Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rude or Autistic?

This weekend I was awakened, not once but twice, by someone playing the piano in the park in front of my apartment building. The first time it happened, I emailed one of my neighbors who’s active in the community, she called 311 to file a noise complaint (I didn’t have time to call because I had to go to work, but I called them when I got back home), the cops showed up, asked the man to leave and he refused to leave.
The second time it happened, I called 311 again and went out to speak to the piano player personally. I spoke calmly, but I was so angry I was shaking. (This was after I had been woken up by a Falun Gong protest moments before. Yes, really.)  The conversation went something like this:
ME: Are you aware that you’re waking up the entire neighborhood with your piano playing?
PIANO PLAYER: Even with the traffic noise?
ME: When you’re playing piano, it’s like you’re playing piano in my bedroom. (What I should have said was, “It’s 10:30am. There is no traffic noise. But even if there was, it wouldn’t make a difference”.)
PIANO PLAYER: What would be a good time for me to start playing?
ME: There is no good time. There’s three bars side by side on the next block and I have to listen to drunks all night and then I get woken up by you at 10:30 in the morning. It’s not cool.
PIANO PLAYER: But I’m not breaking any laws.
ME: You’re disturbing the peace. The park is here so people can enjoy peace and quiet. I understand that the police were here yesterday and asked you to leave and you refused.
PIANO PLAYER: They just asked me to play softer.
ME: You shouldn’t be here, period. I don’t want you here at all.
At that point I left to have breakfast in another neighborhood because I literally could not stand to remain in my apartment while he was playing piano. When I returned from breakfast about two hours later, the piano player was gone. My neighbor emailed me that the police had shown up again, asked him to leave again, and this time he left.
But a few hours later, I happened to see him playing piano in another park. Apparently everything I had said to him earlier went in one ear and out the other.
This goes beyond mere rudeness. This verges on autism. I don’t mean to belittle the very real medical condition of autism, but it does seem that more and more people are unable to sympathize with others.
I’ve been witnessing this kind of behavior a lot lately, whether it’s the guy who gave me the finger a few hours later when, in response to his honking his horn, I asked him where the emergency was (because you’re only supposed to honk your horn if there’s an emergency. I know!  Silly me!); or the audience at the comedy show I performed at a week earlier that sat there mute and with their arms folded for the entire show. (So what are you doing at a comedy show?)
And no wonder.
We now have an entire generation of people who grew up in the age of the Internet and the cell phone. They increasingly don’t even have contact with other live human beings and so they don’t know how to behave when they do.
I happened to watch a rather shocking movie on TV the other night called “Detachment,” which illustrated an extreme example of this kind of behavior. The movie deals with a teacher played by Adrien Brody and his students, who are so detached from their own feelings that they routinely curse at and make sexual comments about their teachers and fellow classmates (a level of disrespect I would never have dreamed of when I was in school but that I know from friends who are teachers actually does exist today).
One of the students in this film is even shown bludgeoning a cat with a hammer because he’s incapable of feeling any emotions. (OK, I know it’s a work of fiction, but still.)
Sometimes I feel like there’s been a complete breakdown of the rule of law (at least in my neighborhood) and my opinion of people is pretty low to begin with. I think that people are basically uncivilized animals and that the only thing that prevents them from killing each other is the law.
So one day it’s someone playing piano in the park and the next day it’s what? What’s to prevent people from doing whatever they feel like just because they want to?
I really do believe that such “quality of life” violations do ultimately create an atmosphere where anything goes. And then who’s to blame?
We are.

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