(Note: this is Part 2. For Part 1 - see here.)
We sat in the jet stream - a literal wind tunnel as cold wintry air blasted in from the curtained entry only a few feet from our table. Customers entering the restaurant would push the curtain aside, invariably leaving it open. Occasionally, a staff member, if in our neighborhood, would draw it closed, only to be opened seconds or minutes later by new arrivals.
I had been observing this situation for quite some time and a very large number of people had entered. NO ONE, not one, had considered pulling this curtain closed. Even those who were waiting to be seated and stood for some time just inches away from us. Of course it was not the responsibility of customers to tend to the failed windscreen, so I cannot really accuse these passersby of any rudeness, only a surprising lack of consideration on the part of all who entered in not pulling the curtain back behind them. However, this is a restaurant, it was incredibly busy and chaotic, and hunger called out for those arriving, not Emily Post, Ann Landers or Randy Cohen*.
I passed the time with a friend, an NYU student, writing on our chalk table while she told me of her high school classmates' use of the word Guam to describe the remote, as I told her of the term Siberia which I had seen used in a New York Magazine article to refer to poorly located restaurant tables (see Timbuktu, Guam and Siberia here). Surprisingly, she had never heard of Timbuktu used in this manner, perhaps more common at the time I grew up. Every generation has its own potpourri of slang, influenced by societal and cultural elements of the time. Words and phrases like Queen of Sheba, shindig, floozy and skinny balink are not popular in today's lexicon. The rise of the Internet, gaming, electronic media and personal computers has given rise to a new world of language and idioms, both written and spoken - acronyms, initialisms, leetspeak, and others.
A group of three entered the restaurant, where a blond haired gentlemen of the group immediately turned and closed the curtain - so quickly as to appear to be an automatic reflex action. This, I thought, is a man cut from a different cloth. An interloper. A stranger in a strange land, or at least a man with roots other than New York City. As he was heading to a table to be seated, I asked, "are you from the Midwest?" To which he replied, "Yes I am."
I was elated, not so much at his considerate act, but in feeling and looking brilliant at my accurate identification of this mild-mannered man of manners. I went to his table, introduced myself, and learned that his name was Jerry. He was as unimpressed with my feat as he was with his standout behavior - perhaps not surprising from a man who was likely brought up to see this as expected behavior, not an act so unusual as to beg a story to be written.
The evening had been tantamount to a crude, informal study on human behavior. And although the results were rather dismal for mankind as a whole, in the final act or our small drama, Jerry illuminated the darkness of the room with his Random Act of Consideration :)
*Randy Cohen writes an informative and provocative column, The Ethicist, for the New York Times.