March 17th, 2014
We were not a polite family. I thank my parents (and older sister) for allowing me to jump on the relatives’ loveseat (shoes on). If Aunt Dina didn’t have the brass to to slap my scrawny butt, then, as I would say to my cousins, tough tittie. I now feel sorry for Uncle Ellis because during the years he and I worked as salesmen for my dad, he would often correct me (in front of my father) for what I considered imaginary slights. “You did not signal to let those women know you were turning left, Fred.” I’d go heavy on the attitude, “Sorrrry, Ellis.” Later, when he told the story to my dad, I jumped in, “I was turning left out of the DRIVEway.” I didn’t often make my dad laugh, but that did.
Fifteen years ago I took my son, Max, to a party. At the time, he was nine, and I recognized the nine-year-old smartass in him while he was trying to lure a small boy into pushing a half-full cocktail glass off a table top. The boy, standing across the table on a stool, could barely reach it. He’d lean and stretch out, inching it closer and closer to its shattering doom. Then he would stop. After that he’d smile at the boy — an alluring “you can do it” and the boy, now a partner in big-boy crime, would stretch even further and push it, impossibly, another quarter inch toward the edge. The little boy, now rapturous, was fully on the table when a man slapped his hand over the child’s. The ice cubes chattered. Then all progress stopped. The man reset the cocktail glass where it belonged, hauled the boy aloft by his teensy wrist, gave my son a dark look, and marched out of the room with the now crying toddler hanging by a wing. I only then realized he was the man’s son. Who was the bad guy in all of this? My son? Me?
The cocktail glass doesn’t fall very far from the father.
I’m quite sure I can dig up plenty of examples similar to this. Frankly, I find rude behavior fun. I don’t believe I have ever — as a grown up, at least — been unable to distinguish rude behavior from criminal behavior. In the example just given, I wanted to see how the children (little boy and my son) would react when the thick, heavy glass shattered on the brick floor. Both kids were shod, no pets were lurking, my military life-saving credentials were still in date. Adults wore jeans — no high heel shoes were in attendance. All was good.
Let me counterpose my rude witnessing of Boy with Cocktail Glass with Andrew L’s behavior when he encouraged his wife, Dolly, to dress to the nines. He hectored her. Told her she would meet some very important people — folks who could make her career as a freelance newspaper writer take off. He sent her to an NWA meeting in Ferndale, Michigan. Andrew published a small newspaper for his company and told Dolly to cover this upcoming story. When she arrived at the designated hotel room, there was only an NWA note posted on the door telling her the meeting had been rescheduled at another hotel somewhere in Detroit. She drove around for a long afternoon before it sunk in that there was no hotel in that part of Detroit. Hadn’t been for years. As the sun was setting over 8 Mile Road, she called her dear new husband. Only then did she ask what NWA meant. Hubby laughed hard and long. “NWA stands for Niggers With Attitude.” Great joke, huh? Evidently she shared her husband’s racist attitudes, and his sense of humor, too. Last I heard they were still married, and when I last talked to her on the phone, she spoke elegantly and with delicate politesse about her silly hubby. It was a rude joke between spouses and it did not endanger anybody’s life.
I’m not a fan of this style of levity, and I never would have personally indulged in a joke like Andrew’s. But when, in the company of partygoers, I happened to laugh a tired laugh, a nearby couple Xed me off their friendship list. And they made sure everybody knew it. I didn’t bother to explain I thought the gag was stupid. Ah, the Politeness Patrol.
If, in the company of ignoramuses, I seem to be amused, I’ve just been having a bad day. All I need is a nice back rub.