Rules Don’t Rule

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

After years of conforming (well, maybe not always) to copious rules of conduct in school as well as those we all rebelled against growing up, I always assumed I’d be able to live by my own rules when I “grew up.”

Well, not so easy, Mary! There are way too many intrusive rules butting into our private everyday lives these days, and ironically, not nearly enough of them to smack down some of the foul behavior that’s been normalized. For instance (and yes, I’ve said it in this space before), I wish there were more rules—some rules, any rules—governing cell phone use in public spaces. You hardly see faces on the streets anymore; they’re all glued to their screens. 

Most of us agree that rules of conduct are necessary for obvious reasons. But political correctness has really exacerbated the situation. One of the first signs of the rise of this camp and its rules was in 1990, when the town of Aspen voted to ban the sale of furs. I’m actively involved in animal conservation, but I equally believe in the right to choose what you wear. Imagine if bad taste were banned; there’d be a lot fewer people on the streets.

On a recent trip to Paris, I was parked in the cozy sitting room of the Relais Christine, a luxury boutique hotel, and as guests checked in, I couldn’t help but notice the American clients all looked like they were dressed for a camping trip in the Adirondacks, while the Europeans looked casual and elegant. We travel in sloppy sweats. They won’t leave the house in them. Americans used to think they could learn from Europe. It wouldn’t hurt to try that again.

The workplace has become another arena for the energetic enforcement of an over-abundance of rules. Even before the #MeToo movement began, there were mandatory sexual conduct classes in many companies. I wonder if they give out grades. I would pay to see Harvey Weinstein’s report card. 

Additionally, rules governing texting, bathroom breaks, personal items on desks and even consumption of water are arbitrarily applied. And you thought you’d graduated from high school. All that’s missing are hall passes. 

Buying an apartment in Manhattan? If you’re a smoker, you’d better check into rehab before handing in your board package. Many buildings forbid smoking—an awful few even ban butts inside private apartments. I’d love to see the medical research on damage done by secondary smoke seeping under doors. I have a feeling it’s not significant. 

Why are we allowed to smoke on the street but no longer on public beaches or parks? Would someone please explain this to me?

I’m a dog owner. I well remember when pooper scooper laws came into being in the late ’70s. I approved of them—as would anyone who’s stepped in, well, it. But that was just the beginning. New York has always been pet friendly, until recently, that is. My husband actually got a ticket for walking our dog off the leash in the park, five minutes after leash requirements went into effect. My editor was once thrown in a cell in the Central Park precinct for merely entering the park with his dog after 1 a.m. Seriously? There are now only small slots of time when you’re allowed to let your dog run free and play. 

Yes, there are exceptions to the tyranny of rules. Kamikaze bicycle riders transgress lanes, laws, and the personal space of pedestrians—but the police do nothing. One cop confided they’d been ordered to ignore offenses committed by those two-wheeled weapons and their riders. Apparently the brass finds dogs playing in the park a greater threat to life and limb. 

Many apartment buildings have deemed pets unacceptable, too. The next step might be barring tenants with loud voices, or couples with Latin tempers. 

Since rules seem to be so in vogue these days, why don’t co-ops ban screaming babies, fighting couples, tweeting parrots, any form of garlic, mothers-in law coming to visit and sneakers in the lobby. 

And while they’re at it, there should be a rule against chronic complainers like me, the resident Grinch of AVENUE.


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