Today I stopped briefly at a Dunkin Donuts to grab a cup of coffee. Yes, it's true, sometimes I'm unfaithful to my regular coffee buzz at Mayorga. This time, DD was right there and I had a splitting headache. Since the car accident, I've found that on days when my back is really killing me, I end up with brain thumping headaches that near migraine pain levels. They come on suddenly and with accompanying nausea to beat the band. Fortunately, I've discovered that a cup of coffee will quell at least a measure of the nastiness.
As I walked in, I noticed there was a motley group of eight or nine people - mostly men - in their 70s and 80s at one table and a pair of oldsters at another table. As I hobbled up to the register, the motley guys started to discuss me:
"Who'd wanna date that fatass?"
"Is she yer girlfriend, Bob?"
"Oh hell, not a chance!"
"Heh, she's my girlfriend, hahahah - just imagine screwing that!"
"Oh god, I'd get lost in the fat, haw haw haw!"
Ooh, y'all just stepped on the toes of the wrong fat chick.
While my coffee was being poured, I turned around to the table and stared at them. They went silent, like children who had just been caught with their hand so deep in the cookie jar it would take a hammer to break 'em out.
At full conversational level I addressed them:
"You know, just because I'm fat doesn't mean I'm deaf, and just because you're old doesn't mean you get a pass for being rude."
Several heads were bowed. Again, like children, caught.
The one woman in the group shrilly yelled, "I'm sorry, but we're old!"
I shook my head at them and said, "Oh, come on!"
One man quietly muttered, "I'm sorry." But no one said anything else.
I got my coffee and started to leave, but then, I stopped. I went over to their table and angrily spoke to them again. "You know, my mother was a veteran of the Second World War - she would be your age if she was still alive. And you know what? In her later years - to her dying day - she never believed that age gave you a right to be rude. And she never used her age as an excuse to say crap to anyone on the basis of their appearance. You should be ashamed of yourselves."
The other table of oldsters had been staring at them coldly throughout their mocking bullshit, and they continued to stare at them as I left.
When the clerk handed me my coffee, she told me they'd called her "white trash" earlier and she thanked me for having said something to them.
Look, I know there are cultures that respect older people simply for being old. I've worked in some of those cultures in Central Asia. And, when I'm there, I play by the local rules.
I'm not there now.
Here's my deal: whenever possible, I grant courtesy to the elderly. My heart aches when I see people dealing with the difficulties of age. I used to cry in Moscow when I saw grandmothers the age of my own mother, trying to survive by selling anything they could out on the street. Absolutely broke my heart.
But, respect? Now, respect is something I grant when warranted. There are plenty of lovely old people in this world. There are plenty of lovely young people in this world. There are plenty of lovely old and young people living good lives, doing good things, being good people. However, there are also a lot of arrested-development asshole-ish old and young people in this world. And frankly, I don't really care if you're twenty or fifty or eighty, you don't get my respect if you mock me (or call the clerk at the donut shop "white trash" for that matter.)
On the other hand, I'll show you what self-respect is about, buster. If you fought in World War II, you sure as hell know what standing up for decency is about. And being indecent to a stranger makes you look a complete fool.
And my mom will be waiting on the other side to kick yer ass.