Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The End of Civility, or Hold my baby while I kick this bitch's ass 

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Sunday at the library was the decline and fall of Western Civilization. I have extremely low expectations. I realize that we are no longer living in a genteel era, that our society has reached a new low in civility. Patrons wearing a shirt that reads, "Let's Fuck!," a teen mother changing her baby's reeking diaper on our atlas table, people clipping their nails while they wait in the line for the internet, patrons smacking and popping their gum while they ask me a question at the reference desk (my particular bete noir) - nothing really fazes me anymore. When I witness these things I still, however, will hear a voice from my childhood, my grandmother's African American maid grumbling, "Didn't anyone ever teach that child how to behave?" (Sometimes the child she was referring to was 45 years old.)

Sunday I witnessed the death rattle of our civilization.

A young woman approached the desk and asked me a question about our newspaper databases. While I was giving her a brief tutorial she picked up her foot, placed the sole of her shoe on my desk and tied her laces. I was dumbfounded. What must someone from one of those Asian cultures where you don't even wear your shoes indoors, ever, think? Or an Arabic country, where you are advised never to cross your legs in front of anyone because even flashing the sole of one's foot at someone is considered the worst sort of insult?

Then a man came up to book a computer.

"I'm sorry, we close in 15 minutes. There's no more time left for today."

"Well, FUCK. That's just the way my day's going, now isn't it?" He stormed off.
Fuck, it's the new darn.

The nadir occured when one of our resident mentally ill patrons almost got herself killed. Jeannie, a 120 pound woman, is a bit of a pest, but completely harmless. During most of our open hours she loiters in the area in front of the main reference desk. When she's on one of her manic upswings she while away the day twirling around, performing little arabesques and barking out strange nonsense to patrons as they stream by.

"You'll need your passport to go on the train to China!"

"Can I have your number so I can call you collect 8 times a day?"

When we tell her to quiet down she'll act the coy little girl and baby talk, "Sowweeeee."

Her high jinks are annoying but she is obviously harmless, and anyone can immediately tell that she is simpleminded. On Sunday she approached a man, his wife and their baby. She jabbered something at them and fluttered her fingers close to their faces.

This infuriated the man. "What the hell did you just do! Get the hell out of my face!"

She started barking like a dog at them.

The man screamed, "I'm going to kick your ass!" He then shoved his baby into his wife's arms. The baby's head flopped around violently and he charged Jeanne. Providentially, the security guard was right on the spot and escorted Dad of the Year and his family out. Right at the exit he turned around and screamed at Jeanne, "I don't usually hit women, but join me outside and I'll kick your ass!" He then yelled at the security guard, "I'm an off duty city policeman! You can't make me leave!"

The security guard was having none of that. "You're threatening to beat up a woman and you claim you're a cop? Get out of here."

Everyone's a powder keg now, so be careful, because you'll never know what will set them off. But a dad handing his baby to his wife to kick a woman's ass? Judith Martin would shit.

You mean civility has not ended already? You are right; nowadays we have to be on our toes since everyone seems to be a powder keg with a lit fuse. Of course, that guy wanting to beat up a woman seems to be a new low. No sense of shame. I think that maid was right in her question. The answer is simple, "no, no one taught him any manners whatsoever." To then claim he was a police officer only gives him and cops a bad name. It probably goes along with a selfish sense of entitlement that is around, you know, the one where people think it is all about them and rules apply to everyone else but them? Anyways, best.
Well, that puts the last week or so of nonsense in my library in perspective.
If I had a time machine, I'd fetch Jane Austen or Plutarch orMurasaki Shibuku to spend a week with us, to see if I possess the wit and logic to convince any of them that this is not Perdition. Or am I wrong?
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