BY CHANA SHAPIRO / AJT //
I had two interesting experiences recently, both which left me unsettled and angry. I’m worried, folks, really worried.
First, in a neighborhood restaurant, a preteen girl sat unhappily with her family. My friend and I couldn’t avoid her piercing voice that would have put Demosthenes to shame.
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Her broadcasted complaints: the table was too far from her seat, the seats were slippery, she wanted a different sandwich bread, the French fries were too crunchy, the ketchup was sticky, the room was stuffy, and – my personal favorite – the waitresses were too tattooed.
This girl’s behavior was mimicked by her little brother, who had his own series of grievances, plaintively announced for the world to hear in what proved to be the family screech.
His sandwich had too many tomatoes, he didn’t like the drink he’d ordered, the napkins were scratchy, the pickles were too “pickly,” his sister was taking up too much room.
The parents of these two had clearly heard it all before, because they sat passively while their offspring entertained the whole room with their ear-shattering critiques. One would have understood the parents’ obliviousness if they’d been too busy rounding up their other two children who were running madly around the room in their stocking feet.
But, no, as the older ones griped and the younger ones cleaned the floor with their socks, the parents ate silently and impassively.
My companion and I tried to figure out how to stop the madness, but could only come up with violent solutions. As an alternative to physical force, I considered offering to pay for the children’s despised meals if they would leave immediately.
My companion had a bolder idea. She went to the family’s table and asked if she could be of any help in stilling the storm.
“Oh, it’s OK,” the mother responded. “Don’t pay attention to all the noise. Our kids just love to come here; it’s their favorite restaurant.”
Their favorite restaurant?
All sorts of clever, pithy responses occurred to us; however, my friend chose action. She located the restaurant owner and had a few words with him. He explained that the family were steady customers, and none of the other diners seemed to mind (only their tips would tell). He did nothing. We cancelled our orders and left.
A couple of weeks later a friend and I visited the Fernbank Museum, to catch the fabulous Marco Polo exhibit. We were thrilled to see lots of high schoolers in the lobby, because this installation was definitely not to be missed.
What normal young person, with even a passing interest in history, wouldn’t be fascinated by the adventures of the Polo mishpacha, the Khans (Genghis and Kubla), the yurt-dwellers of yore and the whole Silk Road saga?
Or so one would assume.
That’s why we were totally unprepared for the teenagers’ interaction with the excellent show. I should say, lack of interaction, because the exhibit soon became a teen party site. Among the artifacts, artwork, maps, videos, sculptures and installations, members of the class made themselves more than comfortable shouting, running, shoving, shadow-boxing and necking.
You are probably asking, “Where were the teachers?”
I think two of the laughing, joking women trailing at the tail end of the group may have been the teachers, but I’m not sure. They weren’t paying any attention to the exhibit either. Other Marco Polo visitors, who had been moving along slowly and steadily, cleverly took cover in the shadows and hid wherever they could during the onslaught, but my friend and I held our ground.
Accurately assessing the situation, we realized that the teens were so uninterested in the display that they’d quickly move on, and we were right. The teens descended upon the exhibit and fled from it in one quick swoop, much like the blinding swarm of locusts with which the Egyptians contended in Moses’ time.
Soon, the other viewers moved back into the open, emitted a collective sigh of relief and resumed enjoying themselves.
But pleasure was short-lived.
No sooner had the teens departed, than in walked two mothers with one toddler and one infant each. At first, the kids seemed harmless, but once they became aware of the lay of the land, the toddlers had a grand time dodging in and out of the exhibit configuration, dropping cheerios and other bits of food in their wake, and applying greasy fingerprints to the walls and display cases.
The mothers strolled casually through the rooms, regularly plying their offspring with more and more crumb-producing snacks, at the same time managing to disregard the wailing of their unhappy babies in the carriages they pushed.
“Why do people bring noisy little kids and babies to grown-up exhibits?” my friend wondered. It was an excellent question, but neither of us was in the mood to ask the mothers to answer it.
In vain, we looked around to see if the other visitors were bothered by the kids: perhaps we could all join forces to send them to other areas of the museum more suitable to the exercise of limbs and lungs.
No, the teens, toddlers and babies had managed to empty the exhibit of everyone but us. I’m proud to report that we stayed. With Marco Polo all to ourselves, we ended up having a swell time.
Am I hopelessly “out of it” and fatally old fashioned? Must I learn to accept the insensitivity, rudeness, selfishness and sense of entitlement of the inhabitants of our current world?
Or is it okay to be worried? Are you worried, too? Worriers of the world, unite!
Chana Shapiro is not a misanthrope; however, it’s just a matter of time. She’s on her knees begging all parents, grandparents and teachers: please, please, please, get your acts together before it’s too late. A society is a terrible thing to waste.