Warning, salty language ahead!
[Author’s note: This essay was first written in the pre-Covid pandemic era, but it is safe to say that we have gotten worse, as a species, according to my personal observations on matters of humility, decency, and public self-awareness.]
There are two coffee shops and a Subway that I have to choose between when I go on my Bilbo Baggins adventures out into the city hinterlands beyond the banks of my moat. No matter which of these places I might randomly choose to patronize, I always find myself having to listen to a half dozen, or more, deep and personal conversations that have no place in the public discourse. And every time I’m subjected to stories of sexual escapades, bawdy conquests, medical procedures, as – yet unhealed surgical wounds, etc., I am gobsmacked by the general lack of self-awareness or common decency that people have anymore.
As a result of my third stroke, I lost 100% of my eyesight in the right half of each eye the condition is known as Homonymous hemianopia ). What they tell you about some of your senses taking over, in response to the damage or loss of others, is 100% true. In my own case there are a couple of very weird and – in some ways unfortunate – changes in my hearing that began to take shape not too long after I started my visual rehab and recovery. In particular, I began to hear all of the voices around me very clearly and could discern – by unique frequencies I suppose – who was saying what to whom in a roughly 30 foot wide circle all around me. If you happen to be a fan of the Marvel TV series Daredevil, it’s a little bit like that; the main character is totally blind, but he can literally hear every single sound across the span of all frequencies great or small. I’m not that good, but it is a little bit like that. I refer to it, amongst family and friends, as my own version of Spidey hearing(as in Spider-Man).
With essentially no depth perception, and double vision in what little is left in each eye, I don’t look around at the crowd if, for no other reason, than it looks like a big blob of humanity, and certain things fully-sighted people take for granted just aren’t worth the effort, or the inevitable headache from eye strain, for me to even bother to try. Certain things are especially excruciating, like eyes, hair color, tattoos, and facial features… Or horrific fashion tastes, wheelbarrow-quantities worth of makeup, or gallon-jugs worth of perfume / cologne… and I get overwhelmed by sensory input overload and just keep my head down, focusing on the task at hand, namely shoving my face and trying to hurry the hell out of Dodge.
Sitting at the table in these places, despite being unable to “see” which person says what, or to whom, or even necessarily which table it originates from, I can hear all of it as if it was being said directly to me.
Sounds cool right? Some sort of fucked up “Spidey” super power senses, right? Let me assure you.. it might sound really cool on paper but it gets really old incredibly fast.
And so it was that I found myself walking into the coffee shop the other morning to grab my favorite almost – healthy breakfast: Angus beef/bacon/egg/cheese sandwich on an everything bagel…toasted with butter, hash browns / tater tots, and a small hot black hazelnut coffee with a double chocolate donut for dessert.
I know what you’re thinking… that it sounds like a damn fine breakfast.. and it was. Being able to eat it in peace without having to hear a 20-something young lady – to my left – bragging to her two friends about how she had tricked a guy into having sex with her… in gory detail… made the first few bites really difficult to choke down.
About the time I almost had those three tuned out, the senior ladies to my right started cackling about their healthcare. The first one was complaining about how much trouble she was having with her bunions lately, and how disappointed she was with her quack podiatrist not doing enough about it. Not to be outdone, her partner – in – lamentations started in about how hard it had been to keep her oozing diabetes-related sores from getting infected and that she was quite sure her visiting nurse was a complete idiot that shouldn’t be allowed to provide medical care to her cat let alone her poor defenseless legs.
Remembering all the times my mother who, when I was growing up, would scold me about what was and was not a proper conversation at the dinner table, I fought back the temptation to stand up, look them in the eye, and say “for the love of God would you people please shut the fuck up? Jesus H. Christ, can’t you people see that some of us are trying to eat?” I didn’t, of course, but that’s because I was raised to show my manners and keep my mouth shut unless I had something Christian to say. I didn’t, so I didn’t. I tried, instead, to find my “happy place”… rockin’ in my stewing silence to a Sting song coming over the piped-in commercial-free local FM radio station… and almost had this sensory overload beaten. Beaten, at least, until a couple of grizzly looking, visibly hungover,30-somethings, walked in.. scoped out the 20-somethings.. and started hitting on them – hard – as if Armageddon was a little over 12 minutes away and they were running out of time.
My appetite was beginning to wane… and it occurred to me that perhaps some of this cultural erosion and decay of common decency and fundamental self-respect could somehow be blamed on the invention of the cell phone. I mean.. think about it.. back in the old days of rotary and push-button phones these sorts of conversations more commonly took place in the privacy of your own home and were rarely overheard by random strangers on the streets. In order to know about a person’s sex life or their oozing legs.. Or even about their mangled and disfigured toes.. you actually had to know the person and have an intimate enough relationship with them to be privy to such private and personal information, let alone care.
Quickly enough, though, I gave up the folly of trying to find a place to lay blame other than at the feet of the wicked. Inventions, after all, you only see a manufacturer’s product when there is enough of a demand from the ass hats and morons of the world to make it worth their while to produce.
Lest we forget.. there was that guy years ago that got stupid rich selling pet rocks. What does that say about the numbers of morons that actually wanted a pet rock, and were willing to pay enough for it, to make it worth that guy’s time and money to put them on store shelves?
No… this crisis of human decency isn’t about gadgets or baubles or gizmos. This is about generations of bad parenting, generations of shitty educations, and shitty schools. And it’s also about generations of people not giving a fuck anymore about anything or anybody but themselves. And don’t even get me started on the rabid decline of the human-animal in the face of Covid lockdowns and self-isolation; the rise of the “Karen” and the social normalization of verbally abusing your fellow man will have to wait for another episode. If our species survives long enough for me to write it. It’s hard to say at this point, but maybe those half-cocked 30-somethings were on the right track.