Adults Behaving Badly

I recently spent four days at a music event for young people and educators. At least that’s where I think I was. Based on the behavior of the parents there, I may have been at NASCAR. Or prison visitation.

I’ve never been to either of those things but if they’re anything like what I imagine them to be, there is a lot of cutting in line, littering, and talking in an outside voice while everyone is trying to listen to classical music.

I was a chaperon (not a chaperone; my name tag said I was the sophisticated chaperon, so I tried to be as French as possible) and I didn’t really have any duties at all, so I had a lot of time to observe the other parents. And some of them weren’t being very nice.

I’m not one to give daggery looks to people whose babies are crying or whose toddlers are whining in an audience. It’s not like you can help that. Having been there too many times to count (my kids were shy and well-behaved until I wished them quiet and then they were wound-up little chatterboxes armed with fart jokes) I have a lot of sympathy for people sitting in a crowded auditorium with a 2-year-old. There aren’t enough Cheerios or hand-held video games on earth to quiet a kid during a classical music concert, especially during the pianissimo parts.

No, it wasn’t the parents of the little kids who were the nervy ones. It was the people who didn’t follow the rules. There are rules. Easy rules. You have to follow the rules.

When the program says No Flash Photography that means that you’re not supposed to use the flash on your camera. When the program says No Audio Recordings No Video or Still Photography of Any Kind Cameras Will Be Confiscated, that means you, big fat guy with the tripod on the balcony whose camera flash blinded me while I tried to watch my daughter play. He must’ve snuck out the stage door after the concert. There were a bunch of us looking for him.

When the lady comes on stage and welcomes you and tells you to turn off your cell phone, you’re supposed to turn off your cell phone. Right then. Right that minute. That’s the designated time to check your phone and make sure it’s off. The reason she is talking in a voice of a jaded, tenured teacher talking to a group of 3rd graders on the day after Halloween, is because you all have a bad history of not turning off your cell phones. So she’ll be as condescending and patronizing as possible. She may even do a little pantomime of taking a cell phone out of her pocket and turning it off, just in case anyone doesn’t understand English or is deaf. Hell, she could put on a one-act-play about turning off your cell phone, but she knows, as do we, that someone’s Ricky Martin She Bangs ringtone is going to go off during the most emotional part of Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

When you see an extremely long line that you don’t want to wait in, you’re supposed to suck it up and go to the end and play with your phone or something while you wait. Or file your nails. Or put headphones on and listen to some music. What you’re not supposed to do is nonchalantly merge into the line six people back. We can see what you’re doing. We’re not blind. And looking intently at your watch, digging through your purse and talking on your phone with a furrowed brow doesn’t make you look like you’re cutting in line unwittingly.

Father Anselmo, a priest at our church in New Jersey, told a story once about how Italians won’t wait in line. Italians think that Americans and other rule-following nations are suckers and they can’t figure out why someone would wait in a line when you could just cut to the front and get your ticket. That might be why there are so many fist fights at concerts in Europe. He said he and his friends from the seminary were going to a concert in London and the line was blocks long. There was hardly any parking. They left their car at the curb and walked directly to the ticket booth. “Damn Italians,” someone in line said. Father Anselmo laughed when he told this story. He had not an ounce of regret or shame for his heritage.

Apparently it’s not a sin to cut in line. Or to be selfish and boorish and impatient in public. But it does make you look like a 7-year-old.

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