Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Kids today...

Watch out, guys!  And actual post about a topic that actually matters to me!

If you know me, you know my thoughts about Seattle-ites.  On the whole, they are standoffish and a little cold-shouldered, with a liberal dash of don't-talk-to-me.  Being from the Midwest, where you can meet your next best friend at the library or grocery store or bus stop, this is foreign to me.

Illustration:  Once upon a time, I was at the grocery store on May 4th buying chips and salsa and Mexican beer, for Cinco de Mayo of course, and the guy (maybe 30 something, not bad looking) in front of me in the checkout line had the exact same stuff in his cart.  I jokingly told him that it looked like we were having the same party, and maybe we should just combine forces and get a pinata or something.  This guy looked COMPLETELY uncomfortable that I had said anything to him.  I think he grunted in reply.   Sigh.

Illustration:  At a concert in a small bar, the two (quite wasted) people next to me and my Bubba were singing off-key and rather loudly with the performer.  At first, we figured they'd stop eventually... but they didn't.  It got to the point where everyone was basically scowling at these clowns.  I told them to shut up a couple of times, but then they would talk loudly and drunkenly about how awesome this band was.  My Bubba used his diplomatic skills first by saying "Shut the f* up" and then when they were slurring the praises of the band, Bubba said "I know, that's why we'd like to hear THEIR version of the song" etc, etc, etc.... finally they got the point.

 After that warm up band was over and the drunken fans went back to the bar area to reload, about 6 couples and groups around us thanked us for making them stop.  They were IN the situation with us, and decided not to act.  To me, that's shocking.  They'd rather listen to those people sing the whole time than to just tell them to shut it?

My friend Ann had one of these Seattle moments the other day.  Except it was a kind of scary one, and it brings up two questions in my head.

Many coffee shops around Seattle have Adirondack chairs lined up along the side of the building for nice days (few though they may be in the fall/winter).  On one particular day outside one particular coffee shop, the Adirondack chairs were full, my friend Ann having snagged one next to two teenaged girls.

A street person came up to Ann and the girls and asked for money.  Let me also say that this happened to be on Queen Ann - a fantastic neighborhood in Seattle.  Okay, back to the story.  So, this guy came up with a guitar slung over his shoulders asking for money.  Ann and the girls next to her all said something to the effect of "No, sorry."

This guy decided to sit on a planter and play his guitar.  Now, the planter was approximately a foot and a half away from these three chairs - someone in the chair could touch someone sitting on the planter without straightening their elbow.  He sat there and played obnoxiously badly and loudly about cocaine and whatnot expressly in order to make Ann and the girls uncomfortable.  

It worked.  After a little, Ann, ever polite, said, "Listen, I'm sorry, but please go away..."  And the guy (obviously unstable if you didn't get that impression yet) stood up and started screaming at her to the effect of "You f*ing b*, you f*ing b*, you don't like my f*ing song, that's my favorite f*ing song...."  blah blah blah, verbally assaulting and threatening Ann and thoroughly scaring her and the two girls next to her.

I'll make the rest of the story short by saying that Ann called the police who FINALLY came after a while and they took him away.

No one else at the coffee shop did ANYTHING.

There were plenty of people sitting comfortably in those Adirondack chairs watching this scene that just kept pretending to read their magazines or type their memos.  There was a barista safe and sound inside the coffee shop who did nothing.

I guess I can say that the situation wasn't necessarily threatening in the sense that someone was in imminent danger of getting hurt.  I was just a bad situation with an unstable person.

After the fact, a grown-ass man came up to Ann and said "That was intense, huh?"

I'm sorry, what?  This made me SUPER angry.  And I'll tell you why.  Because that man recognized the fact that the situation was awful and intense and didn't have the DECENCY to help her or say anything as she was being verbally accosted by a scary mentally unstable man.  And for a consolation prize, he approaches her AFTER the fact and offers his meek condolences?  Give me a break.

It's just not right.  I feel like if this happened in Chicago, at least someone else would have yelled at the dude to be on his way.  I'm not saying that the chivalrous men in the Midwest would have stepped in and saved the day!  No!  I'm just saying someone else would have at least hollered at the guy from his comfy chair.  Something.

Here are the two questions that come to my mind after the anger of the situation died down.  

First:  is this a symptom of a sick society?  To value staying out of other peoples business so much that you pretend not to notice when someone needs a little support?   Or maybe the fact that people are so comfy in their own little worlds that they've gotten too lazy to step out of it to give someone a hand?  

Secondly, it makes me think of a book my mom was reading at some point (and I apologize, I can't remember the title) about reclaiming masculinity.  This book was considering the subject of men's roles after the feminist movement.  Granted, a woman should be able to take care of herself, but maybe I'm old-fashioned to think that if a woman (in this case Ann and the two teenaged girls) were in some kind of uncomfortable situation that a bystanding man should step up and say something.  Did feminism kill that kind of thinking?  

I don't necessarily think that a man has a moral obligation to protect a woman, as I said, ideally a woman can take care of herself in any situation, but as just a decent thing to do, a man is causing the problem, maybe a man can get him to go away...  This turns out to be a rather frustrating dichotomy, I suppose, for a man.  To get the "I don't need you for anything! Don't try to protect me!" vibe from female society only to be expected to step in for a "damsel in distress." But then again, I would have stepped up in that situation and at least shouted out to make sure that the person being accosted knew I had her back if things happened to get ugly while I was there.  That just seems normal.

What do you guys think?


Kate P said...

I guess it could be a post-feminist issue, but my other guess is lawsuit-induced apathy. Nobody wants to be hassled, nobody wants to get sued. Especially for doing what used to be the right thing. Now it's all about, "I have a right to do whatever I want," and no responsibility to anybody, let alone society at large--and anyone who interferes with it is in big trouble.

Admittedly, I'm one of those people who worries about how just about everything I do affects others. But I also believe that with freedom comes responsibility. I don't leave my trash for someone else to clean up, and I don't scream my head off on my cell phone in public. It's called common decency and good citizenship. Lately it seems as if those are forgotten things.

I sound like an old curmudgeon, too!

Elizabeth said...

I'm sure feminism comes into play, but I think it's more than that. I think people just don't want to get involved. We are a self-centered culture and we all like to live in our own little bubbles. It's very sad. And go Midwest!

maggie said...

Poor Ann. I've been in situations like that where only my husband said something. He's awesome.

Have you ever seen this column? Ask An Uptight Seattleite? LOVE IT.

-R- said...

I think people are just generally wimps and don't know what to do. I'm not sure what I would have done in that crazy coffee shop singer situation. My husband would have definitely stepped in and said something. I would think that at least the person working at the coffee shop would have asked the guy to leave her customers alone.