Manners #2: a Restaurateur’s Rant
What do you do in your living room? I expect that you might, as many people do: eat, watch TV, read, listen to music, play with a child, doze, rub a dog’s belly, entertain friends, decorate a Christmas tree, open birthday presents, and so on. You might, as many people also do: belch, fart, pick your nose, make out with someone, fight with someone, file your fingernails, floss your teeth, pick at a scab or scratch your junk. And that’s okay too, because it is YOUR living room. You bought the furniture, you pay the rent, and you can reasonably expect a degree of privacy in your own home, particularly if when you bought the furniture for your living room you also bought some curtains for the windows.
My husband and I came home from the restaurant late one February evening. It was so cold that even after the fifteen minute drive, and notwithstanding jacked up car seat heaters and blasted hot air from the vents, I could still see my breath in the car. Everything was so quiet and white and frosty that the air felt electric and sharp-edged. Even the streetlamp in front of our house didn’t hum warmly as it does on humid summer nights, but glared hard and fierce. I backed the car into the driveway, hating that bone-scrunching, squealing sound that the tires made on the hard-packed ruts of snow in the road. I was warmed only by the thought of an impending stiff bourbon and a hot bath.
I turned off the ignition and gathered my bag, looking out the dashboard window of the car to the house opposite mine. Through their large picture window I could see my neighbours’ enormous TV screen flickering, and their living room pulsating blue and white. “Look”, I said to my husband, “it’s like being at a drive-in movie!” We sat for a moment before we realized what our neighbour was watching. “Is that…porn?” I asked. “Looks like.” he replied. We sat a few moments longer, watching stupefied and getting colder, before finally bundling into our house. Inside, we stood at our own living room picture window, looking across the street and into our neighbours’ house.
One of my law school courses was taught by Catherine MacKinnon, a famously anti-porn feminist lawyer. Perhaps as a result of MacKinnon’s influence, perhaps based on my own simple opinion that movies should have at least a modicum of artistic merit, I’ve never been a porn fan. But, hey, knock yourself out, if that’s your thing. Just as I am about to turn away, our neighbour, obviously bored or anxious to get to the ‘good part’, pressed fast forward on his TV remote. I don’t care for porn at 24 frames per second, but speeded up porn is kind of gross. It’s also a lot funny. So we laughed, and then I got my book and headed upstairs to my bubble tub.
Sadly, my neighbour didn’t just fancy watching porn late at night on wintry cold evenings when you might safely expect that most people would be huddled indoors. Sometimes, he needed to scratch that itch on a Tuesday afternoon in the summer or on a springtime Sunday around dinner-time. And his TV was so large and, apparently, so close to the window, that the screen was easily seen from my dining room table and my teenage son’s bedroom window. At my house, we took to calling him ‘porno guy’. We speculated about whether his wife knew what he was up to, decided that she didn’t, and so took to calling her ‘porno guy’s poor wife’. I knew these people. We had planned yard sales together, and chatted now and then about the snow or the heat, as neighbours do. Sometimes their mail was accidentally delivered to my house and I would knock on their door and deliver it myself. But even though I knew their names they became, and stayed, ‘porno guy’ and ‘porno guy’s poor wife’. Even after the house was sold and new neighbours moved in, we still call it ‘porno guy’s house’. “So”, I say to my husband, “the house at number 259 on our street is for sale.” “Which one is that?” he asks. “The big grey one, you know”, I reply, “three doors down on the right from porno guy’s house.”
What do you say to a neighbour like that? How can you still keep talking amiably about the weather? I am too embarrassed to say anything to him or his wife. And she might open an anonymous note in the mailbox. One afternoon, I was talking to another neighbour who lived next door to porno guy. “So, um, have you even noticed what your neighbour watches on TV?” I ask. “Oh my god, yes!” she replies, “every night, just before we go to bed, my husband says ‘I’m just going to take the dog for a walk’ but we don’t even have a dog!” But others in the neighbourhood do and, in front of porno guy’s house, there’s occasionally a gaggle of late-night dog walkers pretending to pick up particularly problematic dog poops or snickering teenagers casually stopping to tie a shoe over and over again.
The other evening at the restaurant, a customer was lolling on his chair, pushing it so far back on its two rear legs that I feared the chair would snap or slip, and that he would crack his head open in the middle of the dining room. I was also not thrilled about the possibility he might have broken one of my irreplaceable, custom-made, $600 chairs. I said, “sir, would you mind not doing that” when I was thinking “it’s not a fucking La-Z-Boy you moron!” My dining room is not your living room. No, you can’t take your shoes off. No, you can’t put your feet up on the table. You cannot pay me enough money to compensate me for having to scrape your chewing gum or boogers from the underside of my tables, or to tolerate your public butt scratching, teeth flossing or fingernail clipping.
A restaurant dining room is a public place, not your living room. Before you pick your nose, fondle your girlfriend or tell a rude, sexist or racist joke, ask yourself whether the behaviour or activity you are contemplating is something you would normally shut the door or the drapes to engage in. Ask yourself whether you want your neighbours, children, grandchildren or parents to see what you are up to, and whether you are comfortable having me write about it.