Etiquette as the Last Refuge of Scurrility

It’s wrong to abuse people gratuitously, or even trying to be funny.  There, I said it, fuck you.  Seriously, there is most often no humor in abuse, no matter how otherwise witty.  Abuse masquerades as humor to apply the talent for malice, seizing a jocular tone to wield the lash with the deniability of “only kidding… Jesus, stop being such a pussy.” A “roast” on TV can be occasionally funny, it’s all in good fun, blah, blah, but a roast in real life is rarely fun for the roastee.  It is uncomfortable for most people to be put on the spot.

If I put you on a spit and turned you slowly and lovingly over the flames, basting you with your own juices to keep your skin from burning, no matter how otherwise hilarious my patter was while doing this, I know for a fact you wouldn’t find it all that adorable.  We do this to each other from time to time, and it’s no joke, it’s a sign something sick is going on.  

Not to be all judgmental about it, but when someone who has just been kicked in a delicate place is crying, the most humane first reaction is sympathy, not a smirking admonition not to be a pussy.   “Everybody gets kicked there, whiner.  Stop fucking crying and finish listening to my problems, asshole.  I have problems too, you know.  I kneed you by accident, ACCIDENT– pussy.”

I am thinking about this because when being polite is the only reason for doing something, against many good reasons for not doing that thing, experience teaches that it is a mistake to do the thing out of politeness.  Being polite is a good thing, especially with strangers and potential assholes, and politeness has an important place in civility. Being polite as the only reason to do a thing?   A weak ass reason indeed, and almost weightless against any reason not to do the thing at all.    

Years ago, after an unhappy, brilliant, talented, witty and often abusive friend turned her abuse on me at a particularly bad time for me, I replied to her hurtful email with a long explanation of why I’d been so hurt by it.  She declined to respond to my wimpish complaint.  I never heard from her again.  It was the quiet whimper at the end of a long, troubled friendship between two damaged people.  

A year or two later, her husband’s mother died at 99 or 100.  The old woman had been severely demented for the last decade or two, and when she finally died, the husband’s sisters began screaming for him to do something.   He jumped up and applied mouth to mouth resuscitation to the dead woman, until, presumably, nurses intervened.

Sekhnet and I spoke to him shortly after learning, by email, that his mother had died.  He was very grateful to us for a long call that gave him some comfort.   I had nothing against him.  In fact, it had been a source of stress and pain to watch him severely verbally pummeled by his unhappy wife every time the four of us got together.  I always took his side, tried to pour some humor on the ugly situation, distract the wife from her assaults.   Sekhnet was also very troubled watching this brutality at every meeting.   When the woman turned that same whip on me one time too many, I was not having it.  That was the end of our long, troubled friendship.    Against my better instincts, I yielded to Sekhnet’s persuasion that I attend the wake in Chinatown.  It would mean so much to our lapsed friend’s husband who had just lost his mother, she convinced me.  Sentimentality and a misguided sense of duty and kindness triumphed over Reason and self-interest.

I have never had a reason not to regret going to that wake.  I rushed from something I needed to concentrate on to be there, and needing to rush off had distracted me from the important thing I’d needed to focus on.  I stood in line to have a meaningless hug from my former friend who made a smiling, breezy comment, only gently barbed, and it was the only exchange we had.   Her husband thanked me several times for coming, and even took a moment, at a family dinner after the wake that I should also have not been persuaded to take part in, to find out if I was still trying to do that ridiculous animation business with kids.  

I have never had a reason to think I did the right thing going to that wake.  I did the wrong thing, for myself, thinking it was the right thing.   Lesson learned, and now I move on slightly wiser.  

Politeness for its own sake?  Complete fucking lying bullshit.

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