Thursday, September 16, 2010

Crime of the Century (Criminal Politesse Division)

NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- A man walked into a branch of the Wachovia bank here Tuesday and handed a teller a note saying he was there to rob the place. He asked for $30,000. When told, however, that the teller hadn't the money in her cash drawer he left, but not without first telling the teller "thank you."
   This man is one of the last of a dying breed: mannerly Americans. A Sept. 13 Associated Press story neglects to say whether the man, Melvin Jesse Blain, thirty-one, has ever attended etiquette classes. Plainly, however, he was an infant so nice his folks named him thrice, and from there they sure done raised him right.
   Under influences as disparate as politically-oriented shouting-heads talk shows, video games, reality TV, Tea Party rallies and the dispiriting artistic decay of Lindsay Lohan, Americans more and more appear to believe that good manners are a thing of the past and therefore are to be eschewed. That a man who allegedly planned to rob a bank showed better manners than do most drivers on American roads sounds a clarion call to his countryfellows: it's time to shape up... please.
   Mr. Bain didn't get far after leaving the bank: police officers discovered him walking near it. This suggests, although the AP does not confirm it, that Mr. Bain's mannerliness derives from a leisurely approach to life. How many would-be bank robbers take casual strolls near the banks they almost rob?
   The eminently polite Mr. Bain told police he had only recently been released from prison after spending almost four years there on a bank robbery charge. He added, according to the AP story, that he "didn't want to go back."
   Well, of course not. Politesse only gets you so far; one imagines that in prison that's not very far at all.
  Perhaps the judge in Mr. Bain's imminent case will recognize in him a thoughtful soul and will sentence him to perform community service in the guise of offering etiquette classes to the public. No doubt were the judge to hand down such a sentence he would receive from Mr. Bain a heartfelt "thank you," likely more than he receives from the bulk of the vulgarians appearing before him.
   As it happens, issues of fading politesse, though distressingly acute in America, can be international in scope. We now join the case, in Lisbon, Portugal, of an aide to the mayor of a suburb called Oeiras. The aide, insulted that a young police officer addressed him employing the informal form of "you" without adding the honorific "sir," bit one of the officer's colleagues on the arm, necessitating for that officer a hospital trip.
   A Sept. 13 Reuters story, forwarded to us by a regular reader who is a legal eagle and therefore has an eye for these sorts of things, reports that Esequiel Lino (no age given) had gone to the police station angry about officers having recently towed his daughter's car.
   Reuters quotes a police spokeswoman as saying that Mr. Lino "started verbally abusing the officers, kicking the desk and was warned several times, but it didn't stop him."
   Now, no one likes having one's offspring's car towed. Yet even from a standpoint of enlightened self-interest, Mr. Lino shot himself in the foot (bit himself in the arm?) by baiting police officers in their own "house."
   In the end, the incident demonstrates that rudeness always comes a-cropper.
   It is not without irony that, as Reuters flatly reports, "Lino's responsibilities in the mayor's administration include [maintaining] links with the police." These links, it is safe to assume, do not include gnawing on officers' arms, a notion which the kindly Melvin Jesse Bain, in his community service etiquette classes, would no doubt stress.

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