PROFESSOR JAMES Geddes of Belching University has just done a study on rudeness and has come to the conclusion that people are more ill-mannered than ever before.
"We see it in the sports arenas, the political theater and on the streets of our towns. Except for the sales clerks at Nordstrom, no one says 'thank you' any more."
"Why should I?" I said. "Nobody thanks me for saying 'thank you.' "
Professor Geddes said, "You're not going to believe this, but I blame all our troubles on Vince Lombardi."
"Why?" I asked.
"He kept saying 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' As soon as the American people bought his philosophy, the country slid downhill. The kids developed a vengeful attitude toward sports, dirty tricks became acceptable and no athlete without a $10 million sneaker contract was admired. We live in an age when parents keep urging their children, 'Be a poor sport so that people will respect you.' "
"I remember the day when Little League baseball became a contact sport," I sighed.
Professor Geddes said, "When the kids grew up, they became part of the big, mean, baby-boomer society. If you ran for public office, you were urged by your campaign manager to kick the other guy in the groin. In business you never gave another guy an even break and a handshake to close a deal was followed by a lawsuit, and a half-million dollar legal fee."
"People even lied to their ministers," I told him.
"And their doctors. Only suckers told the truth and successful people wanted nothing to do with them."
Talk show radio
"Talk show radio hasn't made us better people," I said. "A lot of radio station owners maintain the public believes that if their radio announcers don't spit out snake venom, they should stay the heck off the air."
"Let's not forget vindictive store clerks who charge you sales tax when you're sending something out of state."
"And over-the-counter drug companies who charge you $15 for two aspirin."
I asked my friend, James, "Do you believe that we will ever be able to stop the rot?"
"Not in this generation -- maybe the next. Perhaps some great football coach in the future will say, 'Winning is good, but it isn't everything.' Maybe once again people will say things like 'Nice guys may finish last, but they sleep better at night.' It isn't how you play rummy -- what really counts is if you smile when your grandmother yells, 'Gin'."
Art Buchwald is a syndicated columnist.