Terry Marotta: A lesson in being nice

Terry Marotta

Here at the airport, I see a man with such a web of tattoos covering his face and head it’s clear he never has to go to the barber. He just has to shave everything from the neck up because, even bald as an egg, he still has all he needs in the way of decoration: inky swirls in the exact shape of sideburns, beard and a hairstyle.

But yikes, needles applied to the cheek? Needles applied to the tender upper lip? And I thought going to the electrolysist was bad! For a whole year when I was 30, I went to see this person. I lay down on her bed of pain and leapt like a fish with the electrical jolt of it. 

Thank God I’m no longer 30. Or 40. Or even 45, like poor Demi Moore, who a couple of years ago got plastic surgery on her knees, of all things.

I thank God I’m out of all that self-absorption now. ‘Course I’m “out of it” generally, as I realize now when, spotting a woman in a T-shirt printed with the word “Gamecocks,” I ask my travel companion of almost four decades if that doesn’t seem awfully bold of her, advertising an illegal activity that way. “T,” he says, shaking his head, for “T” is what he calls me. “It’s the mascot of the University of South Carolina.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” I think, and then start watching a 60-year-old man trying to juggle a coat, a backpack and a double-armful of food while waiting to pay at the snack bar by our gate.

“THEY DON’T HAVE CHOCOLATE MILK, ERIC!” he keeps calling to his 20-something son some 50 feet away. “WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO DRINK?” 

But the son, who can clearly hear him well, turns his head away and in his saggy pants continues to slouch against the bare hip-bones of his much-pierced lady friend.

And still the father keeps calling to him, though Eric, the prince, won’t even look in his direction, and so fascinated am I by his rudeness, it is all I can do not to stare.

Ah, but staring gets a person in trouble for the simple fact that nature has equipped us with a zillion dandy sensors -- and a good thing, too, since without them we’d have been food for saber-toothed tigers long ago with our silly high foreheads and our bad backs from trying to walk on two legs instead of four.

Point is, people can have their backs turned, and still they can tell when we’re watching them. They can feel it, plain and simple.

And here’s worse news for those of us who think we can harbor mean thoughts about our neighbors and say the catty thing about them when we feel like it: People somehow know when we hold them in judgment even if we’re as nice as pie to their faces -- they just use those magic sensors science is still 1,000 years away from understanding – and it doesn’t take them long to decide that they’re not all that crazy about us either. Imagine that !

So it seems we really DO have to love our neighbor if we want things to get better ever, and even sullen dopes like Eric merit our kindest thoughts.

Because doesn’t it just harm us and not them to do give them anything else?

Plus the truth is, whether we’re as inked in as a child’s coloring book or hung like an art gallery with studs and dangles, we’re still only as good-looking as we are nice.

Write Terry at or c/o Ravenscroft Press, P.O. Box 270, Winchester, MA 01890, or read the thrice-weekly postings on her new blog, Exit Only, at