Fortnightly Fiction | A Weird Duck

For some reason, Franz still refuses to answer any of my phone-calls, e-mails or texts. Not the type of behavior one might expect from a friend of over 30 years.

But then again we are talking about Franz and I guess I was a bit out of line. He invited me to one of his swanky parties and I made the faux pas of saying off-handedly,”I assume that it will be an ostentatious occasion rife with conspicuous consumption given the company in attendance.”

Well trust me when I say that that comment went over not in the least, as Franz hung up the phone immediately and I have not heard from him since. I really had meant it as an innocent co-conspiratorial aside, as we have both been to plenty of those keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s types of dos.

Needless to say, Franz was quite angry with me.


He has a thing about rules of etiquette. Unwritten rules. His rules.

For example, to use a sports analogy – it is considered bad form for a sports announcer in golf to speak in a loud voice when a player is making an important shot. It is also considered bad luck for a baseball announcer to mention that a pitcher has a no-hitter going in a game, even if that is in fact what is happening. It just isn’t done. Why jinx the pitcher?

Now, there is a certain New York baseball announcer, who Franz simply loathes, because he decides to flout the no mentioning of a no-hitter ritual. The announcer always makes a special point of announcing that the pitcher has a no-hitter in progress and every time he does that – Franz goes absolutely crazy. He tosses objects around his apartment. Franz writes angry letters to the station manager and to the actual sponsors of the ballgames asking to replace the announcer because of incompetence. That’s just one example of Franz and his adherence to certain social rules.

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Those advertisements on the subway cars in New York City really nail it on the head.

Don’t be this guy … or that guy … as the colorful slides cleverly illustrate various forms of frowned-upon, anti-social subway behavior.

One obnoxious character – occupying two subway car seats all by himself, spreads his legs very wide to keep others away …”The Spreader”.

So funny, but so true.

Or there is another anti-social character – who chooses to hang out right in front of the opening and closing subway doors – “The Door Blocker” –  instead of moving into the subway car to let more people in, he stations himself right in front of the door, because he doesn’t like being crammed inside the car next to other people.

So selfish, right?

Or lastly, the inconsiderate person who wears a backpack or shoulder bag and unknowingly swings it around and knocks it into other people.

So oblivious.

It’s no surprise to me that a certain Franz Phillipe Mugler III is deeply disturbed by the thought of all these individuals – and so much more.

Franz Mugler is truly one weird duck.

Now, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David made billions of dollars coming up with hilarious TV skits about characters behaving badly because they disagreed with the normal rules of polite society. Franz Mugler could have his own TV show. He is constantly coming up with new ways to pick fights with people over the silliest of matters. His fail-safe fall-back argument is that other people are either stupid, rude or possibly anti-French.

Take yesterday morning, for example.  Sacre Bleu!

A typical incident at the bank.  Empty.  No one on-line.

Mugler (pronounced Moog-lair) fills out his deposit slip and walks casually to the front of the line through the maze of metal stanchions and leather ropes … like one is supposed to do. A busy, uptight, Upper-East Side New York MILF, spotting Franz at the deposit table, ignores the custom of using the empty “line area” and walks straight up to the empty “pre-teller space” – right in front of Franz.

“Next, please,” asks the young teller pleasantly.

“Uh, excuse me, but I was next,” Franz states somewhat indignantly to the woman in designer sun-glasses and a Lulu-Lemon track-suit, one-size too-small,  who pays practically no attention to him whatsoever while walking straight to the teller – except to giggle to herself incredulously.

“No actually you weren’t,” she replies snarkily,”…you were filling out your deposit slip … I saw you.”

“You just cut in front of me madam … I was clearly standing here at the front of the line.”

“You know it’s really quite silly …” the lady replied, still not looking at Franz, “it’s almost a semantic argument.”

“Not really, it’s more of a spatial matter actually. I was on the line – you saw me here, madam, and just simply decided to rudely cut in front of me by avoiding the line entirely … I imagine the bank put the line right here for a good reason in the first place, don’t you?”  At this, Franz spread both his arms widely to illustrate the presence of the stanchions and leather ropes.

“Why don’t we just ask the teller who was here first if you don’t believe me,” Mugler continued.

The young teller looked quite embarrassed and confused and clearly didn’t want any real part of mediating the rather silly argument. Fortunately, another older teller watching the incident quickly jumped in.

“Mr. Mugler – How are you? How are your flowers doing in this terrible heat – please step down and let me take care of you.”

“Thanks, Ms. Primm. It’s always so nice to know there are some kind folks that still possess a modicum of civility in this city.”

The other woman had already left the bank, but you get the idea. Franz Mugler moves to the beat of his own passive-aggressive drum.


Strangers aren’t his main target though. Franz’s friends and acquaintances are constantly put on notice for their various infractions and social misdeeds, as Franz sees it. Emily Post was a rank amateur when it came to keeping friends in line about maintaining the rules of polite society.

The telephone, for instance. A useful form of technology and conveyance for keeping in touch with others – it is a constant topic of discourse for Franz Mugler. His friends either seemingly always forgot to call him back – a typical grievance. Do not call him back quickly enough. Do not answer the phone in a quiet enough place. Do not give him full attention while on the phone. Do not speak loudly enough into the phone or have called him at a completely inopportune or inappropriate time. These are all quite serious offenses.

Franz’s phone rules are somewhat legendary.

To express his displeasure Franz often simply hangs up in mid-sentence to the offending “Franz phone rules abusing culprit” on the other line. This is Franz’s most dramatic method  to “teach a friend” about his/her particular phone offense and to “train him/her” not to ever, ever do it again.

If you do not answer your cell-phone when Franz calls you – he will not leave a phone message. Ever. It irks him to have to wait – even 10 seconds to respond to a phone message. If you answer your cell-phone but are in mid-conversation with someone else – he becomes apoplectic. Why after-all should he be forced to listen to your unimportant conversation – when he is calling to speak with you and you alone?  If your cell phone accidentally pocket-dials him, Franz not only takes offense, he complains bitterly about the matter in front of other people – to shame you into never ever ever pocket-dialing him again. Like I said, Franz is very strict about phone etiquette. For instance do not ever and I mean ever try to put him on the phone with someone else if he is not prepared to speak with that person – even if they are friends or acquaintances. For whatever reason, that breach of phone protocol is one of the worst things you can ever do.

“How dare you put me on the phone with that simpering idiot. What is this?The Love Boat? Are you my cruise director now? In charge of my entire social calendar … thanks anyway … please do NOT do that again … understand?”

Perhaps, it’s a simple matter of control. Who really knows? There are often so many “Franz rules”  I sometimes find it hard to keep track of them, frankly.

If a stranger is talking too loudly on their cell phone in a restaurant, at first,they will get “the Franz Stare”. If that does not work, they will actually get a hand-written note on a napkin explaining just how rude it is to conduct personal phone business in a place where people are supposed to be dining. You can just imagine how well that goes over in New York City. I love when they crumple it up and throw it at him. That’s the best.


Franz is a grand fellow but he can have a bad temper on occasion, due to what he deems to be a variety of inexcusable social peccadilloes.

He simply hates when worker bees or vendors mess up an order or instruction.

He can’t understand why certain people would or could make a simple mistake.

He takes it all as a personal affront or attack. Rumor also has it that Mugler is a member of the French version of Mensa. He’s mentioned that only once in an argument years ago … so who really knows?

One time, a local flower shop forgot to deliver flowers to a work colleague who had had a death in the family. When Franz found out the flowers were never delivered he went down to the flower shop and screamed at the owner. “How could you do this? This person DIED! You were paid to deliver flowers to his grieving family. Don’t you at least feel awful about screwing this order up? Forget about how bad you made me look. Look how bad you just made your business look!”  Franz stood there red-faced screaming at a somewhat befuddled flower-shop owner who didn’t really care – and just thought that Franz was absurd in his over-reaction. The flower-shop owner just said, “So, should I send the flowers today?” A very reasonable question – that led to yet another long-winded Franz Mugler diatribe that only subsided as a police officer suddenly was seen walking past the flower-shop.

Some people get upset about the silliest stuff.  Franz Mugler is one of those people.

Franz has almost had fist-fights arguing over who hailed a taxi-cab first … he always gets into arguments with Maitre D’s – about people cutting in on lines to get tables at restaurants – never once thinking that he should do what other people do and throw somebody a sawbuck once in a while. At movie theaters when people sit in front of him, he mutters under his breath angrily about how big the movie theatre is and he looks for somewhere else to sit. Public transportation is the worst – buses, subways – forget it. It’s almost like a tinderbox for Franz . Taxi drivers piss him off too. He gets in the cab and he’s already pissed off if the window is open. Clearly, the driver is trying to save money on the AC. God forbid the driver takes a wrong turn or long route.


Sometimes a stranger decides to “tell off” Franz. Bad Idea. I remember getting into a minor disagreement with Franz in a bookstore about some small perceived slight.  Franz was laying into me and I was apologizing –  although for the life of me I was probably not even at fault, when a young Korean-American woman had heard quite enough.

“You are perhaps the rudest person in the world,” she said to Franz.

Franz stopped criticizing me for the moment and cast his stunned gaze on the interloper.

“Actually, you are, Miss … what business is it of yours to make rude comments about a discussion I’m having with my friend?”

” Some lucky friend … you’re being incredibly mean to him – I’ve been listening to the whole thing for the past five minutes … the things you are saying to him are simply awful.”

“And who asked you to eavesdrop on our conversation?”

“I didn’t want to at all, but I was unfortunate enough to be standing next to you on the checkout line.”

“Consider the misfortune mutual and your interruption and your opinion completely unappreciated.”

“You’re a complete asshole.”

“No actually you are … getting in the middle of other people’s business.”

“Whatever. This guy is a complete jerk!”  (Yelling at the top of her voice.)

The young woman then stalked off.

The rest of the folks in the bookstore moved quickly away from the confrontation like people moving away from a swarm of angry bees – sometimes ugly confrontations are so ugly that they diminish the beauty of life and make even a picturesque corner bookstore look and feel just awful, like a murder scene or a dead animal.

That’s kind of how everybody felt after this incident. Just plain … ugh.

Franz is strangely manipulative even when he is doing something nice. He’ll call up a friend and ask if the friend wants a piece of furniture… “Great, come and pick it up today before I throw it out … this afternoon … and bring a bottle of wine … I’m all out. We can figure out a price for the piece after you see it.”

“Want some old clothes? Come by and help clear out my closets. I want this stuff gone. And I might need you to help me move some stuff around – my back is acting up … you’re strong.”

There’s always a price. There is always an angle. Nothing ever seems to be done based on simple kindness.

Such a sad, strange, jaded world.

One time Franz texted me in quite a bit of exasperation as I had been unreachable for a number of hours.

“When I call you – answer the damn phone. When I text you – you text me back … damn it, I’m important. More important than anyone you may be engaged with presently.”

At first, I laughed when I read the text.  Then I realized he was completely serious.

Another time, Franz invited me to a cocktail party to celebrate a work function that I had to unfortunately decline for an important family anniversary. Lord knows, I still get reminded about how “incredibly rude I was” to blow off his important work event.


When you visit Franz at his Upper West Side Apartment there are always so many rules.

“Please remember to take off your shoes when you enter the apartment.”

“Use a coaster.”

“If you need to use the remote control ask me – you’ll just break it.”

“If you don’t mind put your dishes in the dish washer – big dishes on the bottom. Plastic in the sink.”

“If you have to smoke please go outside.”

“No eating on the couch please. Please don’t leave any popsicle sticks on the table – I got it in Woodstock.”

“Try not to make too much noise – the neighbors complain.”

“You can’t stay too late; I need to be at work early tomorrow.”

“If you are going to be on your cell-phone ignoring me – what’s the point of you even being over here – could you be any more rude?”

You get the idea.

Mugler describes himself as a philosopher-artist. He has various sized TV sets arranged randomly all over his studio apartment, like Nam Jun Paik sculpture all piping in the same image. He often listens to discordant jazz while smoking a pipe, burning incense on the window sill, and soaking his bare feet on a large cooking pot filled with cold water and sliced lemons.

There is nothing wrong with his feet – he just likes the way it feels – so he tells his visitors.

He named all of his sea monkeys and is devoted to them – Gratch, Gazoodle, Gerplunk, Gazoink, Gknip, Gknop and Lady Wonderly. He even has a framed diploma on the wall from the Crustacean College of Sea Monkey Knowledge.

This all said, Franz Mugler is still absolutely the finest person I have ever met in my entire life. His pure heart, soul, brain and sly sense of humor make his frequent behavioral transgressions – but a minor, oft-times humorous distraction.

I know this might seem incongruous. But it is the absolute truth.


Featured illustration by Aisling O’ Reilly.