Friday, March 12, 2010

The L Word

So I'm standing there at the train station, Swearoffskis hanging from my neck. I'm looking for Swainson's Hawks while I wait for the train.

A young, petite blonde is sitting on a bench with her 4 year old son, who is dressed nicely. My ears are assaulted by a string of profanities that fly across the tracks, from a short, fat guy. Oops, make that a short, fat woman who has shaved her head, and is dressed in a faux garage mechanic's outfit. Woody Allen refers to women like her as "Women in comfortable shoes." Okay.

I have a couple of friends who are women who wear comfortable shoes. I get it. They know that I get it. They've never had to explain to me, "Look, Tom, we're not interested in men, and by the way, don't ever piss us off, because unlike you, lard-ass, we work out, and will kick your butt."

It's neither an uncomfortable truce, nor a comfortable one. It's just how things are. They know that I get it. Am I interested in their life stories,and how they got to where they are, today? Sure I am , and I'm never going to ask.

Okay, so this particular woman in comfortable shoes is yakking it up on her cell phone, pacing back and forth, unaware that we can clearly hear her entire conversation. Loud people on their cell phones is another topic for another day, but in this particular case all I care about is the fact that the lady in comfortable shoes seems oblivious to the fact that she is exposing that 4 year-old kid to her constant use of the F-word and the S-word.

I am old friends with the F-word, and the S-word. I occasionally use them in writing, albeit sparingly, to avoid watering them down to the point where they lose their shock value. Like most members of society--except for inner city school kids--I know my audience i.e. when and where I can use those words.

I'm pretty sure that there's an negative correlation between how much education you have, and how much profanity you use. In this particular case, I must confess to having class bias. After all, my family were European lesser nobility, and I was raised with the
attending blend of social conservatism and moral hypocrisy.

That said, I'm standing there, and feel the urge to cross the tracks, and interrupt the mechanic lady's phone conversation. I would like to point out the kid to her, and ask her to tone it down. While standing there, preparing to approach her, I compose non-judgemental words that are designed not to offend her, and start an argument. I want to persuade her.

I chicken out, and walk away.

I assume--rightly or wrongly--that she will express outrage at my interrupting her phone conversation, and for telling her how to act. Ironically, she'll probably tell me to fuck off, and the little blond kid will hear more cussing than he might have, had I not intervened. I wasn't intimidated by her bulk, but I pictured her violently attacking me, the cops getting called, and me calling my wife (who never has her cell phone with her, and when she does, has it in the back pocket of her jeans, and can't hear it) from jail.

Once I got a safe distance from her, I had an attack of guilt. I then condemned myself for moral cowardice. I prepared a speech in my head about how her rights end where they trample on other peoples' rights. In this case, the kid's mom was never asked how she felt about having her kid exposed to "You won't fucking believe the shit that bitch said to me."

I believe in the social contract. When I buy a movie ticket, the theater or the movie's producers put up a rating that lets me know if I want my kids to be exposed to whatever's in that movie. I get the choice. Same thing goes for TV. I deliberately don't get HBO or Showtime, because I don't want my 5 year-old channel surfing, and coming across two naked people humping, screaming, "Do it harder!" I also have that expectation when I go out in public. I get really annoyed when uber-tattooed lumpenproletarians wearing cheap jewelry and their pants around their ankles shout obscenities from the top of the mall escalator,
while my kids are playing in the childrens' play area.

Even tonight, I feel like I should have approached the lady in comfortable shoes. Problem is, one time I saw a crime in action at the same train station, and had I gone with my instinct, things would have gone very wrong...

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