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18 July 2007

Life As The Novel Of Manners

On his blog Monday Tony Woodlief sparked a lively discussion about manners and parenting by commenting about a girl whose rear end was showing in church. Tony's further points in the comment thread that ensued are tremendous, btw. And all this got me thinking about the boys in my second period class last semester at my old school.

First, this class, to be blunt, was heavily populated with redneck boys, all of whom were friends, except when they were mad at each other (a frequent occurence). One of their favorite out of class activities, judging from their conversational topics, was "rolling up" in parking lots, intersections, etc. and demanding attention by blasting bass-heavy music and revving engines. There is nothing new here, except that when I was their age such boys would have been blasting Iron Maiden instead of aggressive rap.

Well, one thing these boys definitely love doing is entering and exiting school premises in such a manner - and at this school it is easy for them to "buzz" the front office and front hall. So, the principal told them to stop, and one of the teachers on parking lot duty told them to stop, and they were threatened with having their parking privileges revoked. This had them in high dudgeon at various times during the semester, and they would ask me (an obvious authority on the proper bounds of redneck activity) if I thought this was fair. What I would usually ask them is if they thought it was fine to irritate and disturb others who might not share their enthusiasm for high-volume habits. The answer was always the same: "Well, I paid for my stuff (speakers, car), so I should be able to do what I want to with it." There's little need to further comment on such reasoning - obviously my opinion of it is low.

Some time after the first of these conversations, I had my own opportunity to be "buzzed" by one of these same students. He, in particular, loved to brag about rolling up on teachers and revving his engine loudly. One morning after arriving at school, as I exited my car and started pulling my stuff out of the trunk, I saw him coming in his blue Mustang GT, about 100 yards away. One of my special talents is being able to spot someone I don't want to deal with from afar, before they spot me, and adjusting my position to avoid them (works great in shopping centers, especially). So, acting like I never saw him in the first place, I walked toward the doors and pretended to be really focused on something in front of the main school entrance as he slowly revved himself right by me.

In class that day, the first thing I heard, in the same tone of anticipatory excitement I associate with five year-olds, was, "Mr. P., did you hear me this morning? I went right by you!" Clearly, he couldn't wait to be acknowledged for his accomplishment. And, as unflappable as a cold, pitiless assassin, I replied, "No, Joe. Really? Well, I never pay attention to what's going on first thing in the morning."

So I lied and possibly crushed his psyche - for which, come to think of it, I need to ask forgiveness. But at least I was lying in the service of promoting good manners.

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