November 25, 2007

Land of the Rude


Admittedly, I left the apartment for a simple morning walk in a foul mood. I knew this supposedly pleasant stroll was going to involve clawing my way through the usual horde of cell phone nitwits, oblivious jackaninnies and vicious stroller-wielding cows. I headed out anyway expecting the worst, and I got it.

      The sky was overcast and the air was cool and damp. Normally this sort of weather would lift my spirits, but today it just fed the loathing. Each asshole announcing his location into a cell phone, each stroller I had to dodge ratcheted the anger up one more notch closer to the red. By the time I reached President Street, I could feel the muscles on my face contorting, and I’d already sucked through three smokes. I hadn’t even bothered to pause briefly in front of Henry Miller’s old house, the way I usually do. I love the neighborhood, but hate the people who live here with everything my guts can churn up.

      Then something remarkable happened. Halfway up the block, five people filed out the front door and down the steps of one of those fancy-ass private schools. Then they spread themselves out evenly across the sidewalk and began walking up the street in front of me very, very slowly. (This, by the way, is what’s known as a “Chinese Field Trip.”).

      That wasn’t the remarkable thing. In fact I had fully expected this to happen at some point when I headed out. With the parked cars to the right and the iron fences to the left, there was no way to get past them without shoving or swinging. That was it. I stopped walking and glared at their slow-moving backs, dredging up every ounce of Will at my disposal in an effort to make them explode.

      One of the men in the group, apparently sensing my murderous Will, stopped and turned.

      “Would you like to get past us?” he asked. With that, he stepped aside, as did two of the others, leaving a space wide enough for me to pass through.

      Well I’ll be, I thought. I’d never known such a thing to happen before around here.

      Then, not five minutes later, someone else held the door open for me at a store.

      Imagine that, I thought. Twice in one morning.

      That was the end of it, of course. For the rest of the morning’s walk everyone I encountered acted like a chimp.

      Still, though, two people had acted in a civilized manner.

      Normally any sort of civil behavior on the part of a stranger would change my mood dramatically. Not in this case, though. In fact, it just made things worse.

      What made things worse was the fact that I noticed it. Noticing that I’d noticed it made me realize that simple politeness had become such a rare occurrence that I would stop and, well, notice it. I’d become so thoroughly accustomed to dealing with self-absorbed, self-righteous buffoons that anyone who didn’t act that way came across as some kind of a freak. Why were they being polite? Didn’t they realize that they’d been put on this planet for the sole purpose of getting in my way?

      Yes, well, maybe that’s overstating it a touch. Maybe because I don’t go outside much anymore, the contrast has been amplified. It’s just that stopping to notice when people aren’t being stupid—and being amazed when people aren’t being stupid—says something about the culture we’ve evolved into.

      It’s not just a Park Slope issue (though it seems to be highly concentrated here), and it’s not just a New York issue. It’s nationwide. Problem with Park Slope is that people act like deranged Heifers with a cold, self-assured smile on their face, the smile that says they’re better than you, so they can do these things.

      I listen to the news, and I hear about the mind-boggling behavior of politicians, celebrities, professional athletes and other public figures—people acting like spoiled children, throwing public hissy fits, running people over, making conscious yet thoughtless decisions that put other people at risk and ruin lives, and we take it in stride. We may note it, it may get a funny headline in the Post, but for the most part it’s almost as if we expect these people to act like assholes, and we’re not interested in them if they don’t. That mentality trickles down. And if you don’t believe me, try sharing a subway car with a group of thirteen year-olds.

      Not long ago, Morgan told me about a co-worker of hers who came into the office one morning, proudly announcing to everyone that she’d “just done her good deed for the century.” Turns out the century-making good deed involved picking up some money a little girl had dropped on the sidewalk, and returning it to her.

      As Morgan pointed out, that’s not a good deed—that’s just doing what you’re supposed to do. And if that’s the only halfway decent thing the woman intends to do, well lord help us. Yet that seems to be the way things are going.

      At my more paranoid moments, I begin to wonder if it’s all just another variation on invasion of the Body Snatchers—except instead of emotionless commie stooge aliens, we’re quietly being invaded by aliens who are big asshole jerks.

      What makes me shudder with revulsion is knowing that, with the holidays grinding in, things will only be getting worse. Those oversized shopping bags are gonna be swinging somethin’ fierce.

      Maybe this helps explain why I have so much sympathy for people who go on shooting sprees—or Chuck Connors in The Mad Bomber.


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