Rude children of “the underparented,” cellphone screamers, obnoxious drivers and telemarketers, look out! Amy Alkon, a.k.a. the Advice Goddess, is on the warpath, photographing, blogging and now publishing a book she hopes will stop the growing epidemic of some people’s ignorant rudeness.
Alkon is the sharp-tongued syndicated L.A. advice columnist whose online ranting about her stolen car once attracted the attention of Marlon Brando. Alkon managed to find out the car thief’s name and phone number and posted it on her blog.When Brando heard about it in a chat room, he was amused, and emailed her, offering to help. “Tell me what his name is and other ancillary info. And I’ll call him myself.”
In Alkon’s new book, I See Rude People: One Woman’s Battle to Beat Some Manners into Impolite Society, she tells the Brando story. “Marlon hopped on ‘the blower’ and rang Fred [the car thief]—at 3 a.m., when else? I can’t say exactly what he said to Fred, but I know he took his time and said it Godfather-style, and that it started with something like, ‘She’s a nice girl. Why did you take her car?’ ”
“For most of my life,” Alkon writes, “I didn’t pay much attention to rudeness. And then one day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Overnight, I was like that ‘I see dead people kid,’ except it was: I see rude people. They were everywhere.”
Shame is Alkon’s tool of choice for teaching rude people a thing or two. In the book, she tells of sitting next to a loud woman on a cellphone at a café. “I stood up, pulled out a pen and paper, stared straight at the woman on the phone and began taking notes. And I took notes, and I took notes, yet she never looked my way. But as I took notes, she began to look like a blog item, which is what she became.”
“Anna Sturgess is getting glasses!” was the headline on Alkon’s next blog entry. “And she’s picking them up Saturday after 4 p.m.! I know this because she was bellowing it into a cellphone. And then most helpfully, she bellowed her phone number.” Alkon published the woman’s real name and phone number. “After the blog went up the woman got calls from around the world,” writes Alkon. People emailed, “Anna, are your glasses ready?”
Alkon also shamed the driver of a Range Rover who first tailgated her, then aggressively passed her and sailed through a red light. She snapped a photo of the guy’s licence plate, and posted it on the Web. “I call this blogslapping,” she explains. “It’s a recent phenomenon, the power of the Average Joe to expose wrongdoing and effect change with relatively inexpensive and widely available consumer electronics.”
In a chapter called “The Underparented Child,” she writes, “This isn’t about bad children, it’s about bad parents.” The parental “no,” in her opinion, “has officially joined the ranks of chronically missing items like the Holy Grail, Atlantis and Britney Spears’s underpants.”
Whenever she shushes a stranger’s rambunctious child, Alkon writes, the outraged parent responds, “ ‘Are YOOOOU a parent?’—as if only those who have spawned are qualified to have or express an opinion on the public behaviour of somebody’s wildlings.” She calls it a trick question, “meant to deflect attention from the shriekingly obvious: someone’s flagrant failure to actually parent.”
Once, on a long flight, a boy about nine years old, playing a Game Boy, kept hollering out his own name—“Yah, Hunter!”—every time he scored, writes Alkon. She looked but couldn’t see his mother. “I put my fingers to my lips and made a ‘shhhh’ sound.” When the mom came back, the boy squealed on Alkon. “What did you say to my son?!,” the mom asked.
“Almost speechless, I stammered, ‘Well, your child was shouting, and it’s disturbing, because we’re in rather close quarters.’ ” The mother “turned to her Precious, and caressing his cheek, cooed, ‘Don’t listen to her, Hunter, don’t listen to her.’ ”
But it works both ways. To adults, she says, “Let’s say you’re the rude one—screaming with laughter with a couple of friends in an otherwise serene restaurant. Say somebody at the next table asks you to pipe down. Your first impulse is probably to tell them where they can put that pipe. Recognize that impulse and plan ahead,” she advises. “Plan to sit back for a moment and ask yourself whether maybe, possibly, they might have a point.”