Monday, April 21, 2008


When I was much younger, it seemed as though everyone I met was in the process of enduring an upbringing similar to my own. Beer and gambling-fueled smack-downs in the family room were optional, of course, but that’s not where I’m going with this. As kids, we weren’t exactly sympathetic – or empathetic, as the case may be – toward each other, but we understood each other, and we understood each other’s parents.

It didn’t matter whether you were being disciplined by my parents or “Clint’s” parents, or the parents of the jerkoff twins down the block. If you did something stupid, pretty much everyone’s parents would call you out on it in the same fashion, meting out the same degree of making-you-feel-like-shit in front of everyone you knew. In my neighborhood, I got people. Things, at least before most of my schoolmates discovered black tar heroin, were predictable. Action A led to Consequence B, and so on.

This is why I don’t quite get the way things are in 2008. When you want something, at least the way I learned it, there’s a certain way to ask for it. There are particular “magic words” and “magic phrases” in society that were inserted into the lexicon to enable people to live in a civilized manner. When people live in a civilized manner, asking for what they want in traditional fashion, they can potentially avoid confrontation and conflict. When they avoid confrontation and conflict – whether they want to or not, since some people are predisposed to relish this sort of thing – they do everyone else in society a favor by not hassling the shit out of us as we try to go about our daily business.

One of these magic phrases is “Excuse me.” I was taught to say this, in various situations, virtually from birth, and it worked like a charm until people turned into slapdicks. This is a very recent development.

Hearing “Excuse me” is a rarity in New York these days. Judging by the behavior of the citizenry around here, I’m thinking some of you may not even know what it means anymore, which is sad because saying “Excuse me” can be a very utilitarian thing to do.

When you accidentally bump into someone, you should say it to let them know that, in a perfect world, you would have preferred to avoid bumping into them.

When you want to move from one geographical point to another, and your way is blocked by a person or collection of persons, you should say “Excuse me” in order to let the person or persons in question know that you need them to move aside. Since this is the “polite” way to do this, your request, provided the people blocking your egress understand the conventions of civility, should readily be granted.

When someone says “Excuse me” to you in either of the aforementioned situations, you should either 1) grant them forgiveness with either a simple gesture or by saying, “It’s okay,” or 2) move aside and let them pass.

This weekend I repeatedly witnessed the actions of a customer who was seemingly never taught to say “Excuse me.” Every time he tried to make his way through the crowd, instead of simply saying “Excuse me” and waiting for people to accommodate him, he scanned the blockade of humanity for openings and attempted to dart through them. The people comprising these blockades theoretically may not have accommodated him at all, but the point here is that he didn’t even try, or didn’t know to try. He simply stood there and stared at people’s backs with his mouth open, waiting for something to happen.

This is a rather poor way to live your life, as I’ve begun to find out recently.

Darting through a group of people in this manner is a bad idea because the physical dynamic of a cluster-fuck constantly evolves. People don’t move predictably. A better way to say this is that they rarely flow in the direction you want them to flow. They’ll move and you’ll dart, but before you’re finished darting they’ll do something completely unexpected and suddenly there’s contact. And contact is precisely the thing we’re trying so hard to avoid.

I wanted to say something to this gentleman. I wanted to tell him, “Look, it doesn’t have to be this difficult for you.” I wanted to take him under my wing and teach him the rudiments of conflict avoidance. I also, as my mother would say, wanted to throw a pie in his face. Either way, I doubt it would’ve changed anything.