#Methree: The Waning Moon of Southern Gentility
If I didn’t have to make a living I would never have ventured outside of the soft comforter and thick dark curtains of my deeply warmed hotel bedroom that winter day. I had been earlier reminded once again that the enclosed streets of Manhattan can channel wind gusts so ferociously frigid that no amount of outer clothing can totally hold out the cold. And as a New Orleans resident, I simply had not the opportunity, or will, to shop for the sort of thermal wear that would at least allow me to exist comfortably, even just in transit from one building to the next, in this town in January.
No one from my neighborhood back home has ever even seen a parka or down jacket, much less needed to wear one.
But I had a business meeting that could not be missed. A meeting whose results would involve bad habits of mine like eating and paying the house note. Thus it happened that at 8:30am, I faced an aggressive, sub-freezing arctic blast that bore straight up the stone canyons of mid-town Sixth Avenue to assault my face and feet. I leaned into the wind, hands in pockets, chin under collar. Yes, I was sadly unprepared, had no scarf, gloves or hat, so the cold physically hurt, the northern winter besting a body I previously thought at least somewhat inured to extremes of temperature. But New York City cold was much much tougher to bear than New Orleans hot.
I was ready to be indoors, out of the wind, and artificially warmed. My appointment awaited in such an environment.
I approached the massive deco doors, all thick glass and stainless steel, anticipating the relief I would find inside, and began lifting my all-but-frozen right hand well in advance of contact, so I could grip the vertical pull bars and quickly get inside.
As I did so I felt a hard elbow to my left side ribs, and then again. I remember vocalizing an “Ow!” after the second blow, quite loudly, and turned to see a very well-dressed and styled thirty-ish female, brunette with blue eyes and grey pinstriped suit, preparing to hit me again. She wanted to move through the doors in front of me, and this was how she communicated that wish.
To expedite her need for personal fulfillment I reached forward, pulled the right hand door open, stepped back, bowed my head a notch, and beckoned her to enter. Instantly, she stopped, hard, visibly vibrating as she recentered her gravity from movement to stasis. She focused straight ahead and stood unmoving in the center of the doorway. People who had been part of the mob behind us milled around, trying to pass by her, then, seeing her expression, thought better of it and veered left to the other door.
She turned to me. There was the sound of two polished enamel surfaces gritting one against the other. Her perfectly painted lips were slightly apart, revealing a bank of straight, exactly arranged teeth beneath. She was not smiling. Her teeth came apart and a disturbed voice emerged.
“You pathetic, weasel-assed loser!” she cried, breath steam encasing her words. “Do you have any idea what you are doing? I am not your bitch, you creepy… misogynist… jerk!” I turned. I could not yet quite comprehend that she was speaking to me, the man who had simply opened the door for her. I had only offered to let her pass first, before me, into the cool high-ceilinged oasis I so coveted.
But she had not entered. Instead she stood before me, enraged: “I could kick your ass, sonny boy, for being such a sexist pig.” She moved forward, her pressed and pleated jacket pushing the edge of the door back into me.
I glanced about, ostensibly looking for help or at least a sympathetic witness. No luck. In spite of the shouting we were barely drawing a solitary onlooker amidst the midtown New York workday crowd, individuals who could care less who or what goes down, as long as their own progress is not impeded. I was truly at a loss. I was the person who had been rudely punched, pushed aside without prelude. I was the person who had, with an even temper, politely offered first passage to an aggressive and intolerant stranger.
Wasn’t I obeying the rules? For performing just such gentlemanly actions as an eight-year-old, I had been rewarded with compliments and treats by my mother, grandmothers, and aunts. Here, decades later, the same “polite” human being was being threatened with bodily harm for an identical action.
“Let’s move along inside, folks,” was suddenly shouted over our heads. It was the lobby doorman, trying to get the crowd motivated and doors closed, in the process giving the woman a split second of diversion and closure. In that instant she pivoted, rejoined the flow and disappeared. The crowd again filled in all space around me, shoving me forward, moving me bodily into the building. Once in the doors and still dazed from my encounter, I was shunted to the side, ejected from the purposed stream. No one turned to look. It was over. My assailant was gone, disappeared, as probably was I from her memory. There was no one to record or remember the moment except me.
This was not how I was brought up. Everyone I knew, regardless of socioeconomic position, had uniformly adhered to a certain poetic ideal of chivalry and courtesy, however misplaced. Men and women alike.
I can remember an all-too-true joke from my grudgingly polite university days:
Q: Why don’t Southern belles indulge in group sex?
A: Because it’s waaayyyy too much trouble sending out all those thank-you cards afterwards.
* * *
Then the year inexorably moves into September, and I am back home sweating, though happily. The situation evolved from an evening spent at a favorite haunt watching a much anticipated college baseball game in the company of several bad bookie-&-gambling friends. Gambling is one of the few vices that I personally do not enjoy, preferring more concrete rewards for the expenditure of cash.
But the milieu of these dedicated speculators is a treat for an observer of human nature. It was a great scene, anyway, with hordes of turistas traipsing through the bar on their way to the dining rooms, all wondering at the strange activity along the polished cypress bar – cellphones held high displaying changing odds, antique pagers dinging on snakeskin belts, manicured thumbnails punching numbers into calculating apps on phones, leather cups of dice banging on the bar.
This is the place. A loud room populated by large females in yards of stiff shiny fabric, loud males with coiffed overcombed heads and dense forests of exposed chest hair, polyester shirts, and ultra-shiny pawn shop jewelry. West Coast horse races on one screen and a college football game on the other.
The point spread peaks at 5 just before the patriotic noise of anthem singing has dwindled. It could have been larger, as the downtrodden (picked pre-season to land in the bottom half of the SEC) Louisiana team is playing the number one squad in the country. But as the first kickoff drifts to earth, the dishwasher from the Cafe du Monde across the street comes running in, still wearing his apron, with his entire week’s wages in cash – $313 in small bills, he said he’d had lots of overtime – and takes the lesser team, covering the spread at 15‑1 odds. He says he wanted to back the home team, even though, of course, he is from Nicaragua.
A wonderful scene. In lieu of a proper dinner, I am excitedly eating free bar food, in this case small plates of very fatty pork rinds, and drinking an indeterminate number of Wild Turkeys on ice.
Then, amidst thunderous yelling and screaming and beverage consumption over the course of two quick hours, the underdog local guys actually beat Number One. The dishwasher comes running in just at the last out of the ninth inning, sees the score and faints. $4,695. He bought us all rounds before he was even fully conscious.
Consequently I’m hyped and happy and on my way home at an early 9pm, trying to calm down, and I pass by Washington Square, two blocks from my house.
It is Decadence weekend, and the square is packed with the rainbow crowd. There’s a band playing in the Square, and lots of omni‑sexual bun‑squeezing going on. I’m in a hurry to get home, and try to avoid a half-dozen very very butch babes hanging out drinking Budweiser longnecks at the entrance to the festivities. As I walk around them I nod and say – again in typically polite Southern fashion – “Good evening, ladies.”
I mean, folks, I am just being nice. WRONG.
“Who the hell you calling a lady, boy?”
“Something wrong with you, son?”
“You got eyes, asshole?”
They are a tad drunk, way more so than I, and looking to source a little sisterly aggression against my perceived un‑PC remark. I don’t even understand that they are talking to me until I hear one of them running up. The next few seconds happen very quickly. Keep in mind that I had gone to the bar early, and hadn’t eaten anything except seriously greasy handfuls of homemade pork rinds at the bar, to go along with those couple of iced bourbons.
I spin to see what was happening, only to spy all six of the big girls coming up on me, fists balled, shoulders set, and lips snarling. All are considerably taller, and weightier, than I. Three are carrying now-empty glass longnecks by the top of the bottle, club-style.
And just then – I have no idea why other than the combination of nervousness with adult beverages and pork products – I pass gas. Loudly.
The half-dozen burly women stop dead in their tracks, mouths open. Time stops.
Finally, almost as a unit, they howl “GaaaaAAAHHHH!”, turn around, and stomp off in disgust. Speaking in loud voices about the inherently despicable nature of men.
And thus was I impolitely saved from yet another physical drubbing at the hands of females enraged by my automatic, literally Southern-engendered idea of “politeness.”
I simply must learn to live as a less-considerate human being.