A lovely hostel. 8 dinar/night. Secure, and centrally located. Checkout is at noon but sometimes the owner will barge into your room at 9am, take your mattress, put a new crappier one in its place, and assure you that you can go back to sleep.” This is the review that Donna Wheeler failed to write for my hostel in Nabeul.

And let me give you a piece of advice for dealing with me: if you want to stay on my good side, do not wake me up with a loud knock on the door, shove your way into my room with two other people, assure me that ‘this will only take 30 seconds,” take my mattress, explain it’s necessary because there’s a truck outside, and then appear very confused as to why I’m pissed. (“But the truck is outside!”) It will not help your case if you are an idiot that talks too slow and fails to pronounce your words in any meaningful way.

Upon relating this story in the office of a friend of mine while she was supposed to be working for the Embassy of a country that will remain unnamed, I pointed out that taking one’s mattress while they are sleeping is simply bad ‘bediquette,’ at once expounding a truism and coining a term* in a single dialogue.

We were both pretty pleased with the word, and immediately decided that it should somehow result in our becoming very wealthy. The more astute among you will say, “Wait a minute — it’s your term, why should she get rich off of it?”

This of course did not escape me, but I was also at a loss as to how to turn a clever word into lots and lots of money and I wasn’t exactly going to get into an argument over intellectual property rights before she explained it to me.

As it turns out, she wasn’t sure either, so I guess the word can just belong to everyone — the way I can still say “You’re fired” without having to pay Donald Trump[1] a single penny.

Other examples of bad bediquette include hogging the covers; kicking the covers that you aren’t even using off of the other person and bunching them down to the foot of the bed where nobody has them; ‘creeping’[2] someone out of bed; pushing someone off the bed by kicking them repeatedly; leaning in very closely and then making loud I’m-possessed-by-a-demon-but-still-asleep vocalizations right into someone’s ear while they’re sleeping; and bringing someone breakfast in bed including orange juice and hot coffee, quietly setting the tray on them, and then waking them up with a loud bang or “Oh my God! Poisonous gas!”

Calling someone’s species into question following coitus is bad bediquette. Throwing up on someone and going back to sleep is bad bediquette. Going to sleep first and snoring loudly is bad bediquette. But plugging a snorer’s nose so that he or she possibly has a nightmare about drowning before waking up is acceptable.

Some people are born knowing these things, and some people are not.

When I was a little kid, I once threw up on myself and my friend and went back to sleep.

I’d had a lot of pepsi and pizza that night, and we’d stayed up late watching normally unobtainable television programs. I was tired enough that I decided that my whole throwing up was just a dream. My friend didn’t wake up, and I put my head back down into my (puke-covered) pillow.

It was soon apparent to me that it was not in fact a dream, and I wondered if I could actually spend the night with my ear plugged in such a manner or if I would really have to wake up and deal with the situation. Maybe one of those minor deities like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny would clean it up for me if I could just sleep through it.

Maybe it could still be a dream.

Not so. I woke up the friend whose birthday we were celebrating and broke the news to him, and we did a cleanup job about as good as you’d expect from a couple of 12-year-olds. We were unable to wake my other friend (I do not remember how hard we tried. . .), so he spent the rest of the night in my pepsi-soaked half-digested pizza.

Back to the hostel — I might have simply begun my day after being awakened so rudely, but went back to sleep on general principle (if not spite). And then shaved in the sink before checking out. I gave back the key and stood expectantly until he asked me what I wanted. . .

Some people say that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. People also say that the best revenge is living well. I do not abide by either. One of them is not good enough. The other I will not allow to be true.

My good friends, Brad and Heavy, were once jumped outside a hockey game for wearing the wrong jerseys. When I met them, Brad was pretty excited about getting punched in the face for the first time ever, and was very proud of how he open-hand slapped his various assailants. As an incredibly athletic 6 foot tall 200lbs man, his poor technique was not particularly relevant.

Heavy, who has instigated physical conflicts with individuals for infractions as minor as wearing white pants, was in considerably lower spirits. He had spent the majority of the struggle pinned between a wall and a bike rack getting kicked by yuppies while Brad experimented with different swatting techniques. And no sooner had Heavy finally got to his feet in all readiness to dole out fiery vengeance than the cops showed up and ended the conflict.

Heavy wanted to go find the pudgy little pirate that had started the whole thing, but Brad, after being shut down by the waitress, declared that “those guys were losers, and being losers is punishment enough!” Brad then proceeded to brag about how his jaw didn’t even hurt. Heavy assured him that it would tighten up by morning, and within the hour Brad couldn’t shut up about how much it hurt, which didn’t make him any more inclined to go find the pirate (indeed the prospect of getting punched in the face a second time seemed to have lost much of its original appeal by that point).

Now to me, any group of individuals exhibiting undesirable behaviour should experience a cost comparable to the benefit which that behaviour affords them.

A group of four attacked a group of two, and suffered no ill consequence for the infraction. It’s bad practice to let a monkey get away violence; it’s bad practice to let human children get away with violence, and it’s bad practice to let human adults get away with violence.

For me there is no real difference between dealing with dogs, monkeys, or humans — you might say that you can talk to humans, but for the most part they don’t really listen, and they’re responding to little more than tone, gesture and context, just like the monkeys do.

What they understand is cost and benefit, prospect and consequence. A monkey bites someone and gets a piece of meat, he’s going to bite the next person carrying a hunk of meat, too. But if a monkey bites someone and gets throttled, loses a friend or two, and gets nothing — well, he is seriously re-evaluating the profitability of the whole biting and stealing thing.

And here we have these yuppy thugs beating up two guys with no consequence other than a dirty look from a cop and maybe half of them got slapped by a really cheerful badminton player. Why not cause problems for the next guy wearing the wrong jersey?

One reason would be because there’s an angry red-head with the uncanny ability to make his shirt disappear at the utterance of a moderately hostile word who keeps finding them, keeps beating them up, and keeps asking why they’re not wearing white pants.

If you have one of those guys in your life, you probably don’t want two (unless you think that angry red-heads are like those homicide-inducing worms in that episode of X-files[3], where being infected by one will result in death, but when infected with a second the worms kill each other, causing the patient to be cured).

So while a selfish unspiteful guy like Brad is living well and allowing a bunch of thugs to run rampant so that they can be someone else’s problem; a spiteful, angry guy like Heavy is doing his part for society, instilling fear and thoughtfulness into those very same people. Living well? The best revenge need only be carried out once.

And so we come to permission and forgiveness. Let it be known that whilever[4] I am in the room, it will indeed be much much much more difficult and painful to ask forgiveness than it will be to ask permission. I will make the slogan inaccurate if I have to do it single-handedly, one inconsiderate douche-bag at a time.

So I’m standing there, looking at this guy, and I tell him that I paid for a night of undisturbed sleep. And he disturbed me.

He highlighted the fact that he’d apologized, and what more could be done? I replied that I wanted 2 dinars back.

Now, one of the things that made me so incredibly mad about this situation is that this guy could have a) told the dude with the truck to come back some other time, b) told me in advance that he would need my mattress, c) put me in a room where the mattress did not need to be taken away at 9am or d) offered me some kind of compensation for my trouble.

He displayed no intention to do any of these things. He did apologize, but it is almost certain that his actions were carried out with the intent of an apology at their conclusion. ‘Regret’ carries no weight in matters of action.

It’s funny how you can make someone do something just by not going away. He only gave me one dinar, instead of two (which amounts to about 67¢ instead of $1.33), but the psychological effect of being compelled to reach into his pocket to give me money because of his own poor behaviour was my desired outcome.

What I wanted, really, was for him to know that I existed, and that people like me existed. People that wouldn’t let a slight go unsatisfied.

In Yellowstone National Park they found that the very idea of a wolf in the mind of an elk affected its browsing habits and thus the growth pattern of the forest, resulting in an altered community structure[5]. Elk who had never before encountered a wolf would browse anywhere without fear, which prevented new trees from growing and inhibited the populations of various other species.

The reintroduction of wolves had almost immediate effects: the elk stepped into line, new trees began to grow, and shit got done. Maybe this guy had never seen a Sherpa before, but now he knows that people like me exist. The next time there’s a truck waiting for a mattress, he won’t be sure if the person sleeping on that mattress is a Sherpa or a Brad (Heavies you can see from a pretty long way off. . .), and he is more likely to be inclined to behave differently — perhaps more considerately or fairly.

One might suppose that the existence of a diligent press can have the same effect on the behaviour of politicians; indeed we might all be well served by a healthy wolf reintroduction into that arena more than any other.

It should be noted that, not surprisingly, upon giving me the dinar, he told me not to bother ever coming back. I had of course anticipated this, and had considered the likelihood that I would ever return to that town, and the corresponding probability that he would remember me if I did.

In instances where there is some question as to the most reasonable course of action, one can often allow a trusted rule or principle to guide you. In Chess, you may often hear “When in doubt, push a pawn.” It is generally true, but I will spare you the analysis and justification.

In this case, there was indeed a guiding principle that lay my path before me: Never Let Someone Cross You for Free. Neither Rome, Genghis Kahn, Braveheart, Cachito, or the Sahara Desert would allow themselves to be crossed without consequence, and what rational creature would haphazardly throw down the gauntlet before any one of them?

You might think that this policy only has tangible effect (in game theory, for example) when players interact with each other repeatedly or when the results of interactions are communicated to broader populations.

Since I will probably never see this guy again and the interaction was not televised, you may argue that it was a waste of energy.

To this I say: 1) I got a dinar 2) I take heart in knowing I gave cause for him to modify his behaviour in future interactions with others (a version of my kindness to strangers. . .) 3) If everybody did what I did, there wouldn’t be so much crap to put up with in the first place 4) there is something to be said for the air of a person who doesn’t let shit slide. Be it an imprint on the universe, or the attitude that results when you are pleased with yourself, or even the pheremonal change resulting from not being dominated. It could perhaps be delivered more palatably by suggesting that we communicate our habits. A related question is how well do we mask our habits, and how selective are we between the two? Another discussion, certainly.

But once we have chosen to be true to ourselves, one might argue that all other decisions follow, and there are no other decisions to be made: your course of action is set before you.

When you are made aware that this is the choice being faced — the choice of whether you will look in the mirror with satisfaction or disappointment — is there any question as to what you will choose?

Don’t despair if you’ve known yourself to fail this test, because as long as you live you will ever be put before this same fork in the road. And it will be a difficult decision until you finally realize that you can not appease disappointment in the mirror with anything but gumption (Not including the context in which you are a suspect in an interrogation room behind two-way glass and the detective looking on is disappointed that you’re not guilty, especially because you are making the case for your innocence with great gumption and his disappointment is more arising from the fact that he will be late for dinner again because he still has no real lead on the case. That kind of disappointment ‘in’ the mirror won’t be appeased by gumption at all. But I’m not talking about that) .

Until the next coalescence of prime numbers in our somewhat arbitrary dating system,


Don’t Tread on Me


* I’m sure many of you will point out that a simple internet search (via google or duckduckgo, whichever you prefer) reveals that the term ‘bediquette’ is already in ciculation.  I am now sure that I will not be widely credited with coining the term, but I wonder if any of those other people managed to somehow turn a profit from their vocabularic innovations. . .

1. what a douche bag

2. a gradual process in which you continuously crowd and lean on the person you’re sleeping with, so that over the course of the night they are inched towards the very edge of the bed and are forced to either get out of bed and go to the other side, or else fall right over the edge

3. X-Files Season 1 Episode 8, “Ice”

4. one more brand new word from sherpa — pronounced: ‘WHILE-EVER’

5. Ripple and Beschta, 2004. “Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?” Bioscience 54(8):755-766 


originally sent May 17, 2013

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