The Danger of Being Polite

Damon Runyon

DEAR SIR the other night my wife Ethel and I went to the movies and the only seats we could find were in the middle of a row so we had to push past a lot of other people to get to them and when we got back home Ethel ses Joe I want to tell you something.

I ses tell away baby. She ses well when we have to push past other people in the movies to get to our seats I wish you would not keep saying to them excuse me excuse me. I ses why Ethel. I only say that to apologize to them for disturbing them. I ses you take tonight for instance. I ses we got in right in the middle of that picture and those people were busy watching it so I ses excuse me to show them I was sorry we had to bother them.

Ethel ses yes but you ses excuse me excuse me a million times. What was the use of wasting so many excuse mes on them? I ses Ethel you know very well it was not a million times. I ses it was only four or five at the most and I was only being polite and Ethel ses Joe nobody appreciates politeness when you push past them in the movies like that. They just think you must be a country jake for saying excuse me.

I ses here Ethel that is the wrong attitude to take. I ses everybody appreciates politeness and she ses not in the movies Joe when you have to push past them to get to your seats. They just get mad at you no matter how many excuse mes you tell them. Why don’t you watch the way I do it and act the same way and then they will know you are not a country jake.

I ses how do you do it? She ses I do it the way everybody else does it. I just climb right over them and I do not say excuse me excuse me excuse me a million times. I ses look Ethel. I ses there is such a thing as being nice in this world and it is not nice to climb over people without saying something to show them you are sorry. Ethel ses why Joe they climb over me in the movies when we are sitting where they have to do it to get to their seats and nobody ever ses they are sorry for me.

I ses now wait a minute Ethel. I ses I have just thought of something. I ses I have often noticed that any time we have to push past people to get to our seats a lot of them keep looking at us even after we sit down. I ses tonight two or three of those people we had to push past kept looking at us every once in awhile long after we sat down. Ethel ses do you mean those two fat ladies in the seats on the aisle or the skinny one with the funny hat?

I ses I do not remember what they looked like but I noticed several of those people turning their heads every once in awhile to look at us long after we sat down. I ses Ethel now you tell me the truth. I ses did you do something to those people or not? Ethel ses why no Joe I did not do anything to them. I just climbed over them. I ses yes but did anything happen to them when you were climbing? She ses well only by accident.

I ses what do you mean by accident? Ethel ses O those fat ladies got their toes stepped on and the skinny one got her funny hat knocked off but she looked much better without it Joe. The way you knock a hat off Joe is to turn all of a sudden when you are climbing over somebody and let your arm fly out by accident. Did those people look mad when they were looking at us after we sat down Joe?

I ses yes they did and I was wondering why. I ses there were some fellows in the row ahead of us looking back at us after we sat down and they looked mad too. I ses don’t tell me they had some kind of accidents Ethel? She ses O it was just their hair. I ses what do you mean their hair? Ethel ses why you know how some fellows drop their heads back on their seats while they are looking at the picture. If somebody who is climbing over people in the row behind them has a pocket book in her hands she can scrape it across their heads and muss up their hair by accident. It makes them awfully mad Joe but they have no right to have their heads dropped back on the seats because some of their hair is full of greasy old oil.

I ses Ethel I am ashamed of you. I ses I thought you were always a lady and she ses well I am Joe except in the movies when nobody else is a lady. Those fat ladies were not ladies Joe. They would not pull in their fat old legs an inch to let me past and that skinny one with the funny hat gave me the meanest look you ever saw in your life and she would not pull in her skinny old legs either. She acted like we had no right coming in there and I was not sorry when she got her hat knocked off by accident.

I ses Ethel now that I know what has been coming off I am never going to take you to the movies again. I ses its a wonder we have not got in a lot of trouble over you acting that way and Ethel ses Joe the only time we almost got in trouble was the time you stood up and turned up your seat to let some people get past us and you shut off the view of the people behind you so they missed some of the picture while you were standing and a fellow hollered sit down bum. Do you remember that Joe?

I ses yes and if I could have found out who that fellow was I would have fixed him and she ses yes but is that any reason for you to keep standing there trying to pick him out until other fellows were hollering sit down bum too? I was terribly mortified that night Joe. I ses Ethel I think I will go to bed and she ses all right Joe.

Yours truly