Some people just can’t help but mind other people’s business. We travel with our two young children frequently and most of the people we encounter love interacting with them. But every once in a while, you meet people who simply don’t like children or just can’t help but meddle.
Last week, I was walking with Leo, my four-year-old son, in Lenox, Massachusetts, a lovely, but very uppity little resort town in the Berkshires that’s a popular vacation and second-home spot for wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians, when he spotted a replica cannon in a park.
“Can I climb on that?” he asked.
I looked at the thing and it seemed indestructible, so I gave him the green light. So he climbed up on the cannon, which was on top of a squarish memorial platform and I stood a few feet away leaning on a lamppost. A woman who appeared to be in her late 30’s or early 40’s came by with a little Yorkshire terrier, who promptly lifted his leg and pissed all over the side of the stone platform the cannon rested on.
The yappy little dog left a big piss stain decorating the side of the thing, and I half-considered telling the woman how rude she was for letting her dog piss on it before deciding to mind my own business. But as she walked by me, she looked at me, pointed at Leo, scrunched up her unkind face and said, “You know he’s not supposed to be playing on that. There’s a sign saying so over there.”
I couldn’t see a sign from my vantage point, but I looked at her in total disbelief. Her dog had just pissed all over the thing and she was concerned that my son was playing on top of it? What damage could he cause, and why did she care?
I imagine some if not most people would have just shrugged and ignored her, but I wasn’t going to let it slide.
“Excuse me,” I said. “But your dog just pisses all over the thing, and you’re worried about him playing on the cannon? Look at the stain he left!”
She looked over at the stain and conceded, “O.K., you have a point, but kids aren’t supposed to be playing on that cannon,” she said.
“Why do you care?” I asked. “Seriously lady, you have some nerve scolding us! Mind your own business.”
“You’re not even from here, are you?” she asked.
“We are from here actually,” I lied. “But what does it matter? You go around letting your dog piss wherever he wants and then think you have the right to lecture other people.”
“ I can tell you’re not even from here,” she countered.
“Listen, hunny,” I said. “Learn how to mind your own business.”
“Me thinks thou doth protest too much,” she said. “I was just telling you what the sign says, I don’t see why you’re so riled up.”
We traded a few more insults and she used the same Shakespeare quote thrice. As she bounded off with her miserable little dog, no doubt to a multimillion dollar home, Leo, who had remained silent during the dispute, finally spoke up.
“She was a jackass,” he said.
I was extremely proud of him but still couldn’t wait to get back to our hotel to recount the episode to my wife. But she wasn’t there and couldn’t conjure the degree of outrage I was hoping for.
Several days later, I was driving on a busy street in Cambridge and I saw a young woman nearly flatten an elderly couple who were standing in the middle of a crosswalk trying to get across a busy street. This is one of my pet peeves, so when I pulled up next to her at the next light and noticed her window was down, I figured I’d set her straight.
“You almost ran those old people over at that last crosswalk,” I said, giving her a dirty look.
“I know,” she said. “I actually felt horrible about it- I didn’t see them until it was too late. Thanks for reminding me though, you’re totally right.”
She was so kind about it that suddenly I felt bad for scolding her. Why hadn’t I assumed it was an honest mistake? Maybe I should have been minding my own business, just like the woman in Lenox should have been minding hers, right? Learning when to speak up and when to mind one’s own beeswax is indeed a delicate balance.