Because it has been so weather-glorious, I’ve waffled back and forth about whether to do the happy thing and share a bit more about blue skies, nature discoveries and snippets from The Urban Porch ™ ……or instead launch into a bit of a rant concerning the deterioration of common courtesy. After giving it some thought, I think I need to get the rant off my chest first.
This will possibly come off sounding like some out-of-touch senior whine about “The Good Old Days”. You know, those good old days where you didn’t have to lock your house or your car. Those good old days where if someone dented your car in a parking lot, they left a note on your windshield. I can recall so many decades ago when my own mother was expressing some dismay at the ever more evident lack of manners, decorum and decency displayed by people towards one another. It was still a subtle shift back then, which she attributed as one of the downsides of the many new (and mostly positive) freedoms of expression occurring during the late 1960’s and 70’s. Back then, I considered her a bit old-fashioned and probably gave her a few eye-rolls.
I am here to concede that I have officially arrived, I am there now, I am that senior lady shaking her head at the de-evolution of social graces. There seems, overall, to be such a lack of respect, courtesy and accountability in our society today, from the smallest of gentilities to a larger civility. It’s disheartening, and sometimes it’s scary too. I will tell you five things I witnessed this week that left me feeling either mildly annoyed, disheartened, or grossed out. None of them were especially significant in the scheme of life, but each one just another small reminder of how disconnected we seem to be as a society and how disrespectful of others as a whole.
The First Incident was just a very minor annoyance, the kind of thing that just leaves you shaking your head, but I can’t help but want to note it. When exiting the medical pavilion at one of our major hospital complexes, there is a great big sign telling you No Left Turn. This is not in the hospital parking lot, it is out in the road and it is of significant size so you can’t miss it. The reason why it is there is because it is dangerous to make a left onto that busy two way road. Due to the volume of traffic and difficult visibility, a car can be sitting there for a long time waiting for a break to go left, which holds up the traffic behind them. Thus, they don’t allow it. You need to go right and then work your way around if you want to go the other way. It’s really not such a big deal to do that.
The other day I was trying to get out of that complex. All three cars in front of me – ALL of them – had their left blinkers on and sat there, right in front of that great big sign they all disregarded, and held up traffic while trying to make lefts. Here is the view from my car while I waited for these jerks to make their illegal turns. I was in no hurry, so while this wasn’t anything that was going to have an impact on my day, I had to marvel that it wasn’t just one person, but all three of them, having no consideration that they were holding up everybody else behind them. I just sat there in my car and said “Really???” aloud to myself.
The Second example of human failures – I was sitting on my porch with the dog, feet up, having a little lunch and enjoying the beautiful weather. Directly next door is a two-family house. My friend recently moved out of the upstairs apartment and the landlord had a guy working on the place before the next tenant moved in. At one point, he climbed off his ladder and sat down on the front steps of that house to take a break and have a smoke, perched not too far from where I was sitting – we could clearly see each other. Taking a drag on his cigarette, he then loudly hocked up a loogie and spit it right on the walkway in front of their steps. I’m hearing challenged, so when I say “loudly”, for me to hear it you know it was pretty loud. He continued to do this a couple of times… me sitting a few yards away from him, (no longer) enjoying my lunch. Not only was this beyond disgusting, but I kept thinking of the girl who lives in the downstairs unit coming home from work and unknowingly walking through that grossness and tracking it into her apartment. I could not help myself. I just yelled over to him, “Seriously???? Are you kidding me??? That’s really disgusting!” He looked over at me, took another drag off his cigarette, lobbed a little more phlegm onto the walkway, then got up and wandering back to whatever he had been doing. People spitting in the street, on sidewalks, wherever…..it’s repulsive. Of note, it’s almost always men. I hope he was a little ashamed, but I doubt it. I guess you could consider this yet another View From The Urban Porch ™, albeit not a great one.
Incident Three -While on my way to the store, the car in front of me, a large black Mercedes Benz SUV with not-local downstate license plates, stops at the stop sign and then just sits there. Since there were no other cars at the intersection to wait for, they were probably texting on their phone. I waited, and then waited some more, until they must have finished their text and drove on. Further down the road we stopped at a traffic light. When the light changed to green, Mercedes must have been answering another text, because everyone ahead moved on, except them. I waited again for a brief bit, but I really didn’t want to have to sit there and have the light cycle through red again while they were lost in their conversation. So I tapped the horn. Not a long beep, just a tiny tap, like “Hello…wake up!” Mercedes throws me “the finger” out the window – no surprise there – and then moves on. We come up to the next light, where it opened up to two lanes, so I am able to get out from behind and pull up next to Mercedes. I glanced over to see who had flipped me the bird; the driver is a woman, perhaps in her forties, with a blonde blow-out hairdo and big sunglasses – who is fastidiously picking her nose. She must think she’s in her own private living room in that big car, texting on her cell phone and digging for boogers. Yes, this sounds gross. People are gross. The light changed and I pulled away from that scene.
Incident Four occurred the following day. I really broke my own rule about never going to a garden center or food store (or anywhere around here) on a weekend, due to traffic and crowding that comes with the tourists and weekenders. But it was such a beautiful day, which I had spent weeding and potting plants. While I had this inertia going, I didn’t want to wait another day to get a few gardening things. The parking lot to the garden center was crazy busy – you had to search for a space. Luckily, a couple was just getting into their car up ahead, so I put on my blinker and waited. They were taking their time putting on their seatbelts, starting their car, doing whatever else they were doing. The people in the car behind me were clearly agitated by having to wait. They leaned hard on their horn, which was kind of a useless action, since there was no place else for me to go until those people pulled out of their space. With impatience, they suddenly tried to zoom past me on my left, squeezing their SUV in between me and the other parked cars. They sideswiped me, possibly also hitting one of the parked cars on the other side of them too. I heard a bang, felt a bump. They stopped for half a second, and then they took off.
My first inclination was to go after them and confront them….. except that people are crazy. In this country, in these times, the frightening reality is that you could actually get shot. My mother did not live long enough to bear witness to this kind of world, a more dangerous, volatile and sad society. She would not have believed it could have gotten to this point. I did get the tag number on the out-of-state license plate (Massachusetts), so decided to just pull into that parking space I had waited for and check my car for damages. Did they crack my tail light or was it already like that? Is that their white paint on my car door? I decided to just let it go. I will say though, that the incident with that Mass-hole colored what would have been a much nicer time perusing plants.
Upon arriving home, I potted up some of the plants and then sat on the porch admiring my handiwork, enjoying the sunshine and mellowing out while watching the neighborhood comings and goings…. when Incident Five occurred. Some guy pulls up in a car, parks across the street and down a little ways, gets out, walks over to stand on the sidewalk directly in front of my house and lights up a cigarette. He’s got a baseball cap on, dark glasses, and he seems very, very nervous. He continues to just stand there smoking – and by smoking, he is not just having a leisurely smoke, this guy is smoking so hard that his cigarette is making copious, giant clouds. He starts pacing anxiously in front of my house, steaming and billowing so much smoke that you would think there was an actual fire. Then he stands in my driveway, continuing to frantically drag on his cigarette…sending bilious clouds that drifted over to where I am sitting on my porch, previously enjoying the scent of blooming flowers.
I have never seen anyone smoke like that before. Who is this agitated guy? Why is he in my driveway? Is he waiting to rendezvous with someone who has not shown up? What is wrong with him? I want to ask him, “Can I help you?”, but maybe he is some wacko… these days possibly an armed wacko. Isn’t it pathetic that we actually have to worry about something like that? This weird situation begins to disturb what was previously a relaxing moment. Finally I yelled over to him, “Can you please not smoke in my driveway?” at which point he immediately crossed the street, got back in his car and drove away. I have no idea what that was about.
As for decorum, yes, much has changed. I remember my surprise the first time I attended a wake and funeral where I noticed people didn’t dress up for them anymore, that many wore jeans and were very casual. Once upon a time that would have been considered a bit disrespectful. Now it is not. I noticed there also came a point where there was no more “Sunday best” either, and dressing up for holidays appears to no longer be a thing either. Suddenly everything has become relaxed in that way. I will admit to being a fan of casual, that it seemed to be an OK transition to me. It’s nice to be comfortable, to not worry about “what to wear” for certain events. And yet, I cannot help but think that in some ways an element of specialness has been removed; that suddenly these “occasions” were not worth the effort, perhaps just a tiny bit less important. That despite the gain, something has also been lost.
I also remember the first time someone said to me “What? You don’t lock your car?” and realizing that we were at the point, even in suburban and rural areas, where yes, you needed to lock your car – including in your own driveway. Or the first time I came out of the supermarket to see a giant dent in my car doors and discovered people don’t leave a note on your windshield with their info and an apology anymore. They actually used to years ago – can you imagine?
Of course, there are many wonderful, kind, honest and caring people on an individual basis. But as a whole, it seems our fellow citizens have become increasingly disrespectful, nasty, threatening and belligerent. Beginning in 2016, the breakdown of civilized behavior in this country really became evident – glaringly obvious that the parameters of what is considered socially acceptable suddenly shifted dramatically; where so many crude and ugly behaviors really began to be the norm. The breakdown of civility – extreme rudeness, unkindness and disregard towards others. Where bullies are tolerated and even applauded. These things that once upon a time would have been found extremely inappropriate and offensive. Behaviors that would have once gotten someone sent out of the classroom and right into detention. Words that would have even caused some mothers (but not mine!) to wash out a kid’s mouth with soap. Actions that might have gotten a person arrested. At the very least, behaviors offensive enough to cause one to become socially ostracized, as a means to say “This is not OK”. Yeah, I know, I sound like some old lady, right?
I’ve raised my children to be polite and considerate human beings. The people I associate with, friends and family, have also put the effort into raising children into adults who are kind and thoughtful of others. In turn, they are raising their own children with similar sets of values. When I see the world my grandchildren have inherited and are growing up in, where disrespect and inconsideration are an established and sadly tolerated part of the social landscape they have been born into, I can only hope this is a red tide that can be turned during their lifetimes.