As a carver, I work with many flammiferous materials; the worst are the solvents and finishes. But I’ve found that while you can take precautions around the shop to be safe from things like a spontaneous combustion of sawdust and rags, safety from inflammable people is something else.
You see this at shows. People are away from home, perhaps on vacation, but away from neighbors who might inhibit their tacky, infantile behavior. One couple stood directly in front of my booth and had a screaming divorce-inspiring meltdown. It wasn’t just your idle recitation of curses and accusations of infidelity. Both were cruelly creative.
This happened at the Mystic Seaport during a WoodenBoat Show. My booth was less than a stone’s throw from the restored whaling ship, the Charles W Morgan, and I could almost see the ghosts of the old whalers listening in admiration as the pair flensed directly to the bone with each cutting comment.
I cautiously asked them to move away from my booth, and they gleefully turned and started on me. Luckily their kids showed up and distracted them. All four strolled away in a haze of recriminations and accusations over who would pay for lunch.
An hour later, a young couple appeared. If the preceding pair had hit the pinnacle for the worst behavior seen at a boat show for a couple, the young lovers were at the extreme; hands clutched together, loving glances, and respectful questions about what the other liked. Following closely on their heels was a pair of boisterous pre-school age kids who swamped me with questions but politely kept their hands to themselves. Unfortunately, the first couple’s public battle occupies your memory and gets repeated over dinner with your friends.
It’s an attractive proposition to assume that either couple symbolizes more significant societal traits. In isolation, each couple seems to represent an extreme. But the real people watcher, and believe me, you have plenty of time for people watching during these three-day shows, realizes there is an almost infinite variety.
It’s just that the flammiferous couple attracts and holds the most attention. Drama trumps the prosaic every time.