The Public Living Rooms of Private People

You’re relaxed, sitting back, sucking down a beer and arguing with your brother over the finer points of a subject you know little about. Your spouse is laughing in your ear at something you don’t find funny at all and the kids are joyously running in circles, shrieking and bouncing off each other. Everyone’s together and having a good time.

Sounds like Sunday at the house watching the Steelers play?

Hardly.

Picture the scene at your local restaurant. Or the book store. Or the multiplex while watching Rocky XIII.

When did people start treating public places like their own living room?

Not all public indecencies are avoidable, and children will act up occasionally, but to allow a small child to scream non-stop for forty minutes in a restaurant without trying to comfort the poor soul is reprehensible. In this case, the adults (assuming the parents) continued with their conversation IGNORING the outcry. There may be a parenting creed that dictates you take no notice of the unruly child until it stops on its own, but to enforce your values on a small room of strangers goes beyond decent behavior.

But what can we do? Although my friends and I were at the other end of the restaurant (and feeling sorry for the poor diners nearer the siren’s call), we alerted the management. Like most patron-based establishments, if they did anything, it was nothing. What happened to commercial backbone that looked out for patrons’ good will? No one cares any more.

Buyer beware, I guess, and I’m free to dine where I choose, but the trend for private citizens to act as they please at everyone else’s expense has raged into an epidemic. It’s as if they are daring you to interfere. In today’s climate, you don’t know how someone will react. But it’s not FEAR that stays us. It’s a sense of decency and good manners that remembers when the Golden Rule meant you received as much consideration as you gave. No more.

Such awkward encounters are difficult to navigate. I’m reminded of when George Costanza, the character on Seinfeld, did the opposite of his nature and challenged the two young men causing a loud scene behind him in a movie theater. He quieted them with reprimands and threats to the applause of the other patrons. If only real life were so simple.

Some years ago (and still continuing), the Rocky Horror Picture Show encouraged fan-based participation, and if you weren’t singing your part, you’d wandered into the wrong theater, pal. Better scurry to that midnight showing of Star Wars. Over time, some have forgotten that everyone was in on the gag and moved to a self-involved inside joke that excludes the strangers sharing space with them in a haze of SMUG satisfaction.

Such a pity. If there is still enough thoughtfulness for a father or mother to take a screaming child out of a movie theater, why wouldn’t they do the same in a restaurant? Or at least try to calm the child and act embarrassed at their lack of success. Is one ashamed half-smile too much to ask? Or are we all here to serve the individual’s needs at the moment their turn has arrived, which is whenever they decide?

Let’s continue to help each other. That shouldn’t change, and Pittsburghers are some of the most welcoming, thoughtful, jump to action people in the country. If we each take a moment to accept responsibility for the death of public manners, we might decide its demise is premature. Let’s call it another internet hoax and pretend it never happened.

Stay friendly and healthy.

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