On Saturday night before the election, I was in line at a local grocery store where an underage clerk had to get an adult to come over to sell me my bottle of wine. She moved to bag my items and the adult went away. This began to seriously irritate a man in line behind me, who had to wait several minutes for her to return to the register. He demanded to know where had the person gone who just did my checkout. The young African American clerk tried to explain about the liquor sale, but clearly this man had just suffered a serious narcissistic wound. He even told the young woman, and the equally young assistant manager who had come over as the man’s voice escalated and seethed with entitlement , to shut up and not answer his demanding and whiny questions because it would only make things worse. Did they not realize that he had been a customer for many years?
Maybe you know someone like him. A white, middle aged, entitled, angry, obese guy. A bully. Veins bulge in his head. A heart attack– with hemorrhoids — waiting to happen. Kind of like everybody’s crabbiest dad rolled up with everybody’s nightmare of an assistant principal. I stood between him and the timid young clerk, hoping my presence was a deterrence to something worse. I looked at her and felt a sense of dread on her behalf. Is this what will be unleashed in our world next week? It’s bad enough now. I fear for young people like this clerk and her manager, for whom it is a serious threat.
And now we know.
We spent Thanksgiving Week in Sylva, North Carolina with our aunt and uncle. It’s a quiet Smokey Mountain town with a lovely restored downtown area. In an antique bookstore, I picked up a copy of Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage. Right on the cover, I read this: “I have completely rewritten this new edition of ETIQUETTE because the problems of modern life demand certain changes in the forms of living.” She wrote this edition in 1945, just at the end of the second world war and five years before I was born. It was at the end of an era of genocidal oppression; and not the beginning of the depressing death spiral that we are facing now.
I have a small collection of vintage books like this. Homemaking advice, earnest information for newlyweds, books that pave a new path for women by teaching them useful skills like stenography or knot tying or latrine digging. There is something to be said for civil forms of behavior that restrain the teeming soul of rage, only letting out the exact right, carefully articulated words, the ones that hit the target. It’s come in handy in my career as a marriage and family therapist. It’s about taking a stand and holding it, without giving in to the fight; a focus on oneself and the restraint to not attack the other. It’s the thin veneer of civilization.
During all this long and heartbreaking election season I have been trying hard to be civil. I was inspired by Parker Palmer, author of Healing the Heart of Democracy, to seek ways to be clear about my views and values without vilifying those who disagree. Except for the Short Fingered Vulgarian himself (I won’t say his name and I won’t even try to be civil). His contempt for women; his mockery of the disabled; his blatant lies; the fear he inflames and then denies; his shameless ignorance about the lives of African Americans; his self serving and short sighted view of the world; his impulsivity and vengefulness that could plunge us into danger – it is too much to excuse in any way.
Since the morning after Election Day, I have been carrying around this question: “How am I going to live?” It struck me in the gut like a physical ailment. I knew in that moment that one of the things I had to do is keep myself well and healthy; to eat well, to remain fit; to keep writing; to maintain energy and focus; to outlive this siege — to simultaneously live with and resist this avalanche of disaster. Maybe this book will help me change my form of living.