What is the polite way to tell someone that people refer to them as “The Mooch” behind their backs? Answer: “There isn’t one.” Even if you’re right, trying to tell someone this can only result in anger. Even expert mooches don’t seem themselves in this light, much in the same way that prejudice blinds the holder from its influence. Such behavior becomes background noise for them .
I’d been at the fringes of this experience before, usually informally and always with one or two other people. Mooches tend to evolve into the habit. They learn the subtle ways to misdirect people or to convince them they’re being unfair.
I was in South Dakota with my wife, Deanne, long deceased. She had a huge Catholic family. Being with them in a group was at times like attending a party with gregarious and funny people who were always one joke ahead of you.
Several of us gathered at a bar/eatery in a mall in South Dakota. One of Deanne’s uncles made a comment about money and tipping. Another one piped in and laughed. He said, “Man, that makes me really miss -James-.” (I changed his name to protect his anonymity.)
An Aunt immediately said, “What a mooch!” As she pronounced the last word ‘mooch,’ 4 or 5 other people at the table said the word ‘mooch’ in unison with her. It was a hilarious and jarring moment. I looked around the table and most of them noted the incredulity on my face.
They sang it in the same way that the characters on “Letterkenny” say “To Be Fair…” each time the phrase is uttered.
-James- wasn’t a blood relation to them. He’d been around the family often, though.
An uncle said, “I guess X here didn’t know we all call -James- “The Mooch” anytime we mention him?” I shook my head no. “Well, let me tell you some stories…”
For the next 15 minutes, all of them told an increasingly incredible series of “Mooch” stories. Forgotten wallets, lost $20 bills, requests to pay them back later, extra pizzas added to orders without asking and never repaid, one-night stays that turned into weeks, requests for double meat tacos, siphoned gas ‘because what mine is yours,’ among others.
The oldest uncle said, “X, watch out. He’ll trick you with his niceness and you will be trapped in an ever-larger cycle of loans that aren’t repaid and a helping hand that will get bitten. He’s done it to us all. We have all been marks at one point or another. Weirdly, he can be a fun guy, but it’s always about the angle with him.”
Over the years, I compiled quite a list of equally ridiculous mooching behavior from -James-. The uncle wasn’t wrong.
The Mooch in question grew older to become a conservative who bitterly complains about rich people, poor people living off the government, or anyone who was getting something he wouldn’t. A long series of jobs, a long series of financial missteps, repossessed vehicles, and unexpected involuntary moves from one place to another punctuate The Mooch’s life.
There’s no moral to this story and not much of a narrative. Perfectionism is tiresome to me. I was thinking about -James- today and hoping his bitter attitude had evolved.
I’ve not heard the word ‘mooch’ in the last 20 years without thinking about -James- and the eagerness with which people who knew him shared stories about it.
I cringe a bit, knowing that in a way I can’t see, I’m probably a little bit “-James-, ” too.
If -James- were to read this, he’d be very angry.
I’m certain that he’d be violently upset to discover that an entire clan of people equate him with the living embodiment of “The Mooch.” It’s not the most enviable way to be remembered.