If there is one thing you can say about me without risking a libel suit, it’s that I have terrific manners. As Bill Saroyan wrote one time in the California Pelican, “He drives you crazy, he’s so polite, jumping up and down every minute, shaking everybody’s hand, saying, ‘Gladda knowya,’ ‘Nice tuv metcha,’ and ‘Thanxamillion,’ and so on.”
All true. It’s my Sacramento upbringing. Manners were very large in Sacramento when I was a kid and my old German mother, the sweet singer of the Saar, was a strict disciplinarian and straightforward: “Look, you’re not handsome and you don’t have much talent so you better be polite.” “Thank you, Mama,” I would say, getting back to duck. Along with being straightforward she had a mean and effective left hook. Also a mezzo-soprano that rattled windows for blocks around the old neighborhood of 26th and Q streets.
Today she could do Memorex commercials. A wonderful mother, wife, musician, cook and belter.
I’ll tell you how polite I am. After I dial “POPCORN” and get the time, I say, “Thank you.” When I get the recorded announcement that “The number you have reached is not in service at this time,” I say, “Gosh, sorry.” I have never sent a bottle of wine back for fear of hurting the feelings of someone with purple feet. When I order a hamburger rare and it comes well done and the waiter says, “Howzzit?” I say, “Well done.” At table I keep my left hand in my lap or somebody’s.
I always jump to my feet when a lady enters the room, usually knocking over the drinks. I jump to my feet when women enter the room too, and also transvestites. Well, not all transvestites. Only those wearing women’s clothes. The other kind are women who wear their vests inside out.
I’m everything a real nonsexist person shouldn’t be these days: a chair pusher, an elbow holder, a door opener. The last time I grabbed the elbow of a liberated woman attempting to help her up the stairs, she turned on me like a vixen, flashing her fangs and snapping. “You some kinda queer?” “You got an elbow fetish or something?” “I’m not a cripple.” If it weren’t for my being so polite and all she would have become one right then.
In elevators I always remove my hat even if I’m the only passenger. If I’m not wearing a hat I remove my head and hold it under my arm. And to expedite egress I let those who are going out first, a sentence that may boggle you at first. I was first boggled by it during World War II when I saw this this sign over a cafeteria door: “Kindly let those who are going out first,” a difficult sentence to punctuate.
There are many rewards for being polite, most of them in heaven. As I walked into Livingston’s department store the other day, which is like stepping back 30 years, I held the door open for a dear elderly person wearing hat and gloves who beamed in motherly fashion and said, “Thank God there are still a few gentlemen left in the world.” This so embarrassed me that I let go of the door and it hit her square in the rump, knocking her into Notions and Sundries. Of course I was also slightly embarrassed that she was wearing only hat and gloves. Quite well set up for her age, by the way.
As you may have noticed, this is not the golden age of good manners. Here we have these $900 museum quality trash containers on Market Street and people keep throwing their debris on the streets or around those dear Sycamore trees fighting for life. “Pigs! Pigs! Pigs!” I want to shout at these palpable Pigs, but I’m too polite. Also chicken. Some of these pigs are large and probably mean.
Pedestrians bump into you without so much as a “Parmee.” Shaggy kids say, “Any spare change?” And when you give them some do they say, “Thanks”? Of course not. Even though they have yet to pay their dues, like the old winos, they take it for granted. Full marks for honesty at least to the young mendicant on Powell who was flashing and Ashleigh Brilliant card showing an outstretched hand and the inscription, “Give me some money to help support my fight against materialism.”
On crowded buses equality among the sexes has been achieved: it has been years since I’ve seen anybody besides me arise to give a seat to a person of the female persuasion. At the Powell cable turntable, the clawing and kicking for a seat grew so fierce that now we all have them stand in line. The motorists of course are the worst — a red-eyed crisis at every intersection, blood boiling, gorges rising, fists flailing.
It’s all so unnecessary, he said in his calm, well modulated voice. What gaineth a man if he jumps a red light and clobbers a pedestrian? It is no way to make friends. In the old days yellow cabs had this message on the windshield facing the driver: “Wave them through and watch them smile!” — something I haven’t seen a cab driver do in years. It’s worth a try though, if you’ll pardon the rude suggestion.
The date on this is wrong.