I'm in a foul mood.
It all started last week, as I was commuting home to New Jersey from New York City by train. I had grabbed a seat in the "Quiet Car" -- the one that prohibits talking on cell phones. A few minutes into the trip, a middle-aged woman sitting nearby received a call. Immediately I could tell something was wrong. "The emergency room? What happened? Is he OK?" she asked in a distressed voice. As the conversation went on, it was obvious her son had been taken to the emergency room for some kind of allergic reaction.
Not even 30 seconds into the conversation, someone toward the rear of the car started yelling. "Shut the f**k up! This is the quiet car, Lady. Don't you know that?" The woman kept talking, the volume of her voice rising inexorably. "What are the doctors saying? Where are you now?" She looked seriously troubled.
The man at the back again screamed out "shut up!" Then other passengers chimed in. "Get out of here! This is the quiet car! I said shut the f**k up!" Finally, the woman whipped around and cried out something about her son being ill. "Please. Something's happened. Just one minute." It didn't matter. Passengers continued their tirade, demanding she shut up or get off.
I couldn't believe it. I sat there in stunned silence -- along with a few other people -- watching this woman, with tears in her eyes, run out of the car so that she could continue her conversation. My heart went out to her. I silently chastised myself for not saying anything. I couldn't help but wonder: Where was the kindness? Where was the compassion? There was no politeness involved. On display was just downright hostility.
For a fleeting moment, I felt like Michael Douglas in the 1993 film "Falling Down," in which he plays an average Joe who suddenly snaps during a hot, congested, bad day in Los Angeles. I just wanted to get off the train. Instead I reflected on why people don't seem to have any manners any more. I wondered how they can go from sweet to sour faster than you can say "mean girls." These days, a teenager who says "thank you" stands out among his or her peers. It should be the other way around.
Recently, I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that simply said "F**k You!" Now, there's a heart-warming sentiment if I've ever seen one.
I know I'm being grumpy, but there are just certain things that grind my nerves down to the root. I have to wonder about a society that has no problem with people screaming the F-word in front of young children. Or with teenagers sitting on a subway while 80-somethings and pregnant women stand. Or with people calling others "idiots" or "morons" -- both online and off -- just because they don't share the same opinion.
British broadcaster John Humphrys wrote a nice piece in "The Telegraph" about how important manners are if we have any hope of preserving and protecting our public spaces. "It's dispiriting to hear so many people in every other park and shopping centre demonstrating that no sentence can be complete without at least one 'F' word and doing it so loudly it's impossible to escape their boorishness," he said.
Earlier this year, two teenagers in Illinois were arrested and charged with abusing a 97-year-old woman they were being paid to care for and video-taping it. In another incident, a group of teens apparently planned an attack on a homeless man and then posted the recording on Facebook.
What's happened to everybody?
In the meantime, I just go on trying to live my life, pushed and pulled in the tides of incivility. In many ways, I'm just as bad as everyone else. When rushing to the office, I no longer think twice about stepping over a homeless person. When someone behind me in line gives a blow-by-blow account of last night's sexual escapade while talking on their cell phone, I only roll my eyes. When someone else sends a door crashing in my face as they scurry off to their destination, I shrug my shoulders.
In the last week I've seen someone literally scream at a waiter for forgetting mustard. I've seen a 20-something do a 20-yard dash to snatch a taxi from an elderly couple. I've seen a man call his (likely) girlfriend a "bitch" so loud -- and over and over again -- that nearly everyone in a one-block radius could hear. Maybe it's just New York City. Or maybe it's not. I have a hunch bad manners are prevalent no matter where you go.
And all this anger is coming out in September, when it's sunny and in the 70s -- absolutely perfect weather. Lord help us in a few months when there's two feet of snow on the ground. What kind of mood will everyone be in then?
What do you think? Why is everyone today so rude?