"It takes all kinds." That's what my mother used to say with a shrug every time she encountered someone who behaved in a way she found offensive. I'm a bit less tolerant than Mom was. For the occasions when forgiveness eludes me, I have created a few new Circles of Hell that Dante may have missed. Please add your own contributions in the comments below; here's my list:
1) The check splitters who agonize.
It is a toss up who I dislike more: the people who always order the most expensive things on the menu and then suggest we split the tab, or their polar opposites who whip out a calculator and let you know to the penny just how much you owe -- tax and tip included -- and trust me, they aren't big tippers.
People's attitude toward money speaks volumes about who they are and how they live their lives. When it comes to dining out with others, I would prefer to just relax and enjoy the company as well as the food and not get too hung up on what is generally chump change. If I invite you to my house for dinner, I don't expect you to pay for half the grocery bill, so what's the big deal if we go out to eat and I wind up paying a disproportionate share of the tab?
Well, actually, the big deal comes with how it makes us feel. Nobody wants to feel they are being taken advantage of, especially not by a friend. And we all know people who are habitual restaurant over-orderers who then want to split things 50-50 when the check comes. Why should we have to pay for their four martinis when we nursed a diet coke? The stakes are, of course, much higher than just a few dollars here and there. The stakes are whether we will continue to be friends with the people who make us feel this way.
For the most part, my regular dining companions and I all pretty much order within the same price range: Nobody has more than two drinks, dessert was something we ate in our 20s, and if someone orders an appetizer, it is understood that everyone at the table will have a bite. We just split things evenly and if it someone overpays by a dollar or two, no one loses sleep over it. I never want to suffer angst over a dinner check. People who quibble over a couple of bucks aren't people I want to spend time with, any more than I want to spend time with people who would regularly stiff me on the bill. I prefer to save my displeasure with bills for the plumber.
As for my un- and under-employed friends, dinner is on me -- don't even think about it. I remember that just after I lost my job in 2009, two friends from my former office invited me out to lunch at our old hangout. When the check came, I froze, realizing that the $15 I was about to shell out for my meal now represented a significant dent in my family's food budget. Fortunately one of my friends read the situation and insisted on buying my lunch that day. The other guy, who had whipped out his phone calculator and was already doing his check-dividing thing -- I haven't spoken to him since. I suspect he wouldn't like what I'd say.
2) Penny-pinchers who squeeze the life out of living.
My father believed that if you wanted something, you saved up for it and then bought it. He regarded people who used charge cards to be of weak character. When you had enough saved -- then and only then -- could you "afford" to buy it. When relatives gave him cash as a gift, he put it in the bank. He never traveled, rarely went out to eat, and the family's annual summer vacation was a one day trip to Jones Beach. Watching him watch every penny was painful for me growing up.
I now understand that spending didn't feel good to him, but saving did. The only way he enjoyed his money was to watch it grow on a monthly bank statement.
Me? I didn't inherit his savings gene. I believe that there are times in our lives when I need to watch how I spend, but for the most part, it's OK to enjoy the money I worked so hard to earn. Actually, it's more than OK; it's essential to me being happy.
When it comes to trying to get bargains, I ignore the nickel and dime stuff and focus my attention on the big purchases -- homes and cars. I don't clip coupons but I will bargain like I was raised in a souk before I buy or sell a house. And heaven help the car salesman whose dealership I enter; my husband has suggested I charge the public for my services as they relate to car-buying.
I don't want to sweat the small stuff when it comes to spending my money. Clipping coupons is small stuff. But you just try and sell me your house and I will wear you down until you beg for mercy and hope I allow you to leave with your clothing and toothbrush.
3) Public transportation users who don't offer up their seats to those who need them more.
Giving up your seat on the bus or subway is one of those small acts that reap large vats of goodness for all concerned. For one, it reminds the able-bodied to be grateful that they can still stand and balance in a jerking train. It also matters a great deal to the less-abled who need to sit and for whom a fall would be a very serious, if not life-changing, event.
I recently had the occasion to ride a crowded public bus. A man using a cane boarded and not a soul stood to offer him a seat until I did. My action shamed the man next to me to insist that I sit back down and let the cane man take his seat instead. Then both my kids leapt to their feet and offered other standing adults their seats. Two college-age young men then stood and offered up their seats as well. A very pregnant woman who had been standing thanked me and said I had just changed the whole social dynamic of the bus. It became a happier place, a small community where people were watching out for one another. I guarantee you that people exited that bus in better moods and paid the gesture forward.
Compare that to the jerks who pretend they don't know or don't see elderly people standing in front of them.
4) People who are unkind to my kids.
I don't like people who are unkind to any kids, but mess with mine and Mama Bear will come gunning for you.
I especially don't like people who assume that all children are poorly behaved and disrespectful. Here's a little reality check for you: Kids are here to stay, which is a fortunate state of affairs for the future of mankind.
Kids need to be taught to behave, but then again so do some adults. So, to the woman who cursed at my daughter for using the restaurant's one toilet -- an act that forced this woman to wait her turn -- you really should have apologized when I asked you to. Take your misplaced anger where it belongs -- to the restaurant's management that only provides one potty for women. Or do what I always do: Liberate the men's room. But cursing at a kid because in your opinion she took too long -- clearly you didn't order the raw oysters -- is just unacceptable. And pretty stupid when her Mama Bear was within earshot.
5) Drivers who play games with you.
With all the talk about gun control, the equally dangerous weapon of our automobiles gets largely ignored. I would remind everyone that cars don't kill people, crazy and drunk drivers kill people. The number of people killed in traffic fatalities has long exceeded the number of people who die by firearms -- although guns are expected to beat out cars by 2015, says the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Every day on the roadways, we encounter irresponsible drivers who risk our lives and then speed off before anyone can so much as snap a photo of their license plate with their cellphone camera.
In the past year, I have had someone throw an empty beer bottle out of their sunroof that bounced off the hood of my car; a limo driver in Beverly Hills attempt to force me into on-coming traffic because I didn't let him enter my lane fast enough; and countless drivers who cut me off and then slammed on their brakes in front of me just to "show" me.
Drivers who play games with you is an insane problem for a civilized nation to have. My friend Vani arrived shaken at my door the other night after a guy passed someone on our winding one-lane mountain road and nearly hit her head on. Why? He was in a hurry. So rather than be delayed to his destination by 10 seconds, he risked his life and the lives of everyone coming in the opposite direction.
Road rage is real. Road rage is serious. The only thing different between a crazy guy with a gun and a crazy guy with a car is the size of his weapon.