Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Foul Oath

Shriek heard from the nearby tennis court: “Son of a beeswax!”


One Sunday in January, I put on my work clothes and walked down to the symphony hall to swoon over principal trumpet Mark Inouye. I didn’t really enjoy the musical selections (John Adams’ Grand Pianola Music, conducted by the composer, and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat), but Elvis Costello was there as a narrator for the latter piece, which was a minor thrill. The young fellow next to me sat down and opened his legs wide, so I told him, “Young man, I’m sure you’re not intending to crowd me, but you’re kind of in my space.” He looked dumbfounded, but he moved his leg. His smart phone was nestled between his legs—even off, I guess it’s a source of comfort. It’s great to have attained the age where I can call other adults “Young man.”


At the soup kitchen one day, someone’s bicycle was parked in front of the magazine rack, with a fishing pole lashed to the bicycle, extending fore and aft. A guest pointed out its owner. “Is that your bicycle?”, I asked, and the owner glared and said, basically, “Yes, what’s it to you?” I ignored his tone and asked, “Can you please move it so I can get to the magazine rack?” I had a few magazines to put there, plus the two Chronicles I always pick up on my way over. He got up and moved the bike, while threatening, “If you tear up any of my stuff, I’ll [insert threat here].” I wasn’t listening to the details of what would happen if I damaged his property, but I replied, “I don’t doubt you’re telling the truth.” The guest who had pointed out the owner came over and apologized profusely, explaining that the bike owner is mentally ill. The executive director has told me that the guests often feel protective of the volunteers. Later the bicycle guy asked me for a favor, and I did it, and he thanked me.


I was getting ready to leave the break room one day at work and encountered a fellow getting ready to come in. I politely motioned for him to do so; I would exit after he came in. He politely motioned for me to come out; he would enter after I came out. We stood there in a mannerly standoff until I lost my temper, turned on my heel, and went out the other door. I had probably instantly applied a feminist analysis: the girl can only be the recipient of politeness and not the benefactor, but I think it comes more from many a similar cycling situation, where a motorist assumes I will run the stop sign and motions for me to go ahead.

But the vehicular cyclist does not go when it’s not her turn to go, and so I have often obstinately sat at an intersection until the motorist finally proceeds, sorry to say. Such a motorist is doing a kindness, and these days I try to remember just to accept it graciously, even though it reinforces the idea that cyclists are somehow incapable of comprehending and obeying traffic controls.

After the small incident at work, I was instantly remorseful and knew I would have to apologize the next time I saw the other party, though I wasn’t sure what words to use, since it’s rare that one corporate employee treats another with blatant rudeness. However, when I saw him next, the right words appeared: “I’m sorry I gave up on our game of who would go through the door first. I felt bad about it later. I apologize. Next time I’ll let you be the polite one,” and I extended my hand and introduced myself, and he was very nice about it, smiling and telling me his name. Whew.
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