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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Don’t Be A Jerk (From 2005)

[Editor’s Note: It’s been colder than a car salesman’s heart all year this year. ]
[Author’s Note: It’s always the same temperature in a concrete bunker underground: some version of cold. I gave up trying to explain wearing a turtleneck in July if I leave the house during the day. There is no editor.]

It’s been hot here. Sticky hot. The Queen takes the children to the beach each day. It’s at the end of the street we live on, just a few miles. The beach in our town is an afterthought, really; the town’s anima is centered around being on the water, not in it. But the Big One has swimming lessons at the beach, and the Wee One sits in the gentle lapping waves, up to his waist, and dredges sand through his fingers, and is content.

The beach has a lot of rules. I think the beach should have one rule: DON’T BE A JERK. That would about cover it. But things are never that simple anymore. People get together and start laying out the rules landscape, and forget when to stop. After a while, the rules, and especially the impetus behind the rules, starts to conflict with itself. And after a while, you could sum up the rules as: DANGER -WARNING -NO FUN ALLOWED. GAMBOLERS WILL BE CHASTENED.

Safety is paramount, to an idiotic degree. There’s a float you can swim out to, and rest a spell, and swim back. Woe be it to anyone who dives off the float into the water. This is strictly impermissible. A few years ago, a youngster broke his neck diving into the water, and the town, with an eye towards lawsuits, forbade diving. But as I understand it, the poor fellow that hurt himself did so because he didn’t dive off the float, he dove off a rock near the shore, into shallow water. If he had done what is now proscribed, he would have been fine. It’s curious.

Judgement and reason are assumed to be beyond the capabilities of the average person here. And the idea that children should be policed by their parents is apparently no longer current.
Any plastic device for amusing yourself is not allowed. Now, I understand why the sign says: No Glass. Accidents happen, and broken glass at the beach I can live without. But glass is easily replaceable by other containers, and so no ox is gored. But the interdict against boogie boards, and inner tubes and so forth extends to water wings. They’re plastic, so no dice. In other words, safety is paramount to the nth degree- someone might get hurt!, so everything is banned, but taking a chance on a tot drowning for the lack of two little rings of airfilled plastic is preferable to allowing some barbarian to show up with anything so declasse as, well…plastic anything.

Dogs are banned, of course. But why? It’s not because the dogs really can’t go to the beach and coexist with bathers; it’s because civility has broken down to the point where people can’t be expected to take responsibility for their animals. People bring really mean animals to public places now, and take pleasure in menacing people. They always put you off with a “My dog doesn’t bite,” if you ask them to restrain their pit bull named “Satan” because he’s menacing your children. And he leaves the brown, cylindrical objects in the sand that smell disagreeable when you step in them, and his owner can’t be bothered to clean it up, or bring the dog off the beach when he’s in the grunting mood. So no dogs. More rules, because no one remembers the Golden Rule. No not that one, the one I just coined, the new one: DON’T BE A JERK.

The beach is mostly empty these days, although the steamy heat has driven that Demosthenes of Boston, Hizzoner Mayor Tom Menino, to the radio each day announcing a weather alert and telling us in mumbled spoonerisms to drink lots of water and look in on shut-ins. Thanks for that, really. I was planning on sitting in front of the open oven door all day in a ski parka until you warned me off it.

Note to Tom: After Demosthenes cured his faulty speech by filling his mouth with pebbles and yelling over the sound of the surf, he took the pebbles out. You seem to have left a few in there.
I read in the paper that eleven people have died of heat related causes in Phoenix this week, and it reached 116 degrees on the thermometer there. If you investigated a little further, you found that ten of them were homeless people, and you can’t force them to stop drinking dehydrating liquor and come in out of the sun, there’s a rule against that, and they died of heatstroke. The eleventh person was an elderly woman who was found in her apartment, which was equipped with air conditioning, which she had turned off. Waste not, want not got her.

So maybe mumbling Tom has a point. But people who used to look after the elderly, like their friends or relatives, did so because it was the right thing to do, not because the Mayor told them to. We live in a time where the national legislature feels the need to pass legislation called “Good Samaritan Laws,” making it a crime to see someone in distress and refuse to help. But isn’t it all the other laws and rules and codes and statutes that they passed, and the insane litigation that they turn a blind eye to, and sometimes encourage, that made us so distant from one another in the first place? People are afraid to interfere in anybody’s affairs, not through an aversion of being a busybody, but because they’re afraid of being sued. Or assaulted.

The Queen and the Wee One and the Large Child settled themselves on the blanket in the sand yesterday, and tried not to break any rules. Another party settled down beside them. They had brought a nuclear powered boom box, and felt no compunction to respect the wants or wishes of others a few feet from them, and blared rap music at flight deck volume. No one ever seems to blast Respighi at that volume, I’ve noticed.

Now my wife could go to the authorities in town, and dutifully, in a few days, the DPW would come on down to the beach, and add another line to the “Prohibited” sign, to specify music. And so the worst of us will make it impossible to have any music at the beach, which is unfortunate. That’s not the way it should be done, and they’ll find another way to annoy everybody next time, anyway. Because rules are for squares you know, the people who don’t need rules on civility and parental probity in the first place. You know, people that don’t want to listen to hateful misogynist singsong or death metal at the beach. Rules only apply to the people that need them least.

I say: Take down the sign with the laundry list of real and imagined threats to civility and safety. Replace it with a smaller one:


And give the lifeguard a pistol. Problem solved.

4 Responses

  1. I’m certainly with you on the last point.

    The alternative is to swim at dawn. Only the serious grown ups frequent the beach at that time – all the teenagers and jerks are still in bed.

  2. Read a bunch of cases in law school that pretty much started the ball rolling in the direction you’re talking about here.

    There was the one about the person who swam out to save a drowning victim, failed, and lost his shirt to the decedent’s family.

    It’s unfortunate that doing the right thing seems to require more than common sense and moral fiber.

    To fight this, I often do more than the rules require in terms of civility and kindness and, believe it or not, still manage to have a good time.

  3. Lots of good points, and I like the concept of the lifeguard armed with a gat.

    I agree with boy on bike, the beach is nice at dawn. That’s when I surf-fish, and it’s pretty darn quiet and uncrowded, but we do get treated to the trash from the day before, at least until the tractor-drawn rake comes along.

  4. We have a picture of Stewie, from Family Guy, hanging in our alcove at work. Stewie is yelling YOU SUCK! and we added STOP SUCKING!
    Fits right in with your “Don’t be a jerk” rule.
    But do they listen…..

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