Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Thoreau-ly Fed Up

One of the things that set me apart from my gum chewing, eight-track blasting, Clearasil worshipping contemporaries - the only thing, in fact, that I wasn't then ashamed of - was my choice of wall hangings. Sure, I had the requisite poster of Robert Plant or Lou Reed making like a total fox (where my male counterparts had posters of Led Zeppelin and the Velvet Underground actually playing music), but I devoted much more square footage of bedroom wall to babes like Thoreau, as in Henry David.

Man, the author of "Civil Disobedience" just did it for me. I verily swooned at such passages as "...any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already." Right on!

For most of my formative years, I exacted my own forms of civil disobedience, knowing that Hank (as I affectionately called him) would approve.

Yet Hank, as became increasingly clear to me, was dead; consequently, he wasn't much help with all the bureaucrats, technocrats, and a host of other crats who'd have their way with me. By the time I was in my mid-20s, it seemed to me there had to be an easier way to effect good than (and I paraphrase) "to transgress unjust laws at once; withdraw my support, both in person and property, from the government of California, etc."

Well, I don't know if there is, but there certainly is a more modern way. I call it "civil obedience," but don't let the name turn you off. Being dutifully civil can be every bit as romantic as being an outlaw - at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Rule No. 1: Start tattling. This isn't to be confused with the "he said I was a jerk" sort of tattling that my own kids know not to let me hear. They've been able to quote my position on this form of tattling since they were old enough to speak in complete sentences: "Do not come in telling me what someone else has done unless that person has pulled your arm off or has threatened to pull someone else's arm off."

No, tattling is, in its adolescent form, taking someone of "authority" aside and telling them you're worried about so-and-so's drug use, unsafe sexual practices, rumored gang involvement, etc.

Tattling in its adult form is taking someone of authority aside and saying, "I think you should know that so-and-so didn't pay for that item she's just now leaving with." Or, "I think you should know that those guys at the head of the line aren't really at the head of the line." Or, "I think you should know, and, shame on me if you already do know, that your kid is way into drugs/unsafe sex/gang warfare."

Note that, with respect to the last example, one must have documented proof of such behavior if one doesn't wish to be branded an old busybody; sued for defamation of character; flipped off 'ere she goes; or, worse, called "Mrs. Kravitz."

Rule No. 2: Confront indecencies head on (and be prepared to run).

I know from whence I speak. I've recently scaled a backyard fence - and I'm no Spider-Man - to get away from some suburban racecar drivers who didn't take kindly to my admonishing stream of garden hose. I've been poked in the chest by the (still unwashed) fingers of a food worker I'd followed out of a public restroom to tell her she'd forgotten to wash her hands.

Rule No. 3: Even the purest of motives will backfire; don't be discouraged by poor timing. My husband, for example, a firm believer in the good old Protestant work ethic, once made the unfortunate mistake of saying to me, "since you're not doing anything, why don't you come in to the office and help me type these invoices?" Despite the fact that I'd just given birth to my oldest child 72 hours earlier, I have to admit I was flaunting my newfound life of leisure on the day in question: I hadn't even showered or dressed, and it was nearly noon!

Presuming to know what's best for others will always be a crapshoot. I mean, telling people what's best for them will always be a crapshoot. I mean, the woman who once approached me outside of a local surplus store to tell me "it was environmentally unconscionable" to smoke had no way of knowing I'd respond by saying it was culturally unconscionable of her to not to shave her armpits. Yet she took the risk, anyway. Shouldn't we all?

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