Can Manners Survive The Hamptons
Early Sunday morning, the sky was perect blue, the singular scent of privet permeated the July air. So fleeting, yet indeilable in the nose. There is a calm you can feel, thru the constant sawing sound of morning cicadas .
My grateful heart takes in this perfect summer day. Suddenly it’s violated by an unexpected screech, “You’re an animal, you shouldn’t be alowed in a store like this. I didn’t cut you off, you cut me off, and you have some mouth!”
Such is the Sunday morning drama of status seeking, via check out positioning, at Schmidt’s produce market in Southampton. Two men, one wearing crisp white linen shorts and pink oxfordcloth shirt. The other , the aledged , “mouth”, sports a black tank top and Tommy Bahama shorts. Other patrons wear startled masks of surprise. The employees roll their eyes and go thru the motions of price and pack thankful they go home to families that may be quirky, but never cruel or rage inspired over check out positioning.
It was now time for me to procede to my store, Old Town Crossing, my haven of order, hoping to regain the peaceful equilibrium that began the day. It was not to be.
My car exited the parking lot into a line of traffic baracading the cars on the opposite side.If each car had yieled to one, the traffic would have become a graceful waltz. Instead none considered another, and shame became my car’s companion.
“Come on, I give you a kiss”, he bellowed from the front of the store. I was in the back waiting for this ritual of rudeness to subside. Big bulky footsteps tom tomed toward me , something instinctive, primal rushed up my throat and out my mouth before my brain coud process what I was saying.
“I don’t want your kiss, I just want your money”. The reality of my words had the effect of a locomotive squealing to a halt. Surely smoke was belching from the top of my head. “OK Ok he said, in a fast, face saving response, I give you $600 .” I guess my words startled him as much as me. The total of the three items his greedy fingers had brought together was $1300.” No you will pay $1100, the trade price we honor to your wife, and we will deliver the items later this afternoon.”At that moment I really did not care if he said ok or hauled his beefy mass out the door. In 30 years, recall, I had never been so coarse to anyone. It was then I looked forward enough to see his wife who was a large and kindly woman standing so still at the front door. I knew she craved invisibility not just for now but for forever from the brut to whom she was coupled.
Such is the behavior a Hampton shopkeeper sees more often now than one would like to remember.
What makes a wealthy and titled European man think he can decide what he will chose to pay in an established store on a main street with staff and overhead and all the responsibilities of of an operating business?
There was never the playful request for a “better” price or the proverbial, “can’t you do better”, from this man.
He who knew which fork to use, which wine to serve, and with whom to fill his table for power and infuence, simply disregarded any semblance of manners and bullied the shopkeeper.
Manners are not like last year’s fashion or a personal stance you choose for the moment, manners are the respect we bring to personal intercourse every minute of every day in every encounter. Without manners we become warring tribesmen marauding our way thru life.
And I, the shopkeeper who had at first felt accousted, sullied, and wronged, suddenly felt full of remorse for the basest reaction his behavior had elicited from me. In my respnse, I too, begat bad manners.
I will lenghten my daily meditaton time to connect with the two sisters: consideratoin and kindness , and mother manners, at least till Labor Day.