All the rage
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – SOME THINGS YOU GET A FEELING about but don't quite understand. You see stuff and get an overall picture of what's going on, but the whys and wherefores don't arrive on time with the observation. So I'm going to give you a few snapshots. Maybe you can explain them to me.

I'm in the lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny in L.A. My friend and I are enjoying what to me will always be the signature drink of that refined watering hole, very cold Gray Goose martinis, straight up, with a twist. The room is glowing with all kinds of civilized intercourse, if you choose to believe, as I do, that the natterings and posturings of strivers and nabobs can be so described. On the table before us is a perfect little snack tray, a three-part silver server with wasabi peas, cheese crackers, and salty smoked almonds. There is laughter in the air and the chilly thrill of people on the make. It is, in short, a haven.

From the next room, where the bar stretches out, comes an odd sound, disconcerting: chairs being thrust roughly backward. Then a couple of thumps. A shout. Then, abruptly, a flurry of bumps and scrapes and ugly yelling. Could it be? Why, yes. It's a fistfight in the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel in the sleek womb that is Beverly Hills.

A bunch of very surprised hotel security guys wade into the melee, yanking the two combatants apart and hauling them out of the place. An agent fighting with a manager? I've read they can really go at it sometimes over their commissions....

Afterward we all sit quietly, mulling. It feels like a wake, and perhaps something did just die in here. Ten seconds later the veneer slips back to conceal the skull beneath the skin, and we start drinking again, a little harder now.

A couple of weeks later I'm at Kennedy Airport, waiting for a plane. A large family is sprawled over a bunch of the uncomfortable chairs that line the terminal. One of them gets up to do something, leaving a seat vacant. A guy comes along with his pregnant wife and escorts her to the empty chair. Not long after, the woman who had gone away comes back. She is clearly nonplussed. So is her husband. Conversation ensues. Pretty soon there is shouting, and people are hauling off to smack each other, including the women. Security is called to adjudicate.

What's going on here?

Last week I'm at the airport again, this time in a plane waiting to take off. Passengers are told to remain in their seats. After a long interlude, a man with a crying baby stands up to take the smelly little one back for a change.

"Hey, buddy, keep your seat," says a guy in a nearby row. The daddy ignores him, repairs to the back of the airplane for the operation, then returns.

Right before he sits, his baby still in his arms, he leans forward and says, so that the entire plane can hear, "In the future you'd better mind your own !%#!$ business or I'm going to punch your #&@*! face in, you *@#%!&."

The other guy is as quiet as a mouse for the rest of the flight.

All those things happened within a month. I'm not even counting the daily dripdripdrip of road rage, consumer rudeness, and guys at hotel reception areas with red faces and blown reservations screaming, "Do you know who I am!?"

On my morning train two guys wrangle over whose briefcase will take up the larger sliver of space on the seat. "You got a problem?" says the one in the gray suit to the one in the twill. Are they going to come to blows? Over this?

When I was growing up, we had dreams of peace and love, and the flower was the symbol of the times, even if that daisy was sprouting from the barrel of a gun. Ten years later it was all about personal growth and funny hair. Recently we enjoyed a decade of greed, which was cold at its heart but kind of fun at times.

Today, what can we say is the prevailing spirit? Could it be the clenched fist? What a bummer that would be.

On my way to work this morning, after being cut off by some moron and honked at by another who wanted access to my lane, I noticed in my rear-view mirror a bike rider snaking his way down the highway between the cars. Wow, I thought. What a courageous soul, pursuing his greener, more eco-friendly, less technological way to the office. Oh, hearty traveler, I thought, here's my best to you!

He passed me, and on the back of his helmet I saw, spelled out neatly in masking tape, a two-word message. The first word was four letters and is unprintable. The second, of course, was YOU. Uh-huh.

What in the world are we becoming, ladies and gentlemen? And isn't there something we can do to stem the tide? Can't we all join hands right now and agree not to be such a bunch of big @$#*&% jerks?

STANLEY BING's new book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at