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Charlie Hatton
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Talk Smack, or Step Back?

Being a smartass is great fun, but you’ve got to know the limits. There’s a time and place for snappy sass, and then there are situations where your smart mouth may get you beaten, expelled, arrested, or worse. Mostly, the level of lip you can get away with depends on your audience. So to help you burgeoning backtalkers out there, I’ve compiled a list of people with whom its better to turn the other cheek, rather than be cheeky. You cheeky little devils, you.

Law Enforcement Officers

The obvious first choice, as many of the men and women in blue carry firearms, billy clubs, tasers, deep-seated social grudges, and other weapons capable of inflicting serious boo-boos. I’d also include the somewhat less obviously ‘dangerous’ legal officials on this list, such as:

  • judges, who are legally authorized to sentence you to thirty days in the pokey for every ‘Asphinctersezwhat?‘ joke,
  • truant officers, who know where you live and are often not above stalking your house to terrorize you, should you comment on their lousy hairpieces, and
  • baliffs of the court, who take great pleasure in torturing smartasses by telling the lowlifes in the holding cell that ‘this one’s got candy in his pockets, boys

Generally, it’s best for smart alecks to avoid law enforcement at all costs, under any circumstances. And for the love of god, if you’re ever subjected to a breathalyzer test, don’t make the ‘*zzzzzzzzttttttt!*‘ party favor noise when you blow into the little tube. Sassy, drunk, and beaten into submission is no way to spend a night in the slammer, son.

High school principals

“Your kid’s either been pulling fire alarms, putting IcyHot into the cheerleaders’ pompoms, or turning the ‘Mathletes’ on to smoking pot and Super Mario marathons. If you make a smartass comment in the face of that, it’ll be obvious from where the problem arises.”

As kids in school, we generally know better than to screw around with the principal of the joint. We might get the occasional dig in on our home room teacher, or banter with Lunch Lady Doris over the origins of the ‘mystery meat’. We might even screw a quarter to the floor in shop class, and bust our sides laughing as the teacher scrabbles at the loose change for his next coffee. But the principal is different. With him or her, not only will our insolence not be tolerated; it will go down on our permanent records.

Never mind that those ‘permanent’ records lasted until maybe graduation day, if even that. Or that the contents of said records were about as influential on our future as whether those nasty pancakes we made in Home Ec. were actually edible or not. The idea of that ‘permanent record’ was always hanging over our heads, keeping us in check.

As adults, the only people who deal with principals are the ones with kids in their schools. And if the situation has escalated to meeting wtih the principal, then there’s likely little room for parental sass, either. Your kid’s either been pulling fire alarms, putting IcyHot into the cheerleaders’ pompoms, or turning the ‘Mathletes’ on to smoking pot and Super Mario marathons. If you make a smartass comment in the face of that, it’ll be obvious from where the problem arises. And you might both get sent to detention hall, to think about what you’ve done.


There is no level of athletic competition at which backtalking your coach is beneficial. As a pro, that sort of thing is labelled ‘conduct detrimental to the team’, and gets your pay docked. As a kid, your sass will cost you some laps, a few dozen pushups, or pulling laundry duty on ‘jock strap washathon’ weekend.

(And if your coach is also your dad, it might just get you the silent treatment. You do not want the silent treatment. Trust me.)

As an amateur in college, high school, or elsewhere, that same bit of lip will get your smart ass chewed out, and then benched. The thing to remember about coaches at that level is that they’re often bitter, angry old men, unable to play the game or derive any real joy from seeing their players succeed on the field. They long ago gave up their dreams of achievement and stardom, and now can only hope to justify their interest with an encyclopedic knowledge of the game’s esoterica.

In other words, they’re like the rest of us, only they get paid to wear sweatpants to work. And that still doesn’t make them happy. So don’t screw with them; they’re obviously not right in the head.


Another obvious group to avoid offending, but it bears a mention. The key to not letting your boss know of your smart alecky tendencies is to be sure you never let a dig or crack slip around anyone else you work with, whether the boss is around or not.

Why is that? Because all those other employees would run right to your boss with a direct quote of your rude manners, and you’d land in hot employment water, that’s why. Never forget that all of your officemates are:

A. out for your job,
2. secretly coveting your parking spot, or
iii. still pissed about that time you told the boss how they said her ass looked like two bags full of Jell-O in that skirt, and they’re just itching to get you back.

So snarking on the boss to your coworkers is out. It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to snark on your coworkers with other coworkers. In some offices, it’s nearly a sport.

Toll booth operators

Granted, mouthing off to a toll monkey isn’t likely to get you shot, jailed, benched, or fired. They’re generally a peaceful, harmless lot, ready to take your pocket change, fix you with their bored glassy stare, and wave you through to your destination.


Remember that these are people with a lot of free time on their hands, and very few options available in the way of entertainment. Also remember that they are in sole possession of the button or lever that will raise the toll gate to let you pass. So if you jokingly offer to pay with pennies, or ask if they ‘come here often‘, or wonder aloud whether there are any cookies in the ‘toll house’, consider yourself screwed.

You’re now a captive audience for whatever the hell they want to rant about, very probably including what a miserable unoriginal douchebag you are. And the salt in the wound is, they can keep you there as long as they want, and all of the people in the cars snaking into line behind you will think that you’re the jackass causing the problem.

Which, indeed, you are. But only indirectly. Just try explaining that to a semi driver giving you the finger at seventy miles an hour. Go on, try it.

Professional boxers

Consider the following catcalls:

Hey Oscar de la Hoya! I heard your CD, man. I hope your cross is better than your crooning!

Hey Lennox Lewis! Don’t they make china called Lennox? What are you, fragile?

Hey Mike Tyson! I heard you didn’t mean to bite that ear; you were just trying to steal an earring to sell on eBay to cover those debts. Is that true?

Saying these things in the presence of one of these pugnacious pugilists is a phenomenally bad idea, and could result in you being reduced to a small greasy stain on the sidewalk or carpet.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible for the daring smartass to taunt an amateur boxer, if one plans the encounter carefully. These non-pros are far less likely to have hangers-on readily available who would be willing to chase you down and hold you while steel-fisted retribution is delivered. Also, these amateurs can’t be that scary, or they’d have gone pro by now, right? They’re probably punchdrunk and slow-witted already.

Just remember, if push comes to boxing glove — bob left, weave right, and run like hell. But probably not in that order.


You wouldn’t think sassing an undertaker would be especially dangerous. But it’s always the quiet ones.

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I tend to watch what I say around people who don’t get out very much, work long hours, spend their days with dead people, and know several ways of draining all of the blood from a human body. I mean, look at Norman Bates, just as a ‘for instance’.

Let’s not even get started on the creepy makeup or the ‘buried alive’ possibilites, should you piss one of these guys off. Just address all undertakers as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’, keep your nose clean in the funeral parlor, and get the hell out of there as fast as you can. *shudder*

Truck stop waitresses

This one’s not so much for your physical protection as for your mental and emotional state of mind. It’s fairly unlikely that a truck stop waitress is going to hurt or maim you, should you step into her diner with your sassy pants on. She probably won’t even spit in your scrambled eggs.

Instead, she’ll destroy you.

These truck stop servers and bartendresses are lethal smartasses. They’ve worked there for thirty years or more, have seen it all, and eat punks like you for breakfast. You can’t shock ’em, outsmart ’em, or get a step ahead. And if you try, they’ll have you blubbering in your Sanka before you can say ‘life preservers with a side of joe’. Steer clear, or thou shalt be schooled.

So how many of these lessons did I learn from personal, painful, and potentially permanently scarring experience? I’d rather not say. Let’s just say that I’ve run an awful lot of laps in my time, never use the turnpike any more, and these days I eat my hash browns in my own kitchen, with a bruised ego and a side of orange juice. Lessons learned, my friends. Lessons learned.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Talk Smack, or Step Back?”

  1. al says:

    a couple to add

    Wives – my wife will not take my smartass-ness and knows how to make me pay

    Mother-in-Laws – can direct the wife to make your life hell

    Dentists – Marathon Man -’nuff said

    IRS Agents – just ask Willie Nelson or Al Capone

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