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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Again with the unfair fights

This is a weird topic for me, 'cause it involves bashing an elderly person - not physically 'cause I don't believe in hitting strangers, and 'cause I'm too pretty to go to jail.

But let me ramble for a second: A week or so ago I wrote about an encounter I had with several angry young women at a roadside rest stop and how one of them behaved as if she were gonna swing on me. And all I could think then was how helpless I felt, 'cause I knew that if she did swing and connect there was nothing I could do. I couldn't have punched her back, even though she was at least as big as me. It would have resulted in me being outcast generally and clowned by every comedian out there worth his weight in salt.

That incident launched a few old buddies and I into a friendly debate about people who are off limits when it comes to fighting and criticism. We call it the "Unfair Fight Club."

We came to the conclusion that even if you are right you cannot release your fury on the following without risking figurative hisses and boos from society at large: children under about 16, people in wheel chairs, orphans, widows, and the elderly.

Especially elderly women. Most of us were raised by parents who used the mantra "respect your elders." And most of us accepted that people who were two and three and four and five times our age were just wiser than us by virtue of having lived longer than us. And so they deserve a measure of respect from us. But my grandfather used to dispute that. He insisted that just because you managed to survive a lot of years doesn't mean you're wise or deserving of respect. It could just mean you're lucky. One of his favorite sayings was "There's no fool like an old fool."

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the Metro Mover - again, if you're new to this blog, that's a free downtown Miami trolley system - on the way to connect with another train that I would ultimately ride to the site of an interview for an article I'm working on.

Now, I have long legs. And those trolleys can get crowded. So as a rule, if I manage to find a seat I sit straight up and keep my feet flat to take up as little space as possible. And I hold my briefcase on my lap.

So an elderly woman approaches, and instinctively I begin to stand and vacate my seat. But before I could get all the way up she sat on the window-ledge seat perpendicular to me. So I shrugged it off. Five minutes and two trolley stops later there was still no one sitting next to her on the ledge seat, so I lifted my briefcase off my lap and sat it in the empty spot next to her.

And she went off!

Her first words were "I want to sit there!"

I responded "I'm sorry I didn't know you wanted to sit there."

She replied, "No, I want to sit there now!"

I answer, "Either way, I didn't know that. I couldn't have known that."

She said "You should have guessed it."

Pause: At this point, I admit I'm getting salty, but I'm afraid to speak my mind, because, you guessed it: she was old.

I answer "Ma'am, if I could read minds I'd be buying lottery tickets and selling gossip tips to the tabloids."

She said "Well, I couldn't sit there anyway, because your legs are in the way."

I answer "With all due respect, my legs are directly in front of me and couldn't possibly be in your way in the corner to my left. They're not that long!"

She then said "You people!" and mumbles something else indecipherable.

I shake my head incredulously and - straining to bite the sharpest part of my tongue - say "I wish I could hack 'em off at the knee for you, but that's not gonna happen."

She said "Your education shows. Why can't you be like other people?"

She said a few more things and I answered each one with "Sorry, I'm not shorter for you." Admittedly, my tone grew saltier with each response. But my words didn't change.

Now, here's the funny thing: I really held back for one reason and one only - she was old!

And I couldn't bring myself to talk to her in the same tone and in the same type of words she was using with me. It's very strange, but had she been 50 years younger, I'm fairly certain I would have blasted her and called her a vile name or two for attacking me like that.

Based on a few other things she said, which I won't rehash, it was safe for me to assume that her admonitions about my education and me not being like other people on the train were racial digs. I know that's uncomfortable for some of you to read. But it happens.

Why though do we fear calling certain people out because of their physical condition (disease, age, weight, etc.) or their lot in life (orphaned, widowed, rich, poor)? Why do some people get a pass 'cause of those "conditions?" Shouldn't we feel comfortable putting someone in check because of how they're behaving?

I wish we were, 'cause if anyone deserved that salute and a harsh word or two, it was this woman who snapped on me yesterday. But alas, she got the Old pass.


  • Chill. You did the right thing. better to toss out a few sublimely sarcastic remarks than engage oin a battle of wits with the unarmed.

    Probably an old democrat. "You people" indeed.

    By Anonymous og, at 5:33 PM  

  • It depends upon the "old or whatever" target. She was probably so mentally out of it that it wouldn't have been worth it.
    But, I certainly wouldn't give a pass to rude, obnoxious "old" people. Not talking about giving up my seat or anything, just putting up with their crap.
    I can say that, because I'm within range of that age and I wouldn't put up with ME if I were to do that.

    By Anonymous Frothmistress, at 8:40 PM  

  • If you argue with an idiot, you'd first have to lower yourself to their level.

    The inability to go against someone because of their situation always puzzles me a bit. That's just their outside, and I'm arguing their inside. It should be irrelevant of what kind of body they're driving, when they have no personality. I don't automatically say yes sir or maam to a BMW driver when the person driving is a total (insert expletive here).

    If that rant makes any sense there.

    By Anonymous ChrisA, at 8:47 PM  

  • Yeah og, because no old republicans can possibly be racists. At least under that rock where you live.

    You did the right thing James. Crotchety just comes with old age, it's one of the few rewards. Best just to stay out of the way and let they have it.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 2:36 AM  

  • "under the rock where I live",
    gansibele, all the old democrats? have white hoods in their cars. Where I grew up, the county seat was the last stronghold of the Klan in the north, still has Klan rallies every year, and every single member is a democrat. What rock did YOU grow up under?

    By Anonymous og, at 7:49 AM  

  • I, too, was brought up to respect my elders. Now that I'm pushing 50 I find (ok, have found for quite a while) that the next generation down hasn't be taught this. & I get not a lot of 'respect' from my elders cos I'm still younger than they. Some days you just can't win.

    Otherwise, no matter what they say, unless it's completely unacceptable, it's often better to say nothing to some people. Cos they're so taken up with their own internal world that they don't hear what you say anyway (bit like commenting on Racist or whatever blogs). Pity, but there we are.

    When I am old I shall wear purple, and red, & try to be nice! Most of the time anyhow!

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 9:14 AM  

  • Hey og, not to make this a political discussion but thanks for making my point. You are taking your particular situation and thinking it must be the same elsewhere. Take a couple steps outside, it's ok, nobody is going to take your gun and burn your flag and Hillary is actually quite nice once you get to know her. BTW I grew up under Castro's rock, doesn't mean I'm going to label everybody a commie. Try to grasp that concept.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 9:43 AM  

  • Correction--

    you are NOT to pretty to go to jail. you're juuuuuust right.

    By Blogger Crashtest Comic, at 9:44 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 10:02 AM  

  • I just had a similar situation to yours James (I also have long legs AND am too pretty to go to jail, but that's another story) anyways, two days ago I was in a flight to LA and the couple in front of me (Australians, judging by their accent) decide to recline their seats all the way back - which is their right. But, when I'm behind you, my knees are going to bump your seatback everytime I move, and I also carry a lot of magazines which I place in the pocket behind you and I have this funny little habit of accepting drinks from the flight attendant's cart which I have to place it in the tray located, you guessed it, in your seatback. So anyways, the lady kept loooking back with every bump until she finally says something to her husband who turns to me and in his best Crocodile Dundee impersonation told me to stop bumping her. I actually apologized and told him he must have me confused with Elastic Lad, but unfortunately I can't shrink my legs willingly. He must have thought it was a smartass remark because he threatened to call the flight attendant, to which I replied to do exactly that, and maybe ask her if any seats were available in the first class section, I've heard legroom is quite ample down there. Well, now I know Australians can mean mug with the best of them. The whole episode just made me put a little extra bounce on that tray table every time I opened it, and a little extra force on my knees every time I sat down. The moral I guess; is that public transportation forces us into situations where being a little polite, a little patient and relaxing our sense of entitlement goes a long way to surviving the journey.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 10:02 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 10:04 AM  

  • "Hey og, not to make this a political discussion but thanks for making my point."

    no, thank YOU for making mine. There are racists of all stripe, but my eperience has been (and i have a LOT of it, belive me) that if you find someone who feels that "minorities" need to know their place, need to do as their told, you'll find that a large portion of the time they call themselves democrats/liberals/progressives.

    Hillary is a nice person? Who lives under a rock now?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:29 AM  

  • Lol, sarcasm is so lost on some people. But I feel your pain Anonymous. So to make it clear and simple; yes, racists come in every stripe, no, you don't get to slip a partisan non-sequitur quip without being called out for it. It's all fun and games.

    Hey James, didn't mean to post 3 times previously. Some Blogger software snafu. I mean, I like to hear myself talk but not that much. Can you fix?

    By Anonymous gansibele, at 12:07 PM  

  • Great site loved it alot, will come back and visit again.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:06 PM  

  • Interesting site. Useful information. Bookmarked.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:26 AM  

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