In the Sunday Times column Social Qs, an inquirer asked,
“My adult family and I went to dinner at an Italian trattoria. When the owner led us to a table near a family with bouncy children, I asked, in Italian, if he could seat us someplace quieter. He did. After we were seated, the woman from the table with children came up to me and said: “Don’t worry. We’ll be leaving soon.” She had clearly heard and understood me. I think she crossed a social boundary. You?”
SHE crossed a boundary? The questioner says something within earshot of another party who might be offended by it, and doesn’t have the guts to be open and honest , or, in the alternative, to discuss the matter with the restaurant staff privately. Maybe the woman would have crossed a social boundary if she said, ‘Guess what, dickwad, you’re not the only one who speaks Italian!” But she didn’t; she just behaved as if the request had been in English, and the Italian-as-secret-code user was embarrassed.
Good. Continue reading
I was waiting at red light in Alexandria, on the way home from a brief acting coach gig for a friend. On one side of street, preparing to cross, was a striking African-American couple, the women in a formfitting orange and white pattern dress, he in an open white blazer and slacks, highlighted by a pocket hanky that matched the orange in the woman’s dress.
When the “Walk” light finally flashed on, they crossed in front of my car, and as they passed, I rolled down my window and called out, “Best dressed couple I have seen all say!” and saluted.
They beamed. They waved. They shouted, in unison, “Thank you!” and walked on, laughing. I think I may have made their day.
And I thought, I really need to be on the look-out for opportunities like that. This is the way to combat the metastasizing nastiness, incivility and distrust in our culture. Be nice. Reach out. Socialize. Try to make meeting you a positive experience, no matter how brief or trivial. It takes almost no time at all. It’s not hard. All it requires is committing to making the people around you as happy as possible.
I also had two thoughts. One: if they had been talking on their smart phones, texting or otherwise not interacting with the world around them, I wouldn’t have said anything at all.
Two: I wish I had been wearing a MAGA cap.
Regular readers here know that my local 7-11 (on Quaker Lane in Alexandria, Va.) has been the site of multiple ethics dramas and lessons. Another occurred yesterday.
For about a year now, a middle-aged man and a middle-aged woman have routinely sat outside the store, trying to make eye-contact with customers and persuade them into handing over money, cigarettes, or to buy them something inside. (The two are never there at the same time: maybe they have a schedule.) We think, but it is just speculation, that they are residents of a local half-way house that is a few blocks away. Yesterday, it was the woman’s turn. She knows both me and my wife, especially Grace, who has often replied positively to her entreaties over the last 12 months, as have I, though less often. Yesterday we were in a rush, and entered the store without interacting with her. She followed my wife into the 7-11, knew I was behind her, and let the door close right in my face, nearly knocking me flat. Later she managed to beg four cigarettes off my wife.
I know. The woman is probably mentally ill. She was dealt a poor hand of whist, to use Clarence Darrow’s favorite analogy for life. Nevertheless, she is very aware that we have been kind and generous to her. I don’t ask much or expect much, but I do not like being treated as a mark or a chump. I have held the door open for her at that 7-11; I always acknowledged her existence: she received the same respect and civility that everyone does whom I encounter at that neighborhood establishment. The least she could do is hold the door open and not let it swing shut just as I am trying to enter. The message her actions conveyed was that if I am a not submitting to her charity extortion, I’m a non-person, as far as she is concerned.
Got it. She can now look elsewhere for her free hot dogs, cigarettes, and ten dollar bills. I know she doesn’t regard me as a neighbor, or a benefactor, or an ally, but as a gullible, inexhaustible resource to be taken advantage of.
The hell with that.
I’ll still hold the door open for her, however, like I do for everyone else.
Good Morning, And Play Ball!
1. To Tony C. This is always a happy day for me, but I want to mute my joy a bit by dedicating this baseball season to the late Tony Conigliaro. Since my teens, he has been my constant inspiration to live every day to its fullest, because no matter how bright and promising the future seems at any moment, everything can change in the blink of an eye, or an errant pitch from Fate right into your face.
That’s what happened to Tony C. on a cruel August night in 1967. He was playing right field and batting clean-up for his home town baseball team, in a season that would see them win a miracle pennant. He was young, handsome and incredibly talented. He had become the youngest player ever to hit a hundred home runs, and was in his fourth big league season at the tender age of 22.Then everything changed. Tony’s existence was swept up and placed on a new and dark road that ended with a fluke heart attack and stroke at the age of 37, and a lingering twilight half-death in brain damage until he mercifully passed away eight long years later.
All we can do now is remember a beautiful young man and a brilliant athlete who gave his home town many thrilling moments to savor in the brief time allotted to him, who had everything, and then lost it without reason, warning or justice…and also remember that every day should be lived right, and well, with the determination to be the best we can be, because we may never have a chance to be any better.
Yes, this baseball season is dedicated to you, Tony.
For me, I guess they all are.
2. No, this isn’t The Onion. This is a real tweet from the Democratic Party, authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng:
“Women deserve equal access to our economy, not punishment for their gender. That’s why I’ve been working with my fellow women to fight for more access to tampons, pads, and the full range of menstrual products since 2015. …I’ve introduced legislation to make these products more affordable — because leveling the playing field and stopping period-shaming give women, especially low-income women, a better chance to succeed in our economy…What else would give women a better chance to succeed? Electing more women to fight these fights with me — because we need leaders who understand the experiences of those they represent. ..Head to http://IWillVote.com and commit to vote in 2018 and beyond, because women can’t wait for economic fairness any longer.”
I hope I don’t have to explain what is wrong with this, and I eagerly anticipate being able to parry any brain-melted partisan who reads something like this and says, “Hey, what a good idea!” Yet obviously millions of people are in thrall to this kind of slippery slope progressivism: if a gender, or a race, or a nationality or any other tribe has a unique need or problem, then all of society must help pay for it, or life is unjust. Was a virus released into the water system of certain major cities.? What else can account for such abdications of personal responsibility being accepted as fair and reasonable?
Hey! Why doesn’t the government pay for my electric razor? Continue reading
I was blissfully unaware of the existence of Logan Paul until this morning. He’s a unique creation of the cyber-age, a 22-year-old college drop-out whose occupation is “social media entertainer.” He makes daily videos–“vlogs”—that he posts on his YouTube channel. It has 15 million followers, along with his hundreds of thousands of others across social media, and is regarded as major cultural force, for what, I have no clue. He is, of course, rich.
In pursuit of more followers and cash, he posted a video, since removed from YouTube available elsewhere online, that features a dead young man, lying in a Japanese forest known as the “Suicide Forest,” which lies at the base of Mount Fuji. Paul began by telling his YouTube fans,
“This definitely marks a moment in YouTube history Because I’m pretty sure that this has never hopefully happened to anyone on YouTube ever. Now with that said, buckle up!”
With that titillating intro, Paul described the reputation of the Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. It is a popular site for distraught Japanese to end their lives, and is thus known as “the Suicide Forest.” Locals also say the forest is haunted, another exiting feature that Paul and his companions hyped as they walked along. Then they come across the dead body. The video blurred his face. “Yo, are you alive?” Paul shouted at the dead man. As a camera zoomed in, Paul described the body’s condition, and speculated that the death was recent.
After making the obligatory observation that depression and mental illness are not a joke, Paul’s group left the scene and he began joking, with the mugging and giggling his fans are accustomed to seeing on his vlogs. At the end of the video he encountered a young fan and told him, smirking and pointing the way, “I have one piece of advice. Don’t go over there!”
And yes, he was wearing that hat (above) the whole time.
The video was posted over the weekend, and did not receive the desired response. Many expressed horror that a young man’s body would be used a a prop, and that Paul would be cavalier about mental illness, depression and suicide. Now the Cyber Furies are after him, and threatening to turn him from web star into a web pariah. Continue reading
Uncharacteristically, I began the day with a visit to my local 7-11, as we realized that the Marshalls were out of coffee and half-and-half. The perilous non-caffeinated drive was aided by the new Sirius-XM Beatles Channel, which now follows the excellent policy of loading up the waking-up hours with early Fab Four classics, so I was safely stimulated by joyous songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Eight Days a Week.”
The 7-11 was mobbed, as it usually is in the morning, and the line was very long. I noticed that the customers were filing past the register and the single clerk on duty almost wordlessly. Many were wearing earphones, and those who were not looked down at the counter and silently handed over their money. The clerk, a young Hispanic-American man whom I had never seen there before, was similarly unengaged, not speaking to anyone, looking down and sullen.
This is not healthy for a community. The lack of what once was considered the normal, friendly, social interaction at a central gathering place is yet another ethics canary dying in society’s mine.
When the line got to me, I tried something bold: I looked at the young man and said, “How are you today?” He actually shook his head quickly like a cartoon character who sees something stunning. “Me? Good! How are you?” he said in halting English. Now he was smiling and making a connection with another human being. “I’m good,” I said.”It’s a beautiful day. When do you get off?”
“Eleven o’clock…long day,” he said, rolling his eyes. (Holy crap!) “Have a good day, man. Thanks.”
I have to believe that simple, polite, daily contact and conversation among people can perform wonders returning mutual respect and civility to our nation, and even our civic discourse. This was a prominent habit of my father, who often treated strangers like old friends, much to the embarrassment of my mother, who tended to regard anyone who wasn’t Greek as a space alien.
Too often, I realize, when I am tired, preoccupied, stressed and in a hurry, I fail to extend to those I encounter in the random chaos of life the basic courtesy of looking them in the eye, showing that I think they matter and are every bit as important as I am (for they are), and making what may be the only time the two of us share a moment in our lives a pleasant interlude. That young man’s smile this morning should remind me, at such times, that this simple and painless gesture, repeated enough times by enough of us, can heal many of society’s self-inflicted wounds.