Sunday, November 29, 2009

Question: "Do Two Rudes Make a Polite?" Answer: No.

This morning, I came upon this two-week-old article in the New York Times: As the Rudes Get Ruder, the Scolds Get Scoldier.

It's about so-called "etiquette vigilantes" who think that the best way to deal with rude (or at least what they think is rude) behavior from other people is an equally strong counter-offense. One Amy Alkon, self-described "manners psycho" (isn't that an oxymoron?), after overhearing a cell phone conversation at Starbucks, wrote down his cell phone number, called him, and said, "Just calling to let you know, Barry, that if you’d like your private life to remain private, you might want to be a little more considerate next time."

That is:

a. Creepy,
b. Creepy,
and c. Just as rude.

Since when is it okay to fight rudeness with rudeness? I thought that politeness was an act of kindness to your fellow beings. You hold the door open for other people because it's nice, not because you expect to be thanked every time. If someone is rude to you or behaves rude in front of you, rise above it, and maintain your high standards anyway. Don't get down and dirty to their level.

Speaking of rudeness, I don't see nearly as much of it as these "etiquette vigilantes" (another oxymoron) and the complaining commenter class does. (Hey, I just created a new term! "Complaining commenter class" means the people who post negative, soul-sapping comments after Internet news articles.)

I have never been bothered by public cell phone conversations. They are no more loud than public conversations between two people standing or sitting in front of each other. At the movie theater, I have never heard a conversation (cell or person-to-person) loud enough to distract me from the movie. And where are all these beastly, running-amok children that Ms. Alkon and others say are ruining restaurants, stores, and other public spaces? When I see children in public, 99.9% of the time they are acting okay. When you form opinions, it's best to base them on what you see than on what "they" say.

People aren't that rude these days. It's just that complainers have gotten noisier, and have more outlets to do so. It's unfortunately easier to whine about what others do than to watch what we do. I say, watch yourselves first and foremost.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

And While I'm Thinking About Holidays...

Here is a list of places where you can buy non-commercial toys for your kids (or yourself!) for Christmas, including web links:

The Vermont Country Store
Back to Basics Toys
Museum Tour

If I had kids, I'd definitely stick to these merchants. Not a Spongebob, Dora, Transformer, or Barbie to be found -- just hands-on, evergreen toys that help kids think and dream.

Jerk the Turkey (From Your Thanksgiving Table)?

Quick, what are you going to have on your Thanksgiving table a week from now? If I could stand on top of my roof and see your thought bubbles, I’d probably see acres and acres of turkeys, golden brown and resting on oval plates.

Where is the law that requires you to drop a ten-to-twenty-pound bird on your table every Thanksgiving? No matter how many variations the food magazines throw at us – no matter if you bake, grill, fry, butterfly, chop it up into pieces or roll it up around stuffing, no matter if you coat it with sage butter, fennel and coriander, clementine peel, apple-cranberry glaze, paprika, rosemary and garlic, or plain salt and pepper, turkey carries with it two inconvenient truths:

1. Its meat is bland and dull, and
2. Unless you have a shipload of guests, the leftovers are going to linger longer than Sarah Palin.

Think about all the Thanksgiving dinners you have experienced. Was the turkey ever the most delicious item on the table? Turkey is just not a feast-worthy bird. Really.

What is? I would suggest duck, for starters. I’ve heard good tidings about goose, though I have never tried it myself. Cornish hens are an alternative that was on the table when Two Dogs and I had our first Thanksgiving together (actually, he is philosophically opposed to the holiday, but that’s a story for another time). Even a good-sized chicken or two will give you more flavor per pound.

Then again, why does it have to be a bird? Why not a flat-iron steak, or a pork tenderloin, a whole salmon, or lasagna? Even a stuffing casserole with butternut squash and cranberries sounds great, whether or not you’re a vegetarian.

Even if you are dead-set on turkey, why roast the whole big bird? Why not buy it in pieces? I got this idea while looking at turkey legs at Sprouts market. A single turkey breast can feed three, perhaps four people.

In the big picture, though, it really doesn’t matter what is on the table. What matters is the thanks giving– thinking about and discussing all you have to be grateful for. But it certainly does help when you have a feast that is delicious, not just abundant.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Why I Won’t Go See Precious

Tomorrow, the movie Precious will be released in certain cities across America. It is based on the 1996 novel “Push” by Sapphire (the title was changed due to another movie called “Push” released earlier this year). It is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl in Harlem who is the victim of horrific abuse from both her mother and her father. Eventually, she learns to read and write at a special school, and finally learns to use her (figurative) voice. It may be the best movie of 2009 that many people are not going to see. Including me.

As a writer and an artist, I am very nearly a First Amendment absolutist when it comes to content. Nothing should be off-limits when it comes to telling a story. Violence, rape, mental illness and degradation are all legitimate (and sometimes necessary) subjects. But a writer/artist’s right to expression is not mirrored with an audience’s obligation to read or view.

What good will it do me – or anyone else – to watch a girl being abused on an 80-x-30-foot screen? Yes, I know there’s uplift at the end, but it’s like walking on a path of nails, all points up, to get to a bowl of ice cream. The suffering/reward ratio is overloaded on the wrong end.

I would go so far to say that instead of going to see the movie, you can better help girls like Precious by donating to inner-city tutoring programs and rape education programs (which must speak to potential perpetrators as well as victims), being watchful for signs of abuse in your neighborhood, and raising the level of dignity and culture in your world (starting with you as a good example). Illiteracy is not a permanent condition, poverty does not excuse degeneracy, and even when we live in an ugly world we do not have to become one with it.

As I wrote before in an earlier post (“Why I Don’t Volunteer”, August 31), I absorb negative energy way too easily. Avoiding movies like Precious, while remaining aware of the issues behind them, is part of the self-defense I must do in order to be at my best. Don’t feel like you’re shallow or insensitive if you would rather see, say, The Men Who Stare at Goats this weekend. Only you can decide what you can take.