’re going to do something to you.”

“You live my kid alone,” I growled at them. “You got a problem, you take it out with me! Go stand over there, Maurice.” I motioned to a nearby car.

“But Dad!”
“Just do as I say!”



Maurice reluctantly walked over to the neighboring Mercedes but stood ready to help me if needed.

“Oh, we’re not talking about your grandson,” said Mustapha finally getting his voice, “We’re talking about you.”

“Oh, so you know how to speak?” I said to Mustapha, “Your friend’s been doing all the talking.”

My comment didn’t seem to please them because a foot came out of nowhere aimed right at my balls. Fortunately, I have good reactions and was expecting a kick or a slap. I avoided the clumsy kick with a karate block and swerved to deliver a ‘mawashi-geri’ or roundhouse kick right into Mohammed’s solar plexus. As he bent over from the blow I aimed an upper cut into his face and broke his nose. As blood spurted out Mustapha came at me with a hunting knife but I was able to get a left snap kick right under his wrist and break it. His knife clattered to the ground. I kicked it away and bent over, on guard; I was waiting for the next blow to come.

However, there was none, only the screech of tires as a small passing police car pulled quickly into the lot and stopped in front of us. Three burly policemen jumped out and grabbed us while a woman cop took Maurice. They quickly called for reinforcements and another larger police vehicle pulled up. They shoved us all into their vehicles and ran us down to the station.

During the next hour, only we gave statements to the police. The two teenagers spoke during the second hour as they had been hurt and rushed to the hospital for x-rays and care. They told a lie-filled tale about how I was a racist American, anti-Arab aggressor. Naturally, Mustapha and


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Mohammed’s mother was called and she accompanied her darlings to the hospital. She gave me a dirty look. I don’t speak Arabic but I did hear terms like ‘Jihad’ and ‘American’ bandied about and assumed they wanted to get their revenge on a fascist ‘imperialist’ like me.

The police seemed amused and wondered why I hadn’t called the police rather than try and take on a couple of punks in the supermarket parking lot. I reasoned that everything happened very quickly and if everyone ran away from his or her aggressors and stopped to call for help, the police department would be submerged and would never get anything done.

Left unsaid was the fact that punks like this would rule the streets. As I put it, ‘I don’t want to profile anybody, but…’ and I looked them all in the eye and remained silent. I wanted to throw their politically correct agenda back in their faces. There was a lull in the conversation as the police pondered what I’d just said.

I watched them carefully. They were not only burly but fortunately for me, three of them were white and one was black. She was the woman who took all our statements because she knew how to type quickly. I noted she was very attractive and had quite a body on her but wore a severe expression, probably for her own self-preservation. Two of the younger cops were about 6’3” and built up and the oldest was about fifty, 5’8” and shaped like a weight lifter. He was the closest to me in age and said,

“We sent some officers to McDonald’s to bring your bikes back to your house. We rang your bell. The



housekeeper answered and let us in. We parked your bikes inside your property. Quite a place you have! Talking about profiling, yours doesn’t quite fit the profile of a father throwing karate punches at two punks outside McDonald’s. Ever been in other scraps?”

“Not here and not as an adult,” I answered honestly.

“Would you like some extra protection until this thing blows over?”

“That would be nice. Unlike all these criminals running round, I’m not armed and I don’t have firearms in the house. In the USA, it would be legal to protect your home, but here I’ve heard it’s a problem.”

I noticed that he had been staring at my ‘carte de séjour’, a French alien identity card that indicated my nationality.

“I think you were very brave to take on those two punks,” he answered, “but they might call their friends to come after you. We can cover you and keep an eye on their friends. Defending your house is a tricky thing in France.”

“That’s true we’re not in America here where a man can protect his property with a firearm,” said the black woman cop, finally speaking up.

“We’ll have cars patrol your house once an hour during the night and several times a day for the next two weeks,” the male cop said.

I thanked them warmly as they brought the two of us home but once inside, I was angered that self-defense was so problematic in France. Some French Communist once said, “Property is just land stolen from the People” or something to that effect.


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Did that mean maintaining self-defense of one’s stolen– more like ‘highly-paid-for’–property was a problem because said property belonged to the undeserving ‘People’?