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Modern American culture in three acts

Lead Summary
By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Act One

Last week, I read that Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) consider the “thumbs up” hand gesture threatening. That’s the hand gesture that most of us use to signal that everything is fine, OK and so forth.

Gen Z says it is traumatic for them to see it (note, I do not know who the spokesperson is for Gen Z and what pronouns they use to describe themselves nor do I care very much). But I have it on good authority one mustn’t use the thumbs up signal around them.

Act Two

Now, some of my close friends in Highland County are aware that I am limiting my travel this fall and winter, trying to get my strength back from a very difficult cold, so this next story will surprise you.

There is a famous restaurant in Tampa, Fla. that Laura has talked about for years, lo, even for decades. She tried to get us a reservation there this past Valentine’s Day when we escaped to Florida a few days toward the end of winter. Then, she discovered that the restaurant’s reservation waiting list is 60 days long. This place is very exclusive and has been since the 1950s.

She had a business trip to Tampa at the end of October. So, she put on her calendar to call and make a reservation for this restaurant 60 days before this past Friday, Oct. 28. Even though she called exactly on the 60th day, the first available seating time was 9:45 p.m., so she grabbed it (for a time I am usually asleep). OK, I am happy to make an exception.

Now, she had gotten this reservation before I acquired this nasty cold, so I resolved to be there way back in late August. I kept my commitment.

The appointed hour arrives, and we show up. We are seated at a two-person table in something of an alcove. Beside us, with a small distance between us, was a four-person table, empty when we were seated. By the way, this place has a dress code, so we were dressed within the specifications. I was wearing a suit and Laura was in a nice dress.

Another specification was that a party would not be seated unless all the party’s members were present. In a few minutes, two men show up at the four-person table. They don’t meet the dress code. Then, they start talking in the loudest, foulest language I have ever heard (and when I was younger, I have run maintenance crews in pressure packed 40-day shutdowns, and I don’t think there is a “four-letter” word in English, German, Italian or Finnish that I haven’t heard (paper machine equipment is sourced internationally).

In a few more minutes, the maître d' comes over to welcome these boorish diners and said something about not usually having “celebrities” on a Friday evening. I looked at them and I didn’t recognize them, but I don’t get out much. A few more minutes pass and a couple more characters show up, filling up their table. These two were dressed worse and were fouler mouthed than the first two.

Laura knew I was steamed. I told her I was going to take our waiter aside and ask that we be moved. This is the kind of situation where Laura can exceed me in Christian charity.

Despite these four boors turning our very long-awaited evening into a lesson in foul adjectives, she wouldn’t allow me to get us reseated. Good for her.

Act Three

This takes place somewhere between the 20th and the 23rd of December 1976. I had been in Albany, Ga. on a business trip and was headed back to Cincinnati where I lived and worked in those days. Of course, I had to fly through Atlanta. This was when the Atlanta terminals were a topsy-turvy collection of old buildings, long before the terminals of today were opened in 1980.

It was Christmas time, and the place was packed that night. Many of the passengers were young service men and women going home on leave. At the Cincinnati gate, there were many people, including a bunch of sailors, a nice-looking young lady by herself, a man of Spanish descent who looked like Ricardo Montalbán (ask your parents, kids), and me.

Some of the sailors had had too much to drink and were carrying on like our dinner companions in Tampa. A sailor was in an argument with another and let out a loud epithet.

“Ricardo” had his jacket off in a flash and put his fist up to fight the profane soldier for saying such a word in front of the lady, thus besmirching her honor. The sailor was drunk enough to take him on, but his buddies were sober enough to pull him away and defuse the situation.

There were lots of fists there that night, but I don’t think any of them were displaying the “thumbs up” signal or it could have been much worse.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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