In the 2007 movie, The Walker, Woody Harrelson plays a middleaged gay man who escorts lonely society women whose husbands are too busy — or too bored — to notice them. You could say he plays a courtly, loyal and kindly Truman Capote, if that isn’t too impossible to fathom.
“Why are you always so well-mannered?” one of his women friends finally snaps at him as he remains unfailingly polite and considerate to everyone in their faithless, cutthroat circle.
“Good manners were my mother’s answer to chaos,” he tells her (more or less). “And now, I find, they’re my answer, as well.”
This is what I’m thinking about in the mornings these days. Because some nitwit in Washington thinks Daylight Savings Time is a great idea, it’s now dark when our radio goes off and the measured voices of NPR commentators wake us. Typically, we listen and sleep, sleep and listen, for another hour, floating in and out of consciousness.
It used to be a gentle way to wake up, especially if you’re as grumpy in the mornings as I am. These days, though, the voices are still calm and low, but the news — from every corner of this planet — is overwhelmingly bad. Companies imploding. Newspapers closing. Former executives working as janitors. Massive layoffs and foreclosures. Mexico overrun by violence. When I wake up and listen to the news, I could swear they’re telling us, “It’s the end of the world” over and over and over in their mellow, sonorous tones. Who can sleep through that?
I consider myself to be a fool about economics (an accurate sentiment, believe me). But I can follow the markets and read the headlines and peer at our financial statements as well as anyone else. I have no idea whether Obama and his administration are making the right moves, since we’re in uncharted territory now. Nobody knows what’s going on, as far as I can tell.
I have lunch with a friend and ask whether anybody she knows has already been directly affected by the economy. She says no. But then she remembers a lawyer friend laid off in San Francisco. And a neighbor who’s a home-builder and can’t sell two of his recently constructed houses. And another neighbor who takes weekly, unpaid furloughs from his job.
So far, our region (Central Texas) has mostly been spared. But who knows how bad it’s going to get?
Eventually, it will be lighter in the mornings when the radio goes off. Eventually, maybe, the news will lighten, too.
We do everything we can do — work and pay off any debts — and we wake up slowly. That, and good manners, are our answer to chaos. If anybody has a better idea, I have yet to see it.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)