HAS ANYBODY ELSE NOTICED THAT CIVILITY IS disappearing faster than a pack of smokes at an AA meeting? And you know it appears as if we've given up on trying to preserve it. Most people seem to accept this disintegration of manners as a fait accompli and have simply lined the borders of their personal space with razor wire.

Now I don't want to get off on a rant here, but we've developed over the last few decades from a Barry Lyndon gentility to a bunch of Thunderdome mooks. Nowadays, thoughtless clods all across this great land of ours do everything from clipping their fingernails in restaurants to checking themselves for polyps in the buffet line. As a matter of fact, you can't go anywhere without suffering incivility.

You go to the mall to pick up a smoky-link Gouda gift set from Hickory Farms. You come out, your car's been keyed and some workforce fringe player has left a flyer on your windshield about how you can get 10 percent off gay porn films at Dick's Porn Film's Video Shaft.

You go into the supermarket and you wind up in the line that is clearly marked TEN ITEMS OR LESS, CASH ONLY, waiting behind a Ninja drifter with no ID, who's attempting to pay for fourteen fucking cartloads of puddin' pops with a personal check from the Bank of Tehran.

People no longer understand the basic rules of courtesy. Rule Number One: You must get out of the way and let people off the elevator before you can get on the elevator, okay? Rule Number Two: When you call someone at three-fifteen in the morning and get the wrong number, don't just say, "Oh, this isn't Charlene?" Click. Say, "I'm very sorry to have pestered you. I am an assface." And Rule Number Three: Turn your goddamn car stereo down -- did you ever think that maybe I didn't want to hear the bass line to "Baby Got Back"? Did that ever enter your assface skull, assface?

Even when I try to escape the cold, rude world, and isolate myself in a darkened movie theater for two hours of unencumbered escapism, I get stuck behind some idiot faux-Truffaut with my Anna Nicole Smith-sized box of Milk Duds.

But you know the fountainhead of all this bad behavior has got to be the daytime talk shows. What an intergalactic fucking freak show these are. You tell me, what Rusty the Bailiff Fan Club meeting do they go to to harvest these losers? Ricki Lake? Richard Bey? Jerry Springer? These people shouldn't be allowed to own a TV, for chrissake, much less be on it.

And you know their guest not only aren't ashamed of their asinine antics, they positively revel in their own grand mal shitheadedness: Screaming in people's faces, screaming at the audience, the audience screaming back . . .

I just want to say fuck this culture, pack up some jerky, and go time-share with Jeremiah Johnson.

Look, I'm not some tie-dyed karma maitre d' trying to seat everybody in the no-conflict section. Day-to-day life, to say the least, can be combative. As far as I'm concerned, the New Age goal of perpetual, smiling bliss is a far worse hell than anything imagined by Quentin Tarantino on windowpane.

I don't want some vacant-headed, defanged Quaker land. That's not civility, that's banality. And I'm not talking Amy Vanderbilt civility either, where there's nine goddamn forks arranged around your dinner plate like some cutlery Stonehenge and if you choose the wrong one you're sent away to become Edwin Newman's personal sex-toy.

But you know, I am saying that when civility breaks down, the fall of civilization is close behind. It is surprising to anyone that the least rude of all countries has 222 million guns? It's gotten so weird out there that we've all turned inward and in the process we seem to have forgotten there are other human beings schlepping in this pebble. That's where civility comes in.

Civility is acknowledging that we don't live in a solipsistic universe. We do share this planet with each other, and we should strive to coexist in some sort of civilized, respectful manner. And so to all of you out there who don't cover your mouth, who don't have the money ready when you get to the tollbooth, and who do burp so loudly in public that others wonder where the epicenter was, to all of you dwelling out there on the grassy knoll, if you don't want to join in this noble pursuit of good manners we are all cordially invited to, please . . . go fuck yourself.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.


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