Thursday, August 12, 2010

Most Likely to Shoot His Lawnmower

Once my colleagues voted me “most likely to shoot my lawnmower.” I guess I was showing some on-the-job stress.

I think I growled a little and raised my 10-key calculator above my head. It caught their attention.

Frustrated that the accounts wouldn’t balance in my humdrum job tracking barrels of oil for a private producer, I had a pronounced urge to heave that calculator through the floor to ceiling window in front of my desk onto the green, green lawn fringed with impatiens and agapanthus.

Then I put it back down.

Soon I got a more meaningful job in public service, and left all those numbers behind me.

My honorary title came from a note weeks earlier in the Police Blotter section of the Tulsa Tribune indicating that a local man had been cited for firing a handgun within city limits. He had dispatched his lawnmower with his daddy’s .44. The brief notice did not share what the final straw had been.

We can only assume that whatever fine he had to pay, he paid with satisfaction.

Which brings us to Steven Slater. He said he dreamed of slipping down that airlines escape chute for years, taking his leave with a Heineken in one hand and middle finger extended on the other.

Too much face time with the public put him off his good humor.

So Mr. Slater lost his cool (and his job and his rainy day funds --- forthcoming legal fees, you know).

I almost feel bad for the guy.

Then I remember the social contract: that agreement we made so long ago, consciously or unconsciously, to be nice to each other since we live so close together. We gotta bend a little here and there or nothing’s going to go smoothly.

Could be both Steven and that ugly woman at the overhead bin each needed the other to bend that day, at that moment.

But Steven loses the argument, because he took the job of serving the tired, the rude, the unreasonable exception, along with all the rest of us who are courteous, tolerant, self-contained and bending whenever we’re part of the public.

That’s right: Almost of all of us are pretty nice. We set aside our desires for personal space, the aisle seat, an armrest for our elbows, and easy access to the bathroom. We bend. We accommodate. We even smile our brief smiles letting those around us know that even though the cramped conditions suck, we’re going to mind our manners and get through it.

When Steven took the job, he knew there would be a few, a small percentage, who would be jerky, demanding, and inconsiderate. But even now, even he would say, I’ll bet money on it: The vast majority of the public are really nice.

All those flight attendants, cashiers, postal workers and waitresses across the country who hold him up with banners declaring him a hero for reaching his threshold, crossing it, and succumbing to the instinct to run screaming, if not the impulse to smack some other stressed person who didn’t make nice on the airplane---even they will say, even now, most of the people they serve every day are NICE.

The thing is, it’s hard to shake off the not-nice people of the world. It is a skill flight attendants and all other public servants learn early and practice often, or they pull a Steven Slater, or worse.

By his own declaration, Slater was a baggage “Nazi,” on a mission to ensure carry-on rule breakers didn’t enjoy the benefits reserved for carry-on rule followers. A lousy way to go through the workday, with a personal vendetta guaranteed to focus on the negative and take self-righteous pleasure in catching, embarrassing, and angering the offenders.

When he found himself lapsing into sarcasm and fantasies of escape, he could have and should have helped himself to stress management, anger management, a job in accounting, a vacation, a margarita, a massage, a funny movie, or maybe a lawn mower and a sledge hammer. No firearms, please.

Then if he disturbs the peace with his loud banging and cursing, he should pay the fine with a smile.