Joseph X. Martin: ‘Frying Pan’ award helps break tension - The Buffalo News

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Joseph X. Martin: ‘Frying Pan’ award helps break tension

The idea came to us one summer while we were vacationing on Cape Ann, north of Boston. My sister-in-law, Trish, had occasion to visit a drugstore. While there, she observed what we would later dub “frying pan people.” A portly matron was upbraiding her slightly built and shabbily dressed mate. The timid-looking male had picked up a metal frying pan for purchase. The woman let out a high-pitched and nasal barrage: “What are you doing with a frying pan? We have $20 left and you want to buy a frying pan!”

Naturally, every customer in the store had his ears riveted to the conversation, though inwardly each cringed with embarrassment for the uncaring couple. All attention centered upon the domestic squabble. This was drama at its best: loud, embarrassing and above all, fascinating. The exchange continued for several minutes and was resolved with minor threats of physical violence and an uneasy and sulking hostility.

Since then, we have many times observed people like this, as they interact with each other in public. They don’t come in any particular race, creed, age or ethnic group. They share but a single characteristic – a particular and bizarre unconcern for the feelings of others and a wanton desire to embarrass each other, and everybody else in earshot, with their behavior.

They simply have no clue how to relate to others in a graceful manner in public. They are the awkward people to whom the niceties of social conduct have never been introduced.

I suppose it is not their fault, really. But they can be awfully annoying. We decided that rather than become irritated with such people, we would mentally award them “the order of the frying pan.” The order could also be awarded in the first, second or third degree, depending on how completely awful the public spectacle created. Multiple medals for crowd behavior were also permissible, with smaller decorations for particularly obnoxious children.

In this way, we were able to mentally channel our annoyance with “frying pan people” in a humorous fashion that would bring a shared smile to our faces, even when you just wanted to crawl under a rock to get away from them.

It might even elicit some compassion for the crude and outrageous behavior that they could inflict on everyone in earshot. They were luckless souls riding a very bumpy road of life, without realizing that the smooth pavement was just over the verbal and behavioral horizon.

In a similar fashion, another idea stemmed from a friend’s notion of putting irritating people “on the bus” for an imaginary ride to Chile on a sealed bus with no restroom and scores of other annoying people aboard. While serving as county parks commissioner, a talented staffer made up a cardboard cutout of such a bus, laden with miscreants. Whenever we found people difficult to deal with, we labeled a cutout figure and “put him on the bus.” It broke the tension and gave us a much-needed laugh.

So when next you encounter an overly loud individual whose public behavior is so outrageous that you cringe in embarrassment for him, you can privately award him “the order of the frying pan” and mentally escort him “onto the bus” for a journey to Chile. It could bring a smile to your face, at a time when you most need it.

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