Good morning. My name is Steven Joseph, and I am the author of the just released book “Cranky Superpowers: Life Lessons Learned from the Common CrankTsuris Chronicles.” This is a follow-up to my 2020 book “A Grownup Guide to Effective Crankiness: The CrankaTsuris Method. I am also the author of the children’s book Snoodle series with the second Snoodles book titled “Snoodles in Space: A Snoodle, the Zoodle Kidoodles and One Happy Schmoodle.” That was released this past April. For all those Snoodle fans watching, the third Snoodle book should be out early next year.
Let me start by saying that it is an absolute honor to be given the task of giving this key note address. I see myself having three jobs today. First, many people who signed on today for this fabulous Bookfest are people just like me with the thought “can I really write a book?” The answer of course is yes and I along with the wonderful authors you will see today hope to inspire all of you to take the next step on your journey.
Second, I am presenting myself here today not only as a cranky expert, but the preeminent cranky expert in the entire cranky field. I am sure all of you have come across a crankster or two along the way, and I am here to tell you that I happen to be the top crankster.
Last, since I have written a book on Cranky Superpowers, you probably want to know a thing or two about Cranky Superpowers. I am here to tell you!
So, I can start with my own personal Cranky Superpower story. I was not planning on writing a book, let alone six books. I was and still am an officer in a company, and my company has been bought a couple of times by other companies. The first time was back in 2015, and after they had bought the company, they sent all of the old officers to participate in a “leadership assessment” program. They bought the car and they were looking under the hood. This was a program which essentially had us spend 16 hours over a two day period trying to run a company from a laptop as if you were playing both a video game and working a pinball machine at exactly the same time at the end of which, of course, you become the pinball.
We were told that this was a well thought out program developed by notable psychologists that has been used for many years, and they have use these assessments to help identify leaders of the business world. I was excited to do this because I wanted to be a leader in the business world, not that I really knew what that looked like, but also, because they sent me out to a castle in England, about an hour outside of London. Who doesn’t like going to castles?
I survived the two days. While dealing the jet lag and staring at a computer for 16 hours was not much fun, what was turned out to be more difficult for me was to then get the findings. They determined, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest, and 1 being the lowest that I was only a “1” when they measured my level of energy. Again, on a scale of 1 to 10, I also scored a “1” when it was assessing my level of creativity.
In other words, I was not even a couch potato. I was a potato that just could not make the couch. I could not think outside a box, and I was not able to do much better inside a box. However, with results like these, it was inside a box that I think they believed it was where I belonged. And with the results, I did get a box brochure, and it even came with a 10% discount.
Nobody at the Nursing Home Facility where I was living at the time ever told me about my low energy and low creativity, but now, this gave me something to prove. Maybe, I can get to a “2,” and be placed in Assisted Living. I had heard that they had some good activities there. Maybe, I could even get to a “4” and move to Independent Living. Then, I could even get my own kitchen!
Yes. You probably are saying “Wow. You can’t make that stuff up, and yes, I did not. Well, the nursing home part – that is only part of the story that is made up. However, I do have a chapter in my book called Can’t Make It Up CrankaTsuris that points out that it is really the exact opposite when this happens. It talks about a family with the mother packing boxes at Amazon, and the father delivers the boxes she had packed. They have the same routine every day, and this is exactly the kind of rut we get into that is the “Can’t Make that Up.” So, it is important as a Cranky Superpower to use the creativity we have to maybe make something up. Laura Esquivel wrote in “Like Water for Chocolate,” “each of us is born with a box of matches inside of us.” The matches we light can be our cranky superpower.
“Cranky Superpowers” is not a self help book. Rather, I call it a “help your self ” book. I do not like the term “self help. It sounds passive like “self serve ice cream”. The machine serves the ice cream and you did not make the ice cream. This book is about making the ice cream.
I dedicated this book to Elena Taurke. She was my partner for twenty years and had passed away during Passover in April 2022 after a battle with ALS. I mention this because Elena, who grew up with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis was a person who was never about freedom from, but freedom to. During Passover, we celebrate being freed from slavery in Egypt, but the lesson of being lost in the desert for 40 years is that what is important is not the freedom from, but it is really the freedom to. That is what Cranky Superpowers is all about. The characters discover their own freedom to. It is a “freedom to” book. I like to say that it is not about developing good habits, but rather, it is about discovering new normals. Habits are temporary. It is like finding a parking spot. Eventually, you will have to move the car. Normals are more permanent. You are building a house.
So, we now get to the question: “What makes me the preeminent cranky expert?” ” Do I have a special degree?” “Did I get some particular training?” “Is there a school for this? “
Yes. I am a lawyer and I went to law school. You may think that we spent our days in law school learning about contracts, constitutional law…you know, legal stuff and legalese. But, in truth, there is a particular training, and it is broken down into the three years of law school.
The first year, the only thing they teach you is how to get on people’s nerves. Once you learn that, in the second year, you are taught how to rub people the wrong way. In the third year, it gets more advanced, and you practice how to get underneath people’s skin. When you graduate, you can then do all three at exactly the same time.
If you always wondered why people can’t stand lawyers, now you have the answer. Because I am fully trained and surrounded myself with people who are similarly trained in this field, I have learned a thing or two about crankiness.
The second thing that makes me unique in this field is that I come from the Bronx. You know immediately that it is a special place because of the “the” in the title. We do not go to the London or the Paris, just like you cannot go to “Bronx.” You can only go to “the Bronx.”
There are only four other places in the world that have a “the” in their title: the Amazon, the Azures, the Galapagos Islands, and the Vatican. I have not been to any of those places, but I am guessing the reason that you get a “the” in your particular location is because there are animal species living there that you perhaps cannot find anywhere else in the world.
The people of the Bronx are a tough people. When I grew up, once a year, 60,000 people would gather at a stadium in the South Bronx for an event called “Bat Day.” Somebody really smart thought it would be a good idea to hand out 60,000 weapons to a large group of people gathered in a close space in the South Bronx, most of who were quite inebriated, which I had deciphered from looking at the long lines at the bathroom. Also, you should know that nobody ever cuts the line when you have everybody holding a bat in one hand and a beer in the other.
Years later, they replaced Bat Day with Bobblehead Night. This is a night when they give you a head and you get to watch it bobble. I can tell you that those people in the Bronx who want to cause physical harm can do far worse damage with a Bobblehead than with a baseball bat. In fact, if you stare at a bobblehead long enough, you can find yourself becoming quite cranky, and may even think about the physical damage you may want to afflict on even some innocent bystander.
The special thing about growing up in the Bronx is that we liked to say all the time about how exactly how much nerve the other guy has. “You know. You have a lot of nerve!” Or, “You have some nerve showing up like this!” Or, “you know what that guy’s problem is? He just doesn’t have any nerve. “
And the thing about being Jewish growing up in the Bronx, oy, is that you can have both a lot of nerve and no nerve at the exact same time.
The Jewish word for nerve is called “Chutzpah.” Jewish mothers were all given the very important job to tell the members of the family how much Chutzpah that they had or did not have. So. it would be a common complaint that a Jewish mother would make to her son:
“You know. Your problem is that you have no chutzpah. Your father has Chutzpah. Your brother has chutzpah. All your friends have chutzpah. Even your little sister has more chutzpah than you!”
The son would shout back with:
“Ma……Can you please get off my freaking back with your Chutzpah speech?”
Of course, you cannot speak to your mother like that.
“Hey…Watch your mouth! Don’t be so Chutzpadic with me!”
See what I mean.
In the Bronx, when I grew up, the toughest gang was run by Billy the Boss Bugsy. He had a top enforcer named Fatty Patty Melt. One day, Fatty Patty Melt told the Big Boss that he could no longer be the Top Enforcer. Fatty Patty explained that his nerves had become completely shot.
A few weeks later, Fatty Patty Melt was nowhere to be found. Little Louey came into the Boss’ office and asked what happened to Fatty Patty Melt.
The Boss explained:
“He told me that his nerves were all shot, and could no longer be my top enforcer. That started to get on my nerves. Then, he started to rub me the wrong way. If I kept him around any longer, he would start to get under my skin.”
Louey shot back:
“Oh, Boss. You definitely do not want to get Fatty Patty Melt underneath your skin. So, what did you do with Fatty Patty Melt?”
The Boss explained:
Let’s just say “May Fatty Patty Melt in Pieces.”
Louey looked down, taking off his hat:
“May Fatty Patty Melt in Peace.”
I have many different and unique characters in my book, and I even have trouble picking out favorites. But, one character I like to talk about today is Mr. Schlemiel. I bring him up because even a total schlemiel can find cranky superpowers.
I have one chapter in my book titled First Rodeo CrankaTsuris, and I always found it interesting that people who never ever been to a rodeo like to brag “this ain’t my first rodeo.” They know nothing about the rodeo, and they haven’t been a thousand miles to the closest rodeo. Lawyers like to say it. Doctors like say it, especially when they are about to do that heart transplant operation! Of course, a rodeo may not be the image I want when a doctor is about to give me a new heart.
I also find it interesting that we never say the same thing about the circus. “Hey! What are you doing this weekend?” “Well, (groan) I have to take the kids to the circus.” “You do not seem too excited. How come?”
The response is always the same. “This ain’t my first circus.”
Mr. Schlemiel had bought a chicken farm but unfortunately, the chicken farm had no chickens. The chickens had all crossed to the road to get to the other side. Why did the chickens all cross the road? The grass is always greener on the other side of the road.
Needing to earn some income, luck would have it that a rodeo had come to town, and they put up a sign that said “First Rodeo Competition” “$500 to the winner.” Mr. Schlemiel thought to himself that this would be the way to earn some money.
At the First Rodeo Competition, Mr. Schlemiel was put on the most tame little pony and immediately fell off. Despite that, week after week, he would enter the second, third, fourth, and ultimately the tenth Rodeo Competition. Each rodeo competition was more difficult than the one before. Of course, by the tenth rodeo, Mr. Schlemiel had two broken legs, two broken arms, a concussion, and ten teeth knocked out of his mouth. They even had to wheel him and pick hip up to get on to ride the most dangerous bull in the whole rodeo. How tough was this bull, you may ask. Well, the most experienced cowboy and bull rider was not able to last ten seconds with this bull.
But Mr. Schlemiel rode the bull for one minute. Then, two. Then, three. Finally after ten minutes, the bull was so exhausted trying to throw Mr. Schlemiel off, it just laid down and fell asleep.
Everyone watched in amazement, and they asked Mr. Schlemiel how he did it.
“This ain’t my first rodeo.”
I like to finish my presentation talking about how cranky superpowers is also about how we get along with each other. My parents were married for 60 years and never had a fight. The interesting thing about this was that my father, on a blind first date with my mom, proposed at a Horn & Hardart coffee shop, after he spent 5 cents on a cup of coffee. What can I tell you? My mother was a very cheap date.
Years later, when I asked my mother how could she have said yes to my dad’s marriage proposal when she did not even know him, she replied “He looked like a hard worker.”
So, learning from my parents, we have a rule in my relationship with my wife. We both get to be 5% insane, 20% crazy, but we are required to be 75% normal. Now, you may start to do the math, and figure out that it adds up to 73 crazy days in an entire year, and you may think this is a very crazy, if not an absolutely insane suggestion. However, it is counterintuitive and it all works out. Think about this. If I gave you only zero percent crazy which means that you are not permitted to be crazy, when you actually do become crazy, and we all do eventually become crazy from time to time, you can’t admit to being crazy, but you have to turn around and tell me that I am the one that is really crazy. That, of course, makes me crazy. Who like to be told that they are crazy by a crazy person? I am now thinking that my partner has become insane which happens in a situation like this, and then, we get into one big insane argument and she succeeds in making me completely lose my mind and I immediately go insane.
The lesson here is that by giving permission to be crazy, you end up getting way less crazy from each other, and even appreciate the freedom to be a little crazy every so often. With this 25-75 percent rule, we end up using maybe 1 to 2 percent crazy in a year.
In fact, when you think a moment about the polarization we do to each other, if we all allow each other just a tiny bit of crazy once in awhile, that may actually be our collective cranky superpower.