Let me start out by saying a few things about myself. I absolutely do not want to come off braggy. I spent most of my adult life as a soldier. I am not a stranger to the application of violent action or those who would apply it. I spent a lot of time training myself to be the best soldier I could be no matter what role I was expected to play. I choose to avoid violence at all costs. Some may have perceived that to be out of cowardice. I prefer to think of it as prudence. But to be clear on something, choosing to avoid violence and confrontation does not necessarily mean that I am not any good at it. Here's what I learned in my youth:
In basic training at Fort Ord in 1964, one of the subjects we were taught was Hand-to-Hand Combat. They taught us that when confronting an opponent with a knife, keep the knife down to your side out of sight. I know, it goes against the flamboyant stuff from Hollywood, but the instructor told us that by keeping your weapons out of sight, your opponent has no way to gauge the extent of the threat you present. Kinda like the little knife exchange in "Crocodile Dundee". In the Night Patrolling classes, we were taught a lot more about using silent weapons and being sneaky. Handy stuff. So I always figured it was better to keep your abilities quiet until needed, better than bragging about everything you have learned, and then having someone pull out the bigger knife.
So over the years I learned some stuff. I practiced some things. And mostly, I found that when you have skills, and sharpen them regularly, you rarely have to display them. The skills themselves bring about a confidence that eliminates the urge to show them off or brag about them...mostly. Now that I am well past my sixtieth birthday, my mental memories are still there but I fear my muscle-memories may have slipped a notch or two. I am heavier, probably a little slower, and sure don't have the wind I had thirty years ago. But I still have a little confidence.
Okay. I wanted to get that out so I could tell you about the little run-in we had at the book store a couple of days after Christmas. HBW and his tribe were here from AZ; they took MamaCharlie and I to do a little after-Christmas shopping. MamaCharlie is entitled to Handicapped Parking. We have a placard to hang on the mirror. As we pulled into the parking lot, there was only one Handicapped spot open and a pick-up with out-of-state plates pulled into it before we could get to it. Out of habit, I looked at the plates (some folks prefer Handicapped plates to the hanging placard) and saw no Handicapped symbol. I glanced up to the mirror and didn't see a placard, either. I told HBW to pull around behind the guy and I would check it out, but HBW turned the other way telling us he would drop us by the door and go find a parking place. So by the time we got to the door, Pick-up boy had already gone into the store. I noticed someone sitting in the pick-up but still didn't see a placard. I was dropping it from my mind when Pick-up boy walked across our path and Life Happens stopped him and asked him if he had a Handicapped card.
I want to pause for some editorializing here. For me, the thing was over and passed. I would never confront someone in a busy store, even as politely as LH did. I would have approached him in the lot; intended to, in fact. But HBW came up with a perfectly good solution so I was happy to let it go. LH, not so much. But the issue of who gets and who doesn't get to use the placards is pretty clearly defined by Colorado law. If, as in our case, the placard is the hanging kind, it must be displayed anytime you use one of the parking places. But it is issued to a person, not a car. So if MamaCharlie is not with me, I do not use a Handicapped spot. If she is with me and stays in the car, I do not use a Handicapped spot. We are required to remove the placard while driving, and we do every time. Anyone who has a need for Handicapped parking knows the frustration of watching perfectly healthy young people without authorized placards take one of the spaces and run into the store leaving us to find a spot in the back forty and hike it into the store.
So, anyway, when confronted with the very pretty young lady asking if he was authorized to use the space he was in, Pick-up Boy could have reacted any number of ways. The best way would have been to smile and say "Yes I am, thank you for asking". That wasn't what happened. He immediately became belligerent, raising his voice and getting what we used to call "directive" in his tone. He insisted there was a placard on his mirror and she should check her facts before accusing someone of something. LH became a little testy, but kept her cool as she explained that she was concerned because she didn't see a card and it meant that her mom would have to walk a farther-than-necessary distance. She felt she had represented herself sufficiently and turned to resume her shopping. But Pick-up Boy wasn't done. He stepped up his mad and started chewing on her and had some comments about how that was the third time this week someone has accused him of parking where he doesn't belong and again telling her she should mind her own business and etc...etc...etc. Life Happens turned around and...well...it was like the old Johnny Torch comic books...FLAME ON. I am not sure what all she had left to say; I was watching Pick-up Boy's attitude and reaction to LH's new personna. I didn't like what I saw. I am not so sure she couldn't have taken him if it came down to it; Yoga-aerobics-trapeze-long-distance-running and keeping up with her two kids and HBW have produced a pretty compact package. I wouldn't try her on with less than a 2x4, myself. But Pick-up Boy didn't know any of that. And I wasn't about to let that contest take place in the middle of Barnes and Noble. So I got LH by the elbow and gently nudged her out of his face and replaced her with me. I don't do Yoga or trapeze and I haven't run any farther than the ice cream truck in years. But I still have a fairly good glare and I am usually pretty successful at making angry people see things from a better perspective. I talked him out of it. He lost some of his mad, and then we agreed there was no need to act like a jerk in front of all those people. We drifted apart and went about our shopping. Then HBW, kung-fu, ju-jitzu, grappling, 6'3" HBW, came in from parking the van. I probably should have waited on him.
Well, that was our little adventure at the book store. Thinking about it later, I wondered once again, "What has happened to good manners in public?" LH was the picture of polite when she asked her question. It just seems to me that everyone else in the world is like Pick-up boy...sitting on the edge of a mad, ready to pounce at the slightest offense. People drive like they are the only ones on the road. They push through doors, shouldering past whoever might be in their way. They don't give a guy a chance to change lanes without a race to stay in front. They talk loud and vulgar...and profane. Not all. There are some young folks around who still treat others with respect, but they are fast fading and being overcome by the rude, rowdy, and obscene.
Not only is it sad, it is troubling. Old folks are getting less and less respect all the time. Now that I am one, I notice. In the Orient, the young still revere their elders, look upon them as wise and experienced counselors and treasure their advice. In the USA, we are old and in the way. We drive too slow, walk too slow, eat too slow, die too slow...well, you get the picture. Our government even considers us a burden now. We are a drain on their coffers. I cringe every time I hear the way congressmen pronounce the word "entitlement". Our president wants to limit how much can be spent on our health care. We, the old and infirm, don't have the good taste to take our blankets out to the prairie and wait for the Great White Owl to take us away.
It should be considered a privilege to serve the elderly. The soliloquy from Blade Runner, when Rutger Hauer is near to death and talks about all he has seen in his life, comes to mind. It is amazing what folks have gone through to get old. The things that they have done and seen would blow your mind. It is a shame that young folks are not more interested in knowing who it is that provided them the life they have today. The sad part is that they are so very few years away from experiencing the slights first-hand. Too soon old, too late smart. "Golden Years"?