Yeah, that’s right. You heard me. Part one—this is going to be at least a two-part rant about the way I see other people being treated in this, my favorite city in the world, the place I call home: Seattle. I have a lot to say about this topic, people. Prepare yourselves.
First, let me preface what I’m about to write with a comment about the wonderful exchanges I have with strangers around me almost every day. I’m sure I’d have more such happy experiences if I didn’t work from home. As it is, I rarely get out of the house but when I do, I’m usually downright thrilled to make friends with the people I meet along my way. Why, just today I had lovely conversations with the man who processed my car payment as well as a young Mormon fellow walking with me on the sidewalk this afternoon when I took Mona out for a stroll. Hell, I can even think of a handful of times that homeless people managed to brighten my day. Friendly folk abound in Seattle, especially in Magnolia where I live. Whatever is written below notwithstanding, please let me emphasize how much I love living here. I’m seriously never going to live anywhere else if I can help it. If the big earthquake hits then I’ll probably move, but at that point I probably won’t have much say in the matter, and I’ll be very sad to leave. Still, there are some bad eggs ‘round these parts. Bad eggs who ruin things for the rest of us.
I was listening to an episode of NPR’s This American Life the other day, and Ira Glass was talking about how some people—people who have bad attitudes and behavior–really do impact the rest of us in a multitude of ways. Seriously, listen to this episode because it’s a really good one. Part of it’s message was that despite the power of the group dynamic, bad eggs can do serious damage. I heard Ira and his guests explain this, not knowing I would soon be getting a firsthand tutorial on the subject.
The next day, I was walking Mona to the park in the early morning, and a woman wearing the fluffiest, highest-profile, densest-looking fur coat I’d ever seen in my life walked in front of us on the sidewalk. She saw Mona walking beside me, off-leash as I often have her when we’re close to home, and turned around to yell back at me in the most condescending tone imaginable, “Um, dear, you need to put a leash on your dog. You’re being very irresponsible. You could get your dog killed.” At this point I pulled out my ear buds and gave her a wide berth on the sidewalk, nodding in a way that told her I’d heard her, but was not interested in any further discussion. Sure enough, when we passed her, Mona tilted her head to the side ever so slightly, and growled at the woman’s carcass-coat.
Her screaming was somewhat muffled by my Koss (word up, Milwaukee) noise-cancelling ear buds, but I could hear her very clearly yelling from her stopped position behind us, “People like you are a menace to the community, dear.”
I think it was her repetitive usage of “dear” that really set me off. I finally turned around, pulled out one ear bud, and said back to her, as we could plainly hear each other and there was really no need for shouting, “Lady—you’re gonna need to back the fuck off. I don’t take advice from people who wear dead animals against their skin.”
I feel a little bit guilty about my disrespectful language, but it felt damn good at the time. This is not the first time I’ve come across a stranger who felt it necessary to tell me what to do. I mean sure, I think judgmental things all the time, but I don’t go around saying them aloud to the strangers I meet. The great thing about urban sprawl and industrialization is that if we want to walk around the city in a hermetic bubble of anonymity, that’s ok. Ever read Poe’s Man of the Crowd? That’s an extreme example, but you get my point.
Sure, it’s the law to have my dog on a leash in most places, I know this. But Mona is an older dog who never strays more than five feet from my side, she’s friendly with children, and I pick up her poop every single time. Her only danger to the community is clearly restricted to the bunny and opossum populations. Who is she really harming by being off her leash?
At my local Trader Joe’s today, I was loading up on all kinds of delicious bad-for-you-goodies because I have an old friend coming to visit this week, and I know we’re going to stay up late talking and need midnight snacks. I was waiting in the check-out line when an older gentleman leaned his upper body over my cart to look at its contents. I followed him with an expression of sheer confusion while he inspected what I was about to purchase as if he were some kind of Grocery Monitor. He could see my discomfort and apparently thought it best to say, “Ah, I can see you’ve got an indulgence problem like me.” First of all, ick. Secondly, it’s “I can see you have an indulgence problem like I,” not “me.” I expect better grammar from old people. And third, I don’t really care what anyone thinks about what I eat, unless maybe it’s my mom. And this guy was definitely not my mom. I was appalled, but said nothing and just shrugged a little before moving forward and getting the bajeebus out of there.
When mean lady with binoculars yelled at me at the dog park the other day in a similar fashion to the fur-lady, I wanted to think of some kind of nasty comeback, but of course I said nothing and sheepishly walked away. Again. And afterwards, rather than continuing to wish I’d come up with the perfect comeback, I found myself kind of wanting to go find that total stranger who’d just publicly scolded me, tap her on the shoulder, and ask her what she was really upset about. I might have even given her a hug.
Chances are that like in the cases of the the anti-dog ladies and the nosy shopper, most such altercations with unnecessarily mean comments are a simple matter of misguided emotion about something else. I realize that it’s possible for people to have had bad experiences with dogs, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to politely say so and ask that I might leash my dog. At this point, I would surely apologize and leash my dog, appreciative of the honest communication. And the food issue…who knows.
But there’s just something about these other kinds of people—the ones who feel that it is their business, their place, or even their job to weigh in on the lives of strangers—that oozes malcontent and misguided anger.
People of Seattle: be nice. If you’re upset about something, whatever it is (other than herpes), I’d be happy to give you a hug instead of being yelled at in public.
P.S. You can expect parts two and three of this series shortly.