Barbarella
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No one is more insufferable than he who lacks basic courtesy.

-- Bryant H. McGill

People are bothering me. I realize their antagonisms are unintentional for the most part but, nevertheless, I continue to be annoyed, almost to the point of hermitry. Random acts of inconsideration are particularly offensive.Like the circles of Dante's Inferno, there are many levels into which irritating people fall. Passive inconsideration is not rude as much as it is an act of one who is missing the opportunity to be polite. For example, the failure to hold the door open for someone following immediately behind is a passive act of inconsideration, and therefore not so deplorable; rather than eliciting hatred, this "un-act" merely causes me to raise a brow and harrumph noisily.

I admit I'm no authority on etiquette -- David is the picture of dismay whenever I demonstrate (with glee) my talent for stretching a burp out for several seconds so that I may extend the pleasant sensation of relief while simultaneously amusing myself. Still, I mourn what appears to be the slow death of common courtesy in a culture that increasingly encourages and rewards selfish behavior.

Yesterday I stood outside of Trader Joe's and glared at a woman who, having unloaded her groceries into her car, was trying to prop the shopping cart against a tree so it wouldn't roll into the street. I looked at her pointedly, then at the cart corral 20 feet away, and then back at her. For minutes I watched her struggle, hoping she'd catch my eye and understand from my expression that she was a moron. I telepathically implored the woman to give up her attempts to sturdy the cart and return it to the corral. She didn't see me. I wasn't surprised. The inconsiderate are an oblivious lot.

Cell Phone Offenders are some of the worst, and the gadget gurus toiling in their research labs are not helping. Like inconsiderate smokers, CPOs pollute the air -- but instead of wreaking havoc on the nostrils and lungs of innocent bystanders, these assaults are launched upon the ears. Granted, I'm usually the first in line to buy the latest gizmo, but I am discerning enough to know that there's a time and a place for disruptive devices. Like the booklet that instructs the proud new owner of a hairdryer not to use it in the shower, every new toy should come with an etiquette guide for idiots.

Recently, while dining at Rama, my favorite Thai food haunt, I caught a CPO in flagrante delicto . He was seated two tables away, his white polo shirt pulled taut over his giant belly, his dark curly hair fluffed and unkempt. I wouldn't have noticed him had it not been for the blinking blue light of his Bluetooth attached to his head. In a Morse-like code only I seemed able to understand, the luminous blue blips sent a message that was as clear to me as the rice noodles on the guy's plate: "I am a schmuck, and anyone who tries to have a conversation with me is only a quiet little beep in my ear away from being interrupted by someone I deem to be more important."

I'm all for hands-free devices, especially while one is driving or doing the dishes. But is it really necessary to have one attached to your head at all times? While walking down the street? While dining out ? The only professions I could imagine that might require a person to be so permanently connected are surgeons, cops, and firefighters. But most of the schmoes and schmoettes I meet blue-blinking their way around town are real estate agents.

Bluetooths are not the only cell-phone devices that are abused. Every time I leave the house, regardless of whether I'm going to the 7-Eleven or the Four Seasons, I encounter at least one person who is shouting into his or her phone, mindless of the fact that everyone within earshot is forced to listen to the latest brokered deal or what Gladys said about Nancy.

Last week I accompanied David to the FedEx office to pick up a package. It was late, and the two customer-service reps were hustling to take care of the nightly crush. Posted on every wall was a sign that read, "We please ask you to refrain from using cell phones." To accommodate the illiterate or non-English speaking, the sign also included the universally recognized symbol for NO: an image of a cell phone in a red circle with a line through it.

I set my cell phone to vibrate and waited quietly, along with 30 other respectful patrons. That is, until a man wearing the uniform of a competing delivery service entered the small room and answered his loudly ringing phone. Either oblivious or indifferent to the signs and the 60-some eyes burning with annoyance in his direction, the man carried on his conversation as if he was sitting at his favorite sports bar with a beer in his hand. Indignant on behalf of the disrespected FedEx employees and acutely aware that the last of whatever patience was left in the room was fading fast with every "Yeah!" and "No, not yet, still waiting!," I clamped my jaw tightly and twitched until it was our turn to claim our package and thank the lady behind the counter.

I wish I could take a deep breath, say, "This doesn't affect me," and move on. But inconsiderate behavior gets under my skin and continues to irritate me for days.

Sometimes I fantasize about going to the mall with a riding crop and swatting every parent who brings an infant to the movies, every person who leaves trash at a table, and every imbecile who holds up a line because she's too busy taking a call. With each swat I would shout, "Stop being such an asshole!"

As distressing as I find inconsiderate people to be, I am fascinated with uncovering how they can be so thoughtless. Have they lost the imagination required to put themselves in someone else's shoes? If I leave my empty coffee cup next to my car in the parking lot, I know that someone else will have to pick it up. Just like someone else would have to collect my shopping cart if I can't be bothered to return it and another person might either step in or have to smell my dog's shit if I don't assume the responsibility of cleaning it up.

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