Advice for the Wolves
Social oversights that require domestication
Illustration by Eric Schock
Last year, I spent a day with Lizzie Post. If you don’t recognize the name, she’s a refreshingly hip, contemporary version of her great-great-grandmother Emily Post, the iconic authority on etiquette. The younger Post has successfully followed in her family’s footsteps by writing and speaking on the ageless topics of basic niceties, such as, say, chewing food with a closed mouth and using a napkin.
Our conversation began with my question about whether people are ruder now than they’ve ever been. “And when I say ‘ruder,’” I explained, “what I’m really saying is ‘raised by wolves’ – although I hate to offend the wolves, who at least tend to their young.’”
I think that in 1922, when Emily wrote the canon of etiquette (Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage), readers must have been living in a gentler era, a time when people might have given a rat’s behind about their social obligations to the rest of humanity.
“I don’t think so,” Lizzie replied.
WHAAAAAT?!? Had she flown in on the corporate jet? However our paths had intersected, it was clear that Lizzie Post doesn’t travel among the wolf packs who accompany me on every outing. Or she might just have better headphones.
Either way, I could see that my answer, and the reassurance that might have come with it, would not come from Ms. Post. I must take it upon myself to address the wolves, one pack at a time.
The Uncovered Coughing Pack
Whether you venture out as a lone wolf or within your pack, you affect us all in public with your uncovered cough – or worse, with your uncovered sneeze – leaving airborne reminders of your presence for other oxygen breathers. You occasionally feign concern by sneezing into your open hand, which you’ll use to touch everything and everyone in the vicinity. YOU are the reason flu vaccines are necessary. Ask any human alive what a “cough pocket” is, and then use one.
The “Absent on Parenting Day”
Pack Your pack is strong. Legions of your fellow wolves join you in your can’t-be-bothered approach to parenthood – although you felt the need to have children, you’ve never agreed to the implied social contract of raising them. While your cubs wreak havoc on those around them, you enjoy solitude in the comfort of your smartphone, oblivious to the perils that await your offspring. You neither see them, nor hear them. Your comfort comes from knowing that the rest of us do. You are the reason birth control and nannies were invented.
The 4 Million Decibel Pack
With your not-suitable-for-humans volume, you make your presence known in any setting, often on your cell phone or as you yell at your equally noisy cubs to “straighten up and act right.” Your voice can be heard across the five-county metro and you delight in sharing, right out loud, every detail of your personal issues. You are the reason the “off” switch was invented. Find it.
The “Lunch for 30”
Pack We usually encounter you in the drive-thru during our tight lunch hour. You travel as a lone wolf, yet you are determined to feed the other 29 in your pack. You steadfastly believe that you can negotiate special orders for 29 of the 30 right there in the drive-thru in the car ahead of me, where you slipped in after cutting me off at the entrance. You will not be intimidated by the growing line of cars behind you as you and the person on the other side of the speaker – the same one who’s making change and fetching condiments for the three customers ahead of you – get it worked out. Take as much time as you need to double-check that order. We’ll wait. What choice do we have?
The Made for a Maid Pack
For wolves like you, the world is your den. While you can carry enormous amounts of paper and plastic containers, bottles, utensils and food to your table, you refuse to lift a paw to take the used remnants to a trashcan or recycling bin. Your mind has invented two fictitious maids who, you imagine, follow behind and ahead of you and your like-minded cubs, tidying and cleaning on your behalf. Your karmic destiny awaits you in a back-alley dumpster. Tread lightly.