Do not coddle the mentally ill

Walking into Safeway yesterday, I encountered an increasingly common sight.  A woman, dressed bizarely in a shiny purple outfit and pushing a grocery cart was haranguing people walking down the sidewalk.  I can only assume her behavior was at least in part modified by the tall beer can she was drinking from, further evidenced by the shopping cart she was pushing ahead of her that contained, in addition to her belongings, the empty remnants of more beer.

Toothlessly leering in the fashion of a methamphetamine connoisseur, she staggered up to people and swore at them, occasionally grabbing her breasts and pumping them.  With the maniacal precision of someone who has decided she is exempt from any possible implied social contract, she stalked up to cars and shouted into their cabins at the startled faces of newcomers, then lurched back towards the sidewalk to scatter pedestrians with her raving.

Intrigued, I activated the camera function of my phone and was prepared as I walked past.

“Say, would you mind smiling?  I’ve never taken a picture of a crazy person before”, I called out brightly and with a smile.

The suddenly shy woman ducks behind a pillar
The suddenly shy woman ducks behind a pillar

In a flash, her chemically affected exuberance at causing discomfort snapped inwards and she spun about, hiding her face as I took a picture.  Assuming this to be an accident, I followed her around a pillar to get a followup picture, but she hid her face and kept evading.

I glanced up as a pedestrian passed and smiled.  “Shucks,” I said, putting away my camera, “she seems to be a bit camera shy.”  To my surprise, I received a withering look that suggested that _I_ was somehow in the wrong in this situation, that my refusal to substitute pity for amusement was somehow indicative of a deep seated personality flaw on my part.  I suspect that she hadn’t considered the alternative, that I’m simply an asshole, and that part of being an asshole is being unwilling to treat adults as children.

Folks, at what point do we stop giving a free pass to the mentally ill or addicts who veer through our neighborhoods, menacing our kids and yellow profanities at the top of their lungs?  At what point do we call them on their bullshit?

Do not coddle them.  If people do stupid things or behave badly, say something.  You may be providing a vital service to someone who believes their actions are acceptable because society never tells them otherwise.

Formal license to be an asshole

The founding fathers of the United States of America were pretty bad-ass.  These guys gave King George the finger, made Boston harbor smell like an old lady’s parlor for the lulz, then invented new type of dominoes that involves knocking over British Redcoats with musket fire.  When we think of their accomplishments, though, the one thing that stands out is the US Constitution.  And the part of the Constitution that resonates with us as a nation the most is more than just flowery prose espousing freedom:

The Bill of Rights is a License To Be An Asshole in 10 different, specific ways.

  1. The government can’t stop you from writing or believing what you want, even if it hurts people’s feelings and ESPECIALLY if it offends. (original wording)
  2. The government can’t stop you from keeping guns, even if it scares people.  It’d be polite if everyone defanged themselves, but liberty is often rude.  (original wording)
  3. The government can’t force you to house soldiers in time of war, even if it would be an awfully nice thing to do.  Starting to see a theme yet? (original wording)
  4. The government can’t search you ‘just because’, even if it’d help them stop some super duper crime maybe.  Hell, imagine the field day the cops could have if they could just set up random checkpoints and search everyone coming through for possible law breakiness.  They’d fucking LOVE to do that, btw, but you’re theoretically protected from it. (original wording)
  5. The government can’t force you to give yourself up or give up your freedoms or property, even if it would make everyone else happy.   (original wording)
  6. The government can’t just hold you in limbo without being charged or tried justly, even if it’s OBVIOUS that you’re a no good son of a bitch.  “He’s probably guilty of SOMETHING!”  They still try, though, so it also says you can have a professional asshole to represent you.  (original wording)
  7. The government can’t just run you through a kangaroo court, EVEN if, like in #6, it’s OBVIOUS that you’re a right mean bastard.  If you want, then you’re entitled to make ’em convince 12 other jerkoffs that you’re actually a criminal. (original wording)
  8. The government can’t just cram you into a hole and leave you to rot, even if like in 6 and 7, you’re the damndest big ol’ motherfucking bastard anyone ever did see. (original wording)
  9. The government can’t paper whip you into giving up your rights, even if doing so would make everyone else’s life so much easier and more pleasant. (original wording)
  10. The government can’t just make up new laws for anything this doesn’t cover, the states are the onl-  oh, never mind, this was effectively repealed in 1865.  This Right Left Intentionally Blank. (original wording)

Nobody needs protection when they’re doing something popular.  The guy writing pamphlets saying “Let’s all be nice!” needs approximately 10,000 times less protection than the raging asshole with the Klan hood on because that fucker will get some serious rage pointed his way.

Lots of country produce real assholes.  What makes the USA different is that we’ve formally recognized the RIGHT to be an asshole, and we’re proud of it.

Checking receipts at the door

It’s an increasingly common scenario:  You’ve just completed a purchase at a store and, while exiting the premises with your goods (remember, they have your money, ownership has just transferred) you’re stopped at the door and told that you must show your receipt.  Most people blithely accept this command at face value, but it’s not necessary.  In point of fact, doing this is actually bad because it works to create a precedent going forward that it’s acceptable to treat paying customers like criminals and remain in business.

They have no legal right to stop you for your receipt. If they want to see mine, they’ll have to accuse me of shoplifting first, and they’ll be looking at false imprisonment charges if they bar my way out of the store.

The reason
The only purpose of the receipt check is to intimidate people, and since I’m not stealing, I won’t let them do it. I’m very polite, but not apologetic.

“Your receipt?” they say, usually not bothering to ask anymore because of the sense of power their position has given them.  This is the result of past compliance, the employee now believes that this is now The Way Things Are Done.

“No thanks,” I answer. This usually throws them for a loop. I continue walking.  There’s no need to be rude, and 80% of the time, this is all it takes.

“I need to see your receipt!” Sometimes, they jump in front of me, sometimes it’s not until I’ve passed them that they realize I’m not falling into the expected groove.

“No you don’t, have a nice day” I respond pleasantly as I continue walking.  If they’ve put themselves in my way, however, it’s time to take steps to protect myself.  At this point, I may pull out my cell phone and dial a couple numbers, then hover my finger over Send. “With respect, you can’t stop me and check my receipt unless I give you permission, and I don’t.”

“Yes we can. Show me your receipt or I’ll call the police.” This is usually the point of maximum bluster. You can almost physically smell the adrenaline pouring into the bloodstream of the door guard at this point, so I don’t make any sudden movements. Calmly and confidently, I speak.

“According to the law, you can only stop me if you have cause to believe I’ve shoplifted. I haven’t, and I’m not going to show you my receipt for the purchases I made. If you don’t let me past, I’ll complete this call to 911 and report you to the police for false imprisonment. If you don’t believe me about the law, call the manager over right now.”

At this point, they usually back off, but on occasion, they play it to the hilt and call management or security. At one point at a Best Buy in Los Angeles (off Pico, over by the 405) I had two security guards holding me at the door while the door guy called a manager over. The receipt checker was confidently telling me how I was in a bunch of trouble and they could do whatever they wanted.

When the manager got there, the door checker stuck his chest out proudly and told her how he had gotten me and how I wouldn’t show my receipt, and scornfully relayed my obviously ridiculous assertion that they could not legally hold me if I didn’t want to show the receipt.

With infinite sadness in her eyes that the bluff had been called, she pulled him aside and told him I was right, and that he could NOT actually hold me. She apologized to me and I walked out.  The door checker was shocked silent.

I don’t blame the door guys, they’re in the classic situation of having all the responsibility without any of the authority. Management tells them to do something without letting them know what the law is so that they’ll be confident, and 99% of the sheep let them get away with it.  This is why I’m polite, if firm, when asserting myself.

Rights that you give away are meaningless. Rights exercised are rights kept. Don’t let fear of ‘being difficult’ keep you from doing it.

Life's too short to be nice