Denis Leary

When Arseholes Should Be Visible, But Inaudible

IT’S BEEN decades since anyone told me I should be seen and not heard, but today — as a 44-year-old — I was told exactly that; an unprovoked encounter with an ancient mental midget raises unpleasant questions. Why are some people incapable of minding their own business? Do do-gooder types, with their selective standards, wreak more havoc and hostility than they’re worth? And are some people, not to put too fine a point on it, just arseholes?

When all is said and done, I think it’s fair to say that most people you meet are pretty good; going about their business, basic courtesies are a given with the overwhelming majority of those who cross one’s path, and most of them don’t want to hurt anyone, much less interfere.

But exceptions can be found to any rule, and whilst I have had a really good laugh today (and had to fight to keep a straight face during a fairly ugly exchange, which I will recount in a moment), there are times an unpleasant but unavoidable reality must be confronted.

Some people, to put it most indelicately, are just arseholes.

Today’s article involves one of those delightful suburban tales that are like a train smash — you just have to look — and as small-time and even juvenile as what I was confronted with on my rounds this morning really is, the reality is that setting aside the vast majority of good people who don’t want to impose on anybody, there remains a little cohort of scum that simply can’t help itself, and I encountered one of its ilk today.

First things first: at precisely 10.00am this morning, a malignant reptile masquerading as a harmless old buffer — all of 80 if he was a day old, to be sure — signalled opening time at Australia Post in the Prahran Central shopping plaza in Melbourne by attempting to dictate to waiting customers the order in which they would be permitted to enter the shop.

Never one to pay the slightest heed to such jumped-up, officious bullshit, I manoeuvred my way past to look at a merchandise display I wanted to purchase something from.

“All these people are ahead of you. Get to the back of the line,” he roared. Everyone inside and outside the shop stopped and turned to watch.

I’m afraid I told him to go to hell and to piss off, noting that merely walking into a shop did not constitute queue jumping — something I detest — but this moribund old albatross was having none of it. “I know what you are doing,” he continued, as if this pronouncement somehow carried judicial weight. “Get to the back of the line and wait.”

Repeating the navigational advice I gave him after his initial outburst, I left the shop altogether, and instead bought the things I wanted from the newsagent across the corridor…

…only to find — unbelievably — the silly old dickhead outside the newsagent waiting to continue his tirade. I glanced him up and down. “Walking into a shop is not queue jumping, you dumb prick,” I began, before he cut me off. “Young arseholes like you should be seen and not heard,” he told me, and shuffled off into a nearby shop.

Turning 45 this coming August, I’m still not sure whether I should take that as an insult or a compliment. My paternal grandmother used to tell me things like that before I could walk properly. In the mid-1970s. Nobody has said such a thing to me in a very, very long time.

At this point, those reading who know me will probably be laughing; I don’t go out looking for trouble — but if provoked, some bad language and a character assessment rank among the likeliest reactions. I gave him both barrels. All of it should be unprintable (there are selected exceptions being made today, however) and the barrage had its desired effect: the crusty, cadaverous old coot retreated into a nearby shop.

Anyhow…I made as if to head in the direction of the Prahran Market, just up the road. Yet before I could get out of Prahran Central, a voice wafted from the shop in which he had hidden. “Seen and not heard, you pompous young arsehole!” it barked, as if issuing a parting shot.

Go and fuck yourself, you silly old dickhead,” I yelled back at him, and left.

And, in the spirit of getting in the last word, I defer at this point to the immortal genius of Sydney comedian Kat McSnatch. Honestly, I couldn’t put it better if I tried.

The ironic thing about the story I have just shared is that queue jumping ranks near the top of my pet hates in life; I am perfectly happy to wait to be served when it comes to shops or restaurants and the like — provided there is no queue jumping, of course — and only get annoyed waiting if a venue is indisputably understaffed when there are lots of customers, for example, or if someone serving is taking personal calls instead of doing their job, or something similar.

But I’m not a hypocrite.

There are, unfortunately, people around who have little lives and nothing better to do with their time but cause trouble.

I’m sure we have all seen it; most of us just get on with things, and leave others to get on with it too. But there are just enough people who have to draw attention to themselves — out of some excessive sense of self-importance, perhaps — to put others who are hurting nobody in their place.

Just because they think they can; just because they think — wrongly — that they are entitled to do so.

Whatever happened to minding your own business?

It is true that people can be inconsiderate; we are all only human, after all. People will walk in front of you and elbow you aside without a care; people in cars (and this is a bugbear of mine, too) commit any manner of inconsiderate acts that if they paid attention (or cared) they most likely would think twice about.

But even those scenarios are a bit different to telling people the order in which they are allowed to enter a shop: how unbelievably ridiculous! And small point as it is to note, this geriatric imbecile wasn’t even an Australia Post staff member — not that that would have justified his behaviour either.

I sometimes wonder about people who carry on like this fellow did; you never really know how people will respond. I’m completely harmless unless provoked, and even then, a bit of belligerent bad language is only ever exceeded if some unprovoked and unsolicited onslaught is actually worthy of pursuit. Legal pursuit. There’s nothing remotely violent involved.

But “do-gooders” like the old bloke at Prahran this morning are just as likely to end up in hospital (or even dead) and splashed all over the newspapers if they pick the wrong mark; I have never hit anyone in my life, but it’s a sign of the times that if they do pick the wrong mark, they stand an excellent chance in today’s society of having the living shit kicked out of them. If they’re lucky.

That’s even worse than what they did to provoke the attack in the first place.

And with the scourge of methamphetamine addiction descending on major cities across the world — and yes, it’s a problem in Melbourne, especially in the Chapel Street nightclub precinct near the Prahran Market — there’s no telling what someone might do, in a drug-addled stupor, if this bloke had picked on them rather than someone whose worst vice is a cigarette.

But let’s not mince words: people like the fellow I encountered this morning are not “do-gooders,” and nor are they exhibiting courtesy or consideration. They are nosy, interfering troublemakers whose interests would be better served by minding their own business.

If we are talking about character assessments — and pointing the finger at who is at fault when it comes to causing trouble — there is a classic sequence from one of the Dirty Harry movies that sums it up beautifully.

Is the coarseness of the response — be it from Harry Callahan, or in my own words today, or in whatever other circumstances readers might think of — over the top? Some will say so.

But once again, had their been no attempt to interfere with and manipulate people the decaying fool didn’t know and had no business bossing around, there would have been no response whatsoever, but as is the way of such things I suspect he didn’t and doesn’t see it that way. After all, I’m a young arsehole who should be seen and not heard. It’s the kind of “reasoning” that is impossible to argue with on account of the utter stupidity that underpins it.

The thing I find so bemusing about people like the bozo I met this morning is how anyone can be so cretinous as to think something as inane as telling people in which order they may enter someone else’s business to spend money, no less could ever be reasonably regarded as appropriate.

And let’s not even start down the track of another jaundiced, abused concept — “respect for your elders” — when respect is earned, not an entitlement, and the fundamental disrespect in this case had nothing to do with age at all, but an unsolicited and unjustified intrusion into someone else’s business.

Still, the old coot at Prahran should be thankful that not only did I refuse to accept his silly directives, but that I also refused to action his rebuke.

After all (given he clearly regarded me as “an arsehole” for defying him) the idea that arseholes should be seen and not heard is not only as offensive as the episode this ugly old reptile needlessly triggered, but taken literally, would end up getting someone arrested for their trouble.

I leave it to the imaginations of readers what inherently might be amiss with the concept of arseholes that are visible but inaudible. It’s unappealing, whichever way you visualise it.

But given the best response to people like this is to laugh and poke fun at them, the last word — which the horrible old busybody tried to deliver after running away and bellowing from the “safety” of yet another shopkeeper’s business — really belongs to someone who is a bit of a specialist on the subject.

I just hope readers see the funny side, and get a bit of a giggle out of the fact anyone could be as stupid as the guy I ran across this morning.

If there’s a bit of bad language flying around in the process, where’s the harm? If I really was an arsehole, I might have flattened him.

And if anyone else in my shoes had done exactly that, the law might not have even offered him recourse, for trying to continue an argument after the initial response was to walk away (as mine was) might be framed in Court as a provocation, that was responded to with an act of self-defence. Just as he didn’t know I was all talk and bad language and noise, someone else in my shoes might have thought themselves at risk of being assaulted, and decided in the heat of the moment to strike first.

Which in a nutshell merely underlines the point: mind your own business, for interfering with others and trying to cause trouble could well get you more than you bargain for.