I have a fantasy. (Okay, I have several, but this one I can write about.) In my fantasy, whenever someone does something rude I change into a muscular man in a Superman-like outfit with a big M on my chest. In my fantasy, people will look up into the sky and say, "Look, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's Manners Man!"
I will be Manners Man. When a group of really tough-looking kids on the street blasts one of those monster portable radios, I go up to them and ask politely that they either turn it off or tune in a soft Bach piece--say the Goldberg Variations, preferably the Glenn Gould rendition.
The kids, of course, will give me a look of utter contempt, maybe offer some comments on my ancestry, and possibly attempt to engage me in fisticuffs. It is then that I dart into a phone booth and return as Manners Man. I swoop down on them, take the radio in my hands of steel, and reduce the thing to a lump of plastic. Then I tell the kids that never, under pain of being heaved into outer space, will they play the radio loudly again.
Back in civilian clothes and looking like the mild-mannered columnist that I am, I scour the city, searching for breaches of manners. I pay particular attention to restrooms, appearing as Manners Man whenever I catch somebody not flushing. I offer my usual speech about good manners and then go on my way, leaving everyone open-mouthed and, of course, wiser.
Next, I sit by the phone, waiting for a call. In due course, it comes and a voice says, "Is Chuck there?" Very politely I say, "I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number. There is no Chuck here." The caller merely hangs up. No sorry. No thank you. Just a click.
Whoosh! I become Manners Man. Through powers I will not bother to explain, I fly to the house of the caller. I find him, big, powerful, insolent, sitting by the phone. I come right through the window. "It is bad manners to get a wrong number and hang up without apologizing."
He looks at me in dismay. "You are rude," I say, and with that, I grab the phone, yank it from the wall and heave it in the general direction of Krypton.
Being Manners Man keeps me very busy. I have to straighten out cabdrivers who don't acknowledge they heard the destination given by passengers, leaving them to wonder if they got it right. I also have to do something when cabdrivers don't say thank you after being tipped.
I deal with people in supermarkets who leave their carts in the middle of the aisle and kids who cut into line in the movies.
In fact, Manners Man spends a lot of time in the movies. He has to straighten out people who talk too loudly, people who put their feet up on the seat, people who read subtitles out loud. Outside the movies, Manners Man contends with people who stop when getting off an escalator, not considering that others behind them are being shoveled into them.
He wrecks the cars of drivers who do not signal when turning and he deals ruthlessly with sales clerks everywhere who ignore a customer to take a telephone call. Manners Man throws them clear into the lingerie department.
A psychiatrist might think that Manners Man is just another name for my super-ego, that I am frustrated, thwarted and full of hostility. Manners Man, though, does not care what they think. Manners Man's only concern is to make the world nicer, for it to be less rude and cleaner and not as loud. To this end, like Captain Midnight (or was it someone else?), Manners Man asks no quarter and gives no quarter.
Soon, Manners Man becomes the scourge of motorcyclists. He hunts down those with the loudest machines and wraps their cycles around telephone poles. Manners Man demolishes garbage trucks that grind away early in the morning and it goes without saying that Manners Man does not, for a second, put up with Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner or, for that matter, Frank Sinatra. Manners Man washes out their mouths with soap.
Unlike Superman, Manners Man is not fazed by Kryptonite. The only thing that can stop him is good manners, and with John McEnroe setting an example for the world, Manners Man's future is assured.
Up, up and away.