I'm famously a humble man, but I'm not afraid to brag that I've been called just about every insult you can imagine.
Probably 70% of those jibes and affronts were delivered by my beloved sister Elaine, with the other 30% roughly spread between coworkers, wives, and offspring. It's fair to say that those closest to me in life have felt free to express their true opinions and feelings with me, for which I am very grateful.
When my beloved sister Elaine referred to me around friends, she said, "the idiot." If I was being addressed directly, it was often "you idiot!"
I was astounded to learn later, only after I had gotten my hands on a concise pocket dictionary at grade school, that what I thought were terms of endearment, words that had emerged, flowered, from the sweet mouth of my dear sister to perfume the air, were insults!
A basketball coach called me an imbecile once during a practice session. An imbecile, near as I can figure, is a fancy french word for idiot. At the time, I was struggling to absorb the concept of a play, and Coach, who looked uncannily like the cross between a bulldog and Mimi Eisenhower, barked, "What are you, an imbecile, Shelton?" and then bounced the ball off my head.
If this were to happen today, I'd have filmed it on my cellphone and had him canceled before lunch, but since this was the 1960s they gave him the keys to the city and named him the honorary mayor of Lewistown.
A brief catalog of just some of the other things I've been called over the years will follow: stupid, dumbass, dunce, deadhead, dipstick, bonehead, dingbat, dork, fool, clown, dope, airhead, joker, buffoon, thick, empty-headed, asinine, silly, unintelligent, simple, slow-witted, brainless, thick, dim-witted, bird-brained, brain-dead, brutish, clueless, dense, dim, dizzy, dull, simple, feeble-minded, thick-headed, vacuous, and just plain dumb.
I also have, it might be noted, been called a smartass. While I won't cop to that, I'll be the first to admit that my ass smarts from riding tractors around all day.
When I was in Catholic school, a nun who looked like the leftover half of Mimi Eisenhower crossed with a grizzly bear once called me "beastly" after I belched in class to make my chums laugh. She rapped my knuckles and sent me to stand in the corner.
I could go on like this all day.
The long and short of it is that if a man is called an idiot enough, he starts to believe it. And now, not only do I believe it, I'm fiercely proud of it. I'm taking the word "idiot" back. And I'm doing it for all of you, my fellow idiots.
My campaign to reclaim "idiot" began at the dinner table.
"Sons," I announce to my brood, "there's something you should know. You'll figure it out yourselves someday. The Sheltons are idiots."
"What? No, how could this be?"
I have to admit that I find their innocent shock a little moving. How could they not have begun to suspect already?
"Now, I know that sounds bad. But it's not. It's not all bad. The Sheltons have been in this country for hundreds of years now. We've managed to stick around through world-spanning wars, droughts, wildly variable beef prices, blizzards, tornadoes, uh... hurricanes..." I trailed off before resuming my thread. "And we've managed to survive, even thrive, despite being idiots. In fact, there might be some advantages to being an idiot. Sometimes the idiot gets top job. Most of my bosses were idiots!"
My boys searched my face for some sign that I was joking, but gradually they began to realize that its no joke - they're idiots, too.
And here's the thing: I don't know anything about you, but I can feel that you're an idiot too.
"But wait," you say. "Sure, you're an idiot, that much is certain. But not me!"
This is where I would encourage you to really do some self-searching. Are you an idiot? Has someone close to you ever intimated that you exhibit idiotic tendencies? A spouse, a friend, a brother, a sister, a teacher, a policeman, a drill sergeant? These are pillars of society, and the people who know you best. You should listen to what they've been trying to tell you, just as I finally learned to listen to them.
Search your heart and I think you'll find it's true. You're an idiot. And the sooner you comes to terms with it, the sooner you embrace that side of yourself, the happier you'll be.
Now, every morning, I say these words of affirmation to myself in the mirror after my regular ablutions: "Every day and in every way, I am an idiot. God grant me the strength to recognize that I'm an idiot. Thank you for giving me a sister and a wife and so many friends who are so honest with me. And above all, thank you for making me this way in Your infinite wisdom, God. Amen."
I try to perform this ritual in private, but yesterday morning my wife happened to catch it.
"Idiot," she mumbled, and shuffled to the kitchen to make breakfast.
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.