Good manners are a sign of trust, no?
The Column: 07.15.22
I was in Nashville last weekend and saw an old man wearing a shirt with eagles and red and blue stripes on it and also the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. I did a show there in front of an audience wearing more brightly colored clothes than you’d find up north, including pastels I thought had been outlawed long ago. During the show the audience (at my invitation) sang “How Great Thou Art” and other hymns with such evangelical power I was tempted to come to the Lord then and there except I’d done that already years before. And after the show I drove past two blocks of bars with garish neon signs where everyone in sight was very young and very drunk. So the South is still the South. In New York, the audience would’ve worn a lot of black or tan, the hymn would’ve been sung reluctantly but tolerantly, and you’d have to look far and wide to find universal intoxication. And in all Manhattan you wouldn’t find a shirt like that. Only on Staten Island.
I enjoy living in this country with the rest of you who are not much like me, I truly do, but I do have my limits. I come across nice young women whose arms are covered with tattoos like a child’s doodling and big dark serious ones on their legs, and I wonder why a perfectly nice woman is trying to look like a convicted felon.
So I’m narrow-minded. I’m also wary of men who collect firearms and drunks and conspiracy theorists and people who display obscene flags or bumper stickers. Have they no friends who can say, “Why are you doing this?” And I’m alarmed by people who’re rude to waiters, cleaners, cashiers, service people — I’ve been with friends who treated wait staff with cool contempt and it’s an indelible black mark by their name.
One day I was passed by a man in a supercharged car with a booming muffler who sat at the red light revving the engine so the pavement vibrated and he was a fiftyish dude with a thinning gray ponytail. And I wanted to rap on his window and ask, “How do you wish to be remembered after you’ve left this world? As a man with a loud car?”
“To each his own,” we say. “There’s no accounting for taste.” But so much of life is based on simple trust and when I see the tattoos or hear the loud muffler, I don’t want to have anything to do with those people.
I live in a New York building with doormen, which is not a job you find in the want ads. You have to know somebody, probably another doorman. Somebody retires, and Luis recommends Carlos and he’s hired and so Carlos comes as part of a compact, which is crucial for us because we trust our doormen absolutely. The keys to our apartment are at the front desk. We can’t live here without trust.
I trust my fellow New Yorkers. Now and then I’ve stumbled on a curb or a crack and staggered and right away someone or two someones are there to say, “Are you all right?” When people look out for little things, you trust they’ll look out for big things too.
I once signed online a four-page real-estate contract without reading a word of it because I knew the agents Ralph and Joyce and on that basis I casually sign an agreement involving a rather large amount of money, but if Ralph had tattoos all over his arms, I would’ve thought twice, but being a real estate man, he wears a suit and I don’t ask him to roll up his sleeves.
Go write what you want on your arms, rev your engine, drink yourself to a stupor, but I favor normality, maturity, and competence. We’ve had one 15-year-old president and now as we get a new look inside his world, there’s no need to repeat the experiment. When I go into the OR next month and meet the surgeon who’s about to replace the mitral valve, if I see a MAGA hat on his head and eagles and flags on his white scrubs, I will climb off the gurney and ask for a substitute. I prefer people who’ve skipped lightly over adolescence and become seriously fascinated by their calling in life and not be so interested in making a big noise and defying convention. The Constitution grants the right to free speech, which probably includes the right to be obnoxious and ridiculous but there is a price to be paid. You may fall and people will pretend not to notice.
A few photos from our Nashville show (courtesy of David Berg Photography)
If you would like to share this newsletter with a friend, please send us their email at: email@example.com.