Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that, “Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.” With all due respect to R. Waldo, I would have to argue that nothing astonishes men so much as basic manners and politeness. Then again, who knows; we live in a world devoid of common sense, plain dealing, manners and politeness—so maybe we’re both right?
The quote from R-Wal popped into my head today as I was leaving Dunkin Donuts—though to be fair, I’d attributed it to Mark Twain at the time. I was walking out right behind another man, an older man who held the door for me.
I befuddled him by saying something so amazingly rare, so agonizingly unusual that I believe I may have sent the poor old fella into a momentary shock. You know what it is don’t you? You’re right. I pulled out the big guns. I hit him with the big T-Y. I caused him to choke a little bit on his donut, to water a little in the eye, to pound his chest in hopes of inducing a heartbeat.
Yes, that’s right. I said, “thank you.”
That wasn’t the funny part though. You see, it was one of those double sets of doors with a little vestibule in between. And with the grace of goldfish in the microwave, he somehow staggered to the next door and experimentally held that one for me after he walked through it as well.
I’m going to be honest with you here. At this point, I was pretty much fucking with him. I’d already checked heart palpitations, choking and watery eyes off the list—I figured it couldn’t hurt to go for bug eyes, profuse sweating, nausea and the coup de grace of fuckery most heinous, the faint.
So when he held the second door for me and I caught it with my coffee cup-filled hand, I put the most charming smile on my face I could possibly muster, I gave him a wink (oh yes I did!) and I said something to him that he’s sure to be relaying over and again to his incredulous friends at McDonald’s later this afternoon over senior-priced coffee and cheeseburgers with extra pickles. I said, “Thank you sir, have a good one!”
I didn’t get the faint I was going for, or even the bug eyes—if I’m being completely honest, but I was gifted a look of confusion that rivaled what you might expect to find on the face of a proprietor when a Wookie walks into a barber shop.
That was good enough for me.
On one hand, I find it hard to believe that someone could be so completely and utterly incredulous over someone showing them simple courtesy, but maybe it’s just me who’s skewed of view. After all, I’m the guy who holds doors for people all the time—women, men, seniors and kids, and usually winds up saying a too-loud YOU’RE WELCEOME to them after they’ve passed through without so much as an acknowledgement to me. No nod. No tip of cap. No smile. No words of thanks.
It aggravates me. But it’s the norm now. I shock people by being polite and I’m shocked when they aren’t. Perhaps the world has passed me by. Maybe I’m the fool for holding on to something that’s so obviously and regretfully a part of our history and has no place in our present or our future. Maybe I’m the problem.
But if that’s the case, then shame on all of you.