Friday, January 7, 2011

Chapter Three

Mass Manners©
Your guide to living as part of a society

Good manners are a lubricant and a balm for people who live among people.  They are part of our history, part of an implicit social contract – a contract where “live and let live” and “do no harm” will always trump “get out of my way” and “shut the fuck up.” And unlike the existence of Global Warming or the “Theory” of Evolution, this contract is largely non-negotiable – or at least it will be when I am made King of the World.

The Cell Phone

Does any of this sound familiar?  “Don’t interrupt; Wait your turn; Use your indoor voice; Say ‘please’; Say ‘thank you’; Say ‘excuse me’; Say ‘I’m sorry’; Look with your eyes, not with your hands; Don’t stare; Mind your own business;” and of course, “You can’t have everything you want.”  If your childhood was anything like mine, you heard your parents say things like this all the time. They admonished you in public, at home, at grandma’s house, at school, in the grocery store…everywhere.  They did this because they cared not only about you, but also about other people.  Your parents were training you to be part of a society – to be good citizens.  It worked.  You started to practice what they preached, and lo and behold, you blossomed into a polite and well-spoken young person.  And then you grew up; the cell phone was invented; and your manners turned to shit.  I’m serious.  What the hell happened to you people?  Martin Cooper says he invented the cell phone because he was inspired by Captain Kirk’s communicator on Star Trek.  He turned that inspiration into reality. The Fact that is the modern cell phone surpasses even the Fiction.  Today’s phones are a marvel.  They are portable telephones, computers, movie theaters, photo albums, sophisticated tools, and complex toys.  Having said that, if you don’t count Napalm, A-bombs, and Care Bears; they may well be the single most offensive inventions ever to spring from the mind of Man.  And I shall tell you why.  People these days are flat out, unapologetic, in your face, who-cares-about-you Rudeniks.  They think because they purchased a cell phone, they have the right use and abuse the devices any way they see fit and the rest of us be damned.  It’s a twisted and selfish philosophy.  And it’s as antithetical to good citizenship as Michael Vick is to dog ownership, David Hasselhoff is to sobriety, and Mel Gibson is to multiculturalism.  I offer a few simple suggestions for proper use of the cell phone that will make Life easier for everyone. So let me help you.  I beg you, let me help.

Part One: Hierarchy.  Paper covers rock; rock breaks scissors; scissors cut paper; and real people trounce disembodied voices – or they should.  This means that when you and I are sitting in a coffee shop, you do not take or make a call; you do not read or write a text message; you do not even activate the screen to see if you missed any calls.  You refrain from this sort of antisocial behavior because it’s just damn rude. You are saying in no uncertain terms that you are only passing the time with me until something better or more pressing comes along.  And unless you are an on-call surgeon waiting to hear about a critical patient who is “circling the drain,” you have a shamefully over-inflated sense of your own importance.  And quite frankly, you are wretchedly insecure and starved for attention. Give your focus, your respect, and your energies to the human being sitting across the table from you.  “My agent might call; My girlfriend’s cat is passing a stone; I’m waiting to hear about the success or failure of my mother’s new draperies.”  Shut up, you.  I mean it.  If you can’t manage your pitiable need for constant stimulation and manufactured electronic adoration for the time it takes you to have a “cup o’ Joe” with a friend, you should be seen by a medical professional specializing in Narcissistic personality disorders.  The arrogance!  You would actually put a breathing, feeling, in-the-flesh person “on hold” because of the possibility Kim Kardashian may have tweeted yet another inanity essential to your continued happiness. And another thing, you don't walk up to a shop counter while conversing on the phone with one of your equally narcissistic blabberpuss chums, point emphatically to the last whole grain bagel in the display, and quietly mouth the words “dopo macchiatto” to the human being working behind the counter.  Nobody deserves that kind of barefaced disrespect.  It labels you a sociopath and an A-hole. “A”, my friends, is for Ass. Live in the moment. Turn off the phone occasionally.  You simply are not that important.

Part Two: Discretion.  You know what bugs me?  Well, just about everything, but that’s neither here nor there. What bugs me at this moment is people’s apparent lack of situational discretion – their basic lack of good old common sense.  Let’s say, for whatever reason, you simply cannot turn your ever-present cell phone off.  You have to have it with you.  You must.  There is an emergency or something, and you are that “contact person” listed on all the forms.  Ok.  Fine.  This does not, however, give you carte blanche and excuse you from the rest of humanity.  You still have certain obligations to the rest us.  Like being less loud than a roaring jet engine. I’m talking about simple volume here, people.  Not only the volume of your phone’s ringer, but also the volume of your own voice must be modulated.  Let’s address your phone’s ringer, or the more pretentious, ring tone.  Please, please, please choose a ring tone and volume level that is appropriate to societal dwelling.  If you have, like the clueless middle-aged woman I encountered on Metro North last week had, the Welcome Back Kotter theme as your ring tone; and if you are repeatedly and ceaselessly answering calls from your daughter regarding the ratio of bullion cubes to water for  “home made” super secret chicken soup recipe; and if you insist on turning up your cell phone’s volume to levels surpassing that of the South American Howler Monkey in heat; then you have, without question, created a sanity-threatening predicament for the rest of us, you poor senseless bastard, you.  And to add insult to injury, this Welcome Back Kotter woman kept returning her decibel-shattering phone to her oversized “catch all” saddle bag of a purse after every single call – lest it be conveniently at hand for the next absurd inquiry from her surpassingly annoying offspring. “Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya) Back here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)” repeatedly, continually, over and over an over, ad infinitum! I’m sorry. The problem is two-fold.  One, we shouldn’t ever have to hear your phone ring.  Set it to vibrate.  That’s why there is a vibrate setting.  And two, pipe down.  Really.  Hearing a high volume one-sided conversation is bad enough, but hearing a high volume one-sided conversation that is completely devoid of even the most microscopic shred of merit is too, too, too much to endure.  And we shouldn’t have to endure it, because the problem is not, Dear Brutus in ourselves. Neither is it in our stars.  The problem is in you and your oh so apparent lack of willingness to facilitate even the most rudimentary aspects of good citizenship. When you are at home, do as you please.  When you are sharing public places with the rest of God’s Children, turn the ringer down or off and lower your voice.  Just do it. 
Part Three: Location, Location, and Location 
Section One:  The Car. There are certain places where it’s never okay to use your phone.  Let’s start with the automobile.  Auto means self, and mobile means to move.  Essentially, automobile means that “Thing That Moves Around By Itself,” which is a terrible name for the mechanical contraption that most of us refer to as the car.  It’s a terrible name because cars don’t move themselves – people drive them. Even if your driving skills have become so atrophied you had to buy one of those overpriced small-penis-compensating robotic cars that parallel park themselves, you are still driving the car. “I’m an excellent driver.”  No you aren’t.  Not everybody is an excellent driver.  All drivers think they are extraordinary, and most of them are terrible. The average person is about as skilled behind the wheel as a three-toed sloth in mittens. And although I agree that any reasonably coordinated person could probably receive a phone call, chat briefly, and hang up the phone without endangering all of Mankind, I still have to maintain that there is almost never a need to be on the phone while driving a car.  Yes, yes, it’s probably no more distracting to your enviable abilities of concentration than say, smoking a cigarette or eating a Filet-O-Fish sandwich.  But the reality is that most of you are already smoking, eating, searching for tunes, disciplining a child, and/or regaling a carload of your chums with the awe-inspiring tale of how you attained Level 10 Prestige in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.  So, YES, the added distraction of you fumbling around with your over-priced and over-prized cell phone while attempting to operate that “Thing That ‘supposedly’ Moves Around By Itself” does indeed pose a very real threat to your already overtaxed and over-stimulated little self, not to mention to the rest of Mankind.  And I am just talking about receiving a call, people, not making a call.  I am talking about talking, not texting.  Texting while driving -- Jesus, I weep for the future.  Texting is a cute way of saying TYPING.  People are fucking typing while operating a motor vehicle. If you honestly think that you are able to TEXT while driving a car, then you are an idiot.  Shut it.  You are an idiot.  Why don’t you compose your un-put-downable memoirs with an IBM Selectric perched on your ample thighs while simultaneously straddling a bouncy thoroughbred during the jouncy final seconds of a championship dressage competition?  You know why?  Because you are not that fucking coordinated, dearie.  Nobody is – not you, not Nadia Comaneci. Not even the genetically engineered, 150-word-per-minute lovechild of Mario Andretti and Camillo Olivetti could safely TEXT while driving an automobile. Anyway, it’s against the law – and that’s your fault.  It’s moot because legions of you under-coordinated, phone-obsessed chatterboxes have already caused innumerable traffic accidents; and now nobody can even look at a phone while driving a car without risking jail time.  We are all forced to cork an ear with one of Lieutenant Uhura’s blue-toothy, “hands free” earpieces -- a.k.a. that which is De Rigueur for Douche Bags. And let’s talk about those “earpods” for second, may we?  They are meant to be used while operating an automobile, not while shopping for tuna at the grocery store.  You look the fool.  Those of you who walk around with blinky electronica sticking out of your ears are the modern day equivalent of the pot-bellied, mid-life crisis guy with the Member’s Only jacket and the Porsche hat. You don’t look cool, you look ridiculous.  When you get out of the car, pocket the earpod. “But what if someone calls me?”  Then use your phone, Nerd.  Are you a professional juggler?  “My hands need to in motion and free of accoutrements 24/7!”  No, they don’t.  You are not that important.  Nobody is that important.
Part Three: Location, Location, and Location 
Section Two:  The Theatre. (coming soon)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chapter Two

Mass Manners©
Your guide to living as part of a society
Good manners are a lubricant and a balm for people who live among people. They are part of our history, part of an implicit social contract – a contract where “live and let live” and “do no harm” will always trump “get out of my way” and “shut the fuck up.” And unlike the existence of Global Warming or the “Theory” of Evolution, that contract is largely non-negotiable – or at least it will be when I am made King of the World.

The Sidewalk, The Stairs, and The Escalator

You can just silence that voice your head right now. The one saying, “I’m not a child. I know how to walk on a god damn sidewalk!” Because…no you don’t. If you did, I wouldn’t be writing this. And trust me, if you can’t master the intricacies of the sidewalk, then stairs and escalators are way out of your skill set. Right out. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help.

The Sidewalk. Most of you know what a sidewalk is, but for those of you who might not have seen one, like you folks living in Los Angeles, a sidewalk is a paved pedestrian walkway next to, or on the side of a road. The sidewalk is intended to be a safe place for people who travel “on foot.” We call these people pedestrians. Observe that PEDestrian, PEDicure, biPEDal, centPEDe, and that French thing all upstaters wish we had, the PIED-a-terre, all share the same root – PED, meaning foot. You follow me? The sidewalk is a place on the SIDE of the road for people who WALK. Hence the name: side + walk = sidewalk. The sidewalk keeps the pedestrians out of the road, out from amongst the cars, and trucks, and taxis, horses, and rats and what have you, and this is good. The sidewalk is the place where the people walk. Well, it should be the place where the people walk. Unfortunately, the world being what it is today, the sidewalk is also a pathway for bicycles, scooters, power chairs, Segways, baby strollers, rollerbladers, and tourists. (Tourists are similar to pedestrians, but with less developed navigational skills and more time on their hands, and I’ll get to them in a minute.) Now, I want you to quiet that voice in your head again – the one that thinks I want babies and the physically challenged either to brave the roads or stay home. I don’t. If you have a charming gap-toothed tot in a pram, or you need to use a power chair for whatever reason, you have every right to use the sidewalk. Of course you do, don’t be ridiculous. 

But wait! You are not off the how-to-use-the-sidewalk hook. Stay with me, people. The 21st century sidewalk is no longer for pedestrians alone. It just isn’t. The modern sidewalk is really more akin to a “road for people without cars” then it is a pedestrian walkway. And I suggest we use it as such. In this country, the USA, we drive on the right hand side of the road. The right side. Right, meaning not only “not left”, but also not wrong. Right, meaning correct. And now we get to the heart of the issue. You should think of the sidewalk in exactly the same way you think of the road -- you travel on the right! You walk on the right side of the sidewalk; you push your baby stroller on the right side of the sidewalk; and you motor along in your Jazzy Scooter on the right side of the sidewalk. You can speed up, slow down, and even pass slower people. And you NEVER stop moving. Just as in a car, unless you break down, you KEEP MOVING. 

Which brings us back to tourists. We love you, tourists. We really do. You come, you see, you spend. But when you are using the sidewalks, as you are most welcome to do, you must not stop walking. If you see an enticing object d’art, be it a painting or a celebrity; or if you become overwhelmed by the all the tall shiny buildings; or if you need to photograph yet another homeless person to shock the folks back in Lemon, North Dakota; then you signal your intentions with a much appreciated, “excuse me,” and you pull over. You step to the -- wait for it -- RIGHT HAND SIDE of the sidewalk. You do not interrupt the flow of millions of well-heeled pedestrians on their way to work. You pull to the side of the sidewalk, just as any vehicle would pull to the side of the road. 

Which brings us to vehicles. If you are on rollerblades, or a bike, or a scooter, or a (god-loves-a-dork) Segway, you belong on the road. Period. End of discussion. If you have a baby stroller or are in a power chair, you should conduct yourself EXACTLY as all the non-mechanically endowed pedestrians should conduct themselves. Exactly. This means you do not use your baby stroller as cybernetic snowplow. It means you do not smash people’s calves and ankles with your power chair. You are not more important than I am, or he is, or she is, or they are. (This is a leitmotif, just in case you are a bit dull.) Stop annoying everyone who isn’t you, fellow citizens. Get on board the societal wagon. Learn how to use the sidewalk.

The Stairs. Stairs are made up of a series of steps that allow pedestrians to bridge vertical distances. Stairs are an architectural wonder. Stairs are good – we like stairs. Stairs are very similar to sidewalks, so why people are so pole axed by the proper use of them is quite beyond me. Yes, I know they look all zig zaggy if viewed from the side, but even this is a manageable distraction. Focus, people. As with sidewalks, you travel on the right. Always on the right. You go UP on the right; you go DOWN on the right. If the stairway has two wide banks separated by a handrail, then smart people split those banks into two wide categories. Guess what they are. Right. Up and down. Get with the program. It’s easy. If you go up the stairs on the left hand side, you are an obstructionist. You are antithetical to everything that city dwelling promises. You should live in cave somewhere where they have a lot of unoccupied caves available. But wait, there’s more to learn. You do not ever run on the stairs. You know why? Because it’s dangerous, and upsetting, and you are not so important that you have to be somewhere the rest of us don’t have to be. If you were more important than the rest of us, you would be carried to and fro in a litter or a sedan chair. You would not be jockeying for position on public transportation…like you are. Check your ego at the door. You live in a society. So, you move up calmly and efficiently on the right hand side of the stairs; you move down calmly and efficiently on the right hand side of the stairs; and you pass annoyingly slow people with aplomb. Living among people is a pleasure, yes? Same rules as the sidewalk and the road -- you never stop on the stairs unless there is an emergency, and if there is an emergency, you pull over. And you never, ever sit on the stairs. Why? Because. Stairs. Are. For. Walking. I’ll say it again. Get with the program. Learn how to use the stairs.

The Escalator. The escalator is a moving staircase, which makes going up or down long flights of stairs easier and faster. It’s an amazing contraption – amazing, misunderstood, and almost incurably misused. Almost incurably misused. Luckily, I have the cure. Put your thinking caps on, because here we go. Do you buy a ticket before using the escalator? Do you get a souvenir mug or T-shirt after you use it? Do you throw your hands in the air and squeal with a mixture of terror and glee when you take the escalator down a level? No you don’t. And shall I tell you why? Because the escalator is not a ride at Knott’s Berry fucking Farm, that’s why! What is wrong with you? Do you ever give a single moment’s thought to the rest of us – to the rest of society? I’m telling you, a little piece of me dies every time I see one of you young, able-bodied people take that first step onto the miracle that is the escalator, only to screech to a stop the second you land on the tread; and then you ride the escalator all the way up or down. 

My god. Listen: Escalator. ESS-KUH-LEY-TUR. Get it? Words have actual meanings, you know. Are you under the impression there is some “bon mot guru” in England randomly ascribing amusing sounds to all the nameless objects and devices of the world? “Oh my...someone has invented a moving staircase. How wonderful! I shall call it, Tandoori Chicken! No wait…Porchulaca! No, that’s rubbish. I have it! I shall christen it…The Escalator!” Wake up, people. It’s called the escalator, because its intended purpose is to escalate. Escalate means to raise or lower, increase or decrease, in stages. The escalator raises your altitude; it lowers your altitude; it increases your speed; and it decreases your effort. It is a nearly perfect thing, if you use it properly. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help. The traffic patterns for escalators are pretty much the same as they are for roads, sidewalks, and stairs – with an important proviso. There are people who can’t climb stairs or use escalators. If you are old, infirm, on crutches, saddled with too many children, or carrying an unwieldy and costly majolica jardinière; then you are entitled to stand on the right hand side of the escalator and let it carry you up or down. That’s right; people who are, for whatever reason, unable to walk up or down stairs and/or escalators get a pass on this one. However, people who are too damn lazy, stupid, ignorant, clueless, or willfully antisocial – or any combination of the aforementioned pejorative states -- do not. And because some of the less ambulatory members of our society will be standing on the right, you should be passing them on the left – just as you would pass slower traffic on the road, sidewalk, or stairs. 

The escalator is not a mini vacation for you. You don’t have the right to block passage on the escalator and trap all the more cooperative members of society behind you just because you carry the “sloth gene”. If you are determined to squander Time, to ride rather than walk, to be carried like Soylent Green on a perpetually moving conveyor belt of human fodder, then do it while standing on the right side of the escalator. Don’t make arbitrary decisions that affect the rest of us; don’t deny the rest of us our socially engineered right to escalate; don’t force us to march to the beat of your barely audible and woefully anemic drummer; and don’t demand that we plod and drone along behind you, just because your brain and body have become too addled and lethargic to comprehend that Life’s precious minutes are ticking and tocking away at an alarming pace. That would make you a prick -- and not a little one.

And while I’m taking the time to help you with escalators, I’m going to throw in a little free advice on the people mover. The people mover (or speedwalk, as it is more accurately, and sadly less frequently, called) is the wide flat conveyor belt at airports designed to move luggage and the people who carry it from Terminal X to Gift Shop Y. It is, like the escalator, most decidedly not a ride. It is therefore, to be used exactly like an escalator. You stand on the right, and you walk on the left. To make that possible, you standers need to corral your luggage and kids so that we walkers can get by you. Yes, yes, your kids are lovely; but I don’t know them so their antics don’t amuse. Cooperate, would you? Start today. Learn how to use the escalator.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chapter One

Mass Manners©
Your guide to living as part of a society
Good manners are a lubricant and a balm for people who live among people. They are part of our history, part of an implicit social contract – a contract where “live and let live” and “do no harm” will always trump “get out of my way” and “shut the fuck up.” And unlike the existence of Global Warming or the “Theory” of Evolution, that contract is largely non-negotiable – or at least it will be when I am made King of the World.

The Umbrella

You open it. You hold it above your head. It keeps the rain off. Easy, right? Apparently not, because people seem to have no idea how to use an umbrella and live as part of a society at the same time. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help. Here’s the thing. If you live in the country, where there’s “land, lots of land under starry skies above,” this doesn’t apply to you. You do whatever you want. Wear a big hat, ride a pony, carry a “surrey with the fringe on top” above your head whenever it rains, if that’s what you want to do. But if you live in a city, it is time to learn how to use an umbrella.

Step One: Choosing an Umbrella. Your umbrella, or brolly, or bumbershoot, or whatever you want to call it, should be less than half the width of a standard urban sidewalk when fully deployed. Yup – you heard me – LESS THAN HALF the width. If you are “that guy” walking down the street with a golf umbrella, you have failed. You have failed to meet one of your obligations as part of society as surely as if you wore your pajamas to the 7-Eleven. Make no mistake, if you are indeed one of those thoughtless goomers wielding a giant, sidewalk-hogging rainshade, you have broken the implicit contract you have with the rest of us – you have made life more difficult for all the other members of sodden humanity. “But I have expensive clothes…I have to walk to 3 blocks to work…this hairdo cost blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, yeah, yeah I’ve heard it all before and nobody cares. You are not more important than I am, or he is, or she is, or they are. You simply are not so important that you have to carry a giant tarpaulin with you down the street for fear of getting…god forbid… damp. And another thing, buy a real umbrella. We have all been caught out in a storm with no umbrella. We have all had to buy one of those overpriced under engineered little collapsible soon-to-be-wire-sculptures-in-the-garbage-can pieces of crap from the guy on the corner. Once is okay, twice is forgivable; but if you buy one every time it rains, you are part of the problem. Stop wasting money and resources and buy a real umbrella at a real store that sells real merchandise that is not made from materials that don’t matter by people who don’t care. Stop it. Buy a well-made, long lasting, “human width” umbrella. Do it today.

Step Two: Using an Umbrella. Hold your umbrella above your head, close to your body. Take up as little space as possible. This will be easy, because you have already chosen an umbrella whose size, shape, and width make it appropriate for city dwellers. Right? Now, as you approach a fellow umbrella wielding city dweller, another member of society, another person with whom you have entered into the aforementioned implicit contract, you must avoid umbrella entanglements. You do this because you care about other people and have come to realize you are no more important than anyone else. Still with me? You have a choice. You can tilt your umbrella away from theirs, getting briefly damp -- oh no! Or you can raise your umbrella vertically – so your umbra maker goes above the other person’s. It’s so easy. Just start doing it. If you approach a fellow citizen who is bereft of an umbrella, take extra care. Your umbrella is held open, miracle-like, by a series of telescoping wires. These wires can cut, and maim, and poke other people’s eyeballs right the hell out. Be careful. Be courteous. Tilt your brolly away from them, or above them. Just do it. Also, if it’s so windy that your umbrella is flipping and flopping and flapping around uncontrollably then close it up. You aren’t staying dry in that kind of wind anyway, and you are a menace and a hazard to navigation. Stop it.
Step Three: Storing an Umbrella. One would think that storing the umbrella is the easiest part of umbrella ownership and operation. Au contraire. With respect to long-term storage, the case is indeed quite simple: shake it off, bring it in the house, rinse it in the shower, dry and stow. Easy-peasey. Sadly, it is the oft mishandled short-term storage of “in use” umbrellas where most people fall grievously short of the I-deserve-to-live-among-nice-people mark. You have chosen the proper umbrella, and you wield it with precision and courtesy. Bully for you. You make it to the safety, aquatically speaking, of the subway. How does one behave? It’s all so confusing. Let me help. You shake off your umbrella while still outside – not on the stairs. Were you raised in a barn? You carry your neatly stowed umbrella onto the subway train and you hold it. You do not set it on floor, nor do you place it on the seat next to you. If you set a wet umbrella on the seat next to you, you are an asshole. I’m sorry, but there is no gray area here. Hold your umbrella, and once again, take up as little space as possible. Nobody wants to get any more wet than they already are. When you leave the train station, you wait to open the umbrella until you are completely out of the station. Yes, you will a smattering of drops on your precious little self before the bumbershoot is fully deployed. Butch up. Do it now.

You live in a society. Start acting like it, okay? If you want electricity, and flush toilets, and hot air hand dryers, and Netflix, and public transportation, and mystery meat kabobs on every corner, then earn them. Be part of the solution. Learn to use your umbrella.