Civil Wars 

Thoughtless tips for creating a kinder Cleveland.

This kid used to be rude and mean to old people -- until he  learned the virtues of old-fashioned manners. - WALTER NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • This kid used to be rude and mean to old people -- until he learned the virtues of old-fashioned manners.
From Regina Brett to Cleveland Heights' We Support Civility campaign, everyone's developing plans to rekindle kindness in our humble Sadr City by the Lake.

But for our money, nothing beats a return to old-fashioned manners. By extending our gentility, we can rebirth the days when children safely walked the streets, and we shot each other only for good reasons. Let's give it a whirl, shall we?

Say you encounter the ubiquitous young man with sagging pants, who's unabashedly exposing his posterior. First, try to avoid the typical Cleveland response. Saying something like "What are you, kid, some kinda f&*^%$# moron?" won't breed tenderness. Instead, be supportive of his individuality and sexual orientation. For example:

"I see you have chosen to exhibit your nubile buttocks. Were I gay too, surely you would have engaged me in a riveting session of homosexual intercourse. Well played, young sir!"

This lets the child know you countenance his gay fashion sense, and admire the confidence it takes to so brazenly troll for gentlemen suitors.

Now that wasn't hard, was it? Let's try another.

Say the same youngster is sporting a bounty of jewelry, or what is often referred to as "bling." Some might consider this a wasteful expenditure. The same money could have purchased a matching tennis ensemble. Still, remarks such as "You look like a f%$#^&* trophy wife" are not helpful. If a young man chooses to dress like a middle-aged matron from Pepper Pike, who are we to judge? Far better to express your interest in his uniqueness, using your curiosity to demonstrate empathy. For example:

"From which of the great trophy wives do you take your accessorizing cues? Might I guess Mrs. Arthur B. Kellogg, who was a smashing presence at Canterbury's Charity Golf Scramble this year? If you were to add a mini-skirt, surely you'd incite a riot of passion among the single barristers at Jones Day!"

The key to civility, after all, is bridging the differences between one another. Perhaps you'll recall the adage of either God or Tori Spelling, who once remarked, "Don't cast stones when you live in a house made of Indonesian-manufactured particle board."

Now that we've dispensed with our fashion issues, let's move on to something more challenging. Say, for example, the same young man is now in a car, his stereo blaring Trick Daddy's seminal hit "Jump on da Dick" at 18,000 decibels.

Of course, it's impolite to play loud music. Children may be sleeping, and bookies are trying to conduct important commerce. But too often we express our disapproval by beating the youngster with a piece of rebar. While this may provide immediate results -- and wonderful exercise for lowering cholesterol! -- violence is never the answer, except for a lot of times.

Instead, compliment the young man on his musical selection. Try something like "I've long considered 'Jump on da Dick' a piercing rumination on modern interpersonal relations."

Then hit him with the rebar.

This lets the child know that you are "down" with his quest for lyrical exploration, and that you're obviously quite "street." At the same time, you're setting firm boundaries, helping the child understand that being inconsiderate may well get his face introduced to some rebar. That's how the dad on 7th Heaven does it, and his kids always grasp the moral imperative by the 55-minute mark of the show.

See how easy it is?

Now, let's move on to issues of inappropriate violence, which are way different from the proper and necessary violence we just practiced. Say you're waiting in line at a convenience store, when our young friend decides to rob the place. He's waving a .38 in the clerk's face, yelling in a manner that demonstrates his profound mastery of the word "motherf&%#@*."

First, it's always impolite to use expletives in the commission of a felony. A pinch of sugar goes farther than a pound of salt, as the ancient Moors liked to say. If you're not courteous, no one will want to attend your next robbery.

Begin your entreaty by offering alternatives: "Good sir, while I realize your mastery of 'mother$#@%^' is without peer, such repetitive language use is lending your monologue a droning quality. You don't want people to believe they've stumbled upon a Dennis Kucinich speech, do you?"

He will be grateful for your insights, and perhaps tip you when the robbery is concluded.

But there remains the problem of the .38. Pistols, as we've learned from the History Channel, were invented as compensation for diminutive penises. Or as Gandhi more succinctly remarked: "Guns are for pussies."

Hence, waving one in the face of a clerk named Ron is akin to telling the world: "In a matchup with a baby carrot, my penis would be a 12-point underdog."

Suggest to the youngster that robberies aren't simply about collecting the $28 currently in the cash register. They're also an effete demonstration of bravery, a chance to tell one and all: "I'm too f&%$#@* dumb to get a real job."

Impress upon the child the wisdom of using a buck knife. "Economically speaking, it's far more efficient," you note, "since it doesn't require the purchase of bullets. Plus, anything with the word 'buck' in it breeds images of big horns and upper-leg strength."

By this time, the child may be a little weirded out, since you've been following him around providing advice all day. But he will begin to look upon you as the parental figure he never had. He will send you cards on Father's Day.

And the next time he robs a convenience store, he'll be considerate enough to grab you a pack of Swisher Sweets.

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