You’re on a business trip. Your plane lands in Dallas. While you stand hunched beneath the overhead compartment, waiting for your fellow excursionists to putter down the aisle, you’re forced to eavesdrop on a guy who has flipped open his Razr. His “Candy Shop” ringtone began bleating two seconds after the tires of the plane scuffed the tarmac, and now he is describing with graphic, snorting zeal the woman he “banged” in Boston last night. He is loud, he is oblivious, and he is dressed with all the élan of an extra on Entourage. That evening, upon checking in to your hotel room, you discover that the dudes in the next suite are throwing a Super Bowl party. You have a breakfast meeting the next morning, and as you search the minibar in vain for a decent bottle of beer, you get the following ping from your colleague on your handheld: “yo dud wassup? OMFG yr n Tex! did U heare bout the Hailey Jol Ozmant sex tape?”
Look, you don’t want to be a crank. You are determined, even as what’s left of your youth begins to evaporate, not to slide into a permanent state of aggrieved, appalled, angst-ridden Andy Rooneyism. And yet somewhere over the course of a normal working day, a man might be forgiven for brooding like a graying viscount who’s just watched a Sigma Chi pledge chug the contents of a finger bowl.
Years ago, a man who had matured beyond a certain age automatically knew how to do things. He knew how to behave on a plane, in a hotel, in a box at La Scala. He knew how to mix a perfect Rob Roy, how to shine his brogues, how to woo a woman with no other weapon than his own wit, how to dress for a power breakfast with his boss; he knew, furthermore, how to spell, how to keep his pants from sagging, how to shut the fuck up in a public space, and how to recover from a career setback without feeling compelled to videotape his swollen member.
Maybe we should start learning those things again. Maybe, if we all try just a little bit harder, the modern American man can be more than the chucklehead we see on countless sitcoms and commercials, crop-dusted with Doritos crumbs and stupefied in front of the flat-screen. Have the last remnants of civilized society crumbled like the Colosseum? Have MTV, Kevin Federline, Casual Fridays, permissive Boomer parenting, and the consumer-electronics industry obliterated all the old standards of cultivation and courtesy? If so, maybe it’s time to bring on the backlash.
Yes, America in these infant years of the 21st century may be awash in money, but it’s also awash in the most loutish, thuggish, clownish, and pantyless hordes since the fall of Rome. The traditional connection between wealth and what used to be known as savoir faire has vanished. Which is why a corrective is in order: a return not to upper-crust priggishness but to a state of personal refinement. It’s time to acknowledge the simple pleasure and power of knowing things. It’s time to admit that a reasonable man should, at a reasonable point in his life, undergo a psychic shift, after which he no longer yearns merely to flip society the bird. It’s time for the dudes of America to grow up and start acting like gentlemen.