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Resolved: To Retire A Tired Role


Who can hold a candle to Larry David—or at least, the character Larry David, as realized by Larry David—when it comes to playing the public scold, the self-appointed, self-righteously outraged scourge of his small world of human beings behaving badly? More to the point, who would want to? It’s practically a full-time profession in itself, actively policing selfish-parkers, confronting chatty line-jumpers, keeping the jerks in check ad infinitum: LD’s definition of what constitutes a crime against human decency is both idiosyncratic and elastic, ever‑expanding beyond the comprehensible to the ridiculous. This, of course, incites hilarity as well as horror. Seriously, though, who else could live like that, reacting to everything/anything 24/7? It’s got to be exhausting.

Oh yeah.

The fact is that I, like many (too many) of us who co-exist in close urban quarters, have my own long (too long) list of human behaviors that bug the hell out of me and beg for beating down. Where to begin: the cell phone comatose (“Yo! zombie! WAKE UP!”); the subway door blockers (“Please, unless they pay you to guard the entrance, MOVE!”); the hawkers/spitters (department of deeply disgusted glares); pedestrian texting while jaywalking in front of our car, motorist blocking the box I’m crossing, fellow cyclist flouting every traffic rule (“Idiot! Idiot! IDIOT!”)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not crazy or cocky enough to get in strangers’ faces, speak my mind out loud—well, mostly not—but I do find myself rolling my eyes, muttering under my breath, more often than an otherwise stable individual likes to acknowledge. Passive‑aggressiveness is generally safer (though not as safe as a poker face, of which I am perfectly capable when I choose to be, which is seldom.) In any event, whether or not I give voice to them, countless scolding or snarky come-backs are somehow at the ready, buzzing in my brain, reflexive responses—mere reactions, really—to the countless minor irritations of city life. It’s a noisy internal counterpoint to the noise out there, and a constant distraction from actual thinking, though I don’t always recognize it as such because the busy buzz can be so very compelling.

Which is part of what I’ve come to view as a problem (rather than a solution): this is basically compulsive stuff, the irresistible urge to correct, control, aggravatingly “unacceptable” aspects of other people’s conduct wherever and whenever you chance to encounter them. It may even be a kind of addiction, feeding that so‑satisfying sense of righteous indignation, not to mention moral (sic) superiority. Thing is, though, the glow doesn’t last —that’s addiction for you—while the jangling of the last nerve goes on and on.

I haven’t announced it to anyone in my small world, until now, but: along with finding LD’s one-man campaigns more crackpot, less sympa, all the time, I’ve grown weary of my own city reactivity. Besides being tiresome in its stupid predictability, it’s also fairly futile, as efforts go, rarely getting real results, while risking spreading the rage around. It takes it out of me without giving anything of value back. Exhausting is an understatement: It’s a real drag, literally, on my energies, my time, and my deeper sense of satisfaction with life in New York City. It’s getting old, is what I’m saying, and life’s starting to seem too short to purposely play such a losing game.

So: one of this season’s resolutions—as a secular Jew, I get at least two official chances a year to try turning a new page—is to work on letting it go, letting it be: by which I mean, letting the idiots go be idiots without making idiocy an offense I must take personal note of, much less find a personal affront.

The first step, of course, is to ban the word “idiots” from my daily vocab. That alone has been a struggle, I don’t mind telling you. 

But I knew this was going to be a tough modification to make, much less maintain, when, on the very eve of Yom Kippur, I spun around to give a look—fine, it was the fisheye—to an over‑enthusiastic congregant who was beating on her prayer book totally out of time with the song. True, a look is not on the same low level as a chiding comment, but still, this was not a good start, not in the right spirit at all! On the other hand, I caught myself, made the internal correction, moved on toward my new life of benign neglect, a new policy of laissez-faire—so far as the little things go, that is. I make no vow to look the other way when I shouldn’t. The real challenge will be to begin making that crucial distinction.

A few days later, as I grudgingly walked my bike up a paved Riverside Park hill clearly marked with Cyclists Must Dismount signs at both ends, I passed a guy smugly riding his bicycle down the hill, child-trailer in tow, followed by three more kids mounted on their own bikes, and was unable to resist hissing something entirely unoriginal, not to mention utterly useless, about Special People, while formulating familiar dark thoughts about Entitled Idiots.

I was very disappointed with myself. But I’m persevering in spite of all temptation—yesterday, I simply smiled when one of those silly new neighbors who don’t respond to elevator greetings didn’t respond to mine—and I do believe I am doing a little bit better every day. I have let an encouraging number of former provocations slide, without so much as a speaking sigh. Frankly, it’s a huge relief! And I’m already feeling pretty positive about finally being able to leave the handling of petty offenders to professionals like LD. (Word to the subway seat, thighs-wide-open guys: Your “packages” ain’t all that big, and they don’t need to breathe: GET OFF MY LAP! Whew. Sorry. I just had to get that out of my system, one last time. Well: Here’s hoping...)