The man in the suit was middle-aged, unremarkable.
I was walking toward the entrance of an office building.
~ ~ ~
I was raised to be well-mannered, say, please, thank you, Sir, Ma’am, at the appropriate times. It’s important to know this up front, as important as it is to know that I could also snap sweetly if the situation called for it, always with a smile.
My mother was an expert at this. As one who had an unwavering sense of herself as Somebody (and, Lord knows, she had reason to feel that way given all the challenges she’d faced and overcome), she did not tolerate disrespect from anyone, and could slice offenders to ribbons with the utterance of one word: Dear. Always with a smile on her face. Always with a stony glare.
She wasn’t the only woman of her generation who had this skill. I watched others — relatives, friends’ mothers, teachers, and more — wield the same epithet with as much precision as my mother, always with the same smile and fearsome eye.
~ ~ ~
I didn’t see the man until I reached the building’s front door. Then, suddenly, he was there, inches from me.
Because of the way I was brought up, I moved aside and opened the door for him.
I didn’t expect him to pause, except, perhaps, to say, “Thank you,” but he did. “What are you?” He sneered. “One of those feminists?”
“Just being polite, Sir.” I smiled. “Would you rather I let the door slam in your face?”
He reddened and stormed into the building alone, while I waited outside until an elevator carried him away.
~ ~ ~
I’m not in favor of ad hominem attacks or cheap shots, and will not use them, as my mother refrained from using them. She found such attacks disgusting and beneath her dignity, and, as far as I’m concerned, she was right: they accomplish nothing, prove nothing but the witlessness of the attacker. However, she would have agreed, when the commonest of courtesies are perceived as a type of political statement deserving of vocal ridicule, there is cause for a pointed retort.
Always with a smile, of course.
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