Joe looked up at the television screen, watching the newscaster mouth words into the air. He always kept the volume down on the television while he was on the treadmill. Even though the gym was loud with other noises, he usually came early enough that there was no competition, and the other people on the treadmills liked the quiet at much as he did.
A man walked up and stood on the treadmill next to him, grabbed the remote, and turned the television up. Everyone else glanced over at him and turned away. It was Carl —everyone knew Carl, of course, but he normally wasn’t here this early in the morning.
“Joe, can you believe it? Those conservative idiots are at it again, trying to say how the Palestinians are at fault for some new atrocity or another.”
“Well, Carl… The Islamic religion does have a long history of violence.”
“What’s that, Joe? You’re saying Muslims are violent? You can’t talk like that! It’s offensive! You’re painting a broad brush, and you can’t do that sort of thing. These are people just like you and I! I won’t stand for it!” Everyone in the gym was staring at Carl now; he was close to yelling.
“Well, Carl, I was just trying to go back in history and…”
“You’d better adopt a more civil tone, Joe, or I’ll have your gym membership revoked.”
And Joe knew he would. Carl had been the cause of many people losing their memberships over uncivil language. “Sorry, Carl.”
“What do you think of these Israeli Nazi’s killing that last group of Palestinian freedom fighters?”
“But Carl, the Nazi’s were national socialists. I don’t see how they relate to Israel?”
“Hey! I’m a socialist! Are you equating me with the Nazis? Are you calling me a Nazi? That’s not very nice! I’m going to get off this treadmill and complain to the management if you don’t stop calling me a Nazi!”
Joe tried to keep his mouth shut as Carl went on a rampage about how kids have no respect for teachers any longer, and how it was all the parent’s fault. Finally Carl almost screamed, “And I can’t believe the teachers have to put up with people trying to take away their collective bargaining rights! All they do for the kids, and they can’t even be paid decently? What kind of idiot doesn’t realize that teacher pay directly impacts our kid’s educations?” Carl stared at Joe, challenging him to say something.
“Well, Carl, is there a limit to how much a teacher should be paid? I mean, do actual school performance results show us the optimal teacher pay range? Or should we pay them whatever they ask? And what do you say about the open communist and racist who seem to always be involved in these public employee unions?”
“Joe, you’re calling my teacher friends communists! And laggards! And racists! You can’t use language like that around me! You’re an idiot Joe, that’s what you are —just like I told you when I walked up here. You’re an idiot Nazi who sympathizes with fat cat big business bosses, and I won’t stand here and take your uncivil language any longer!”
Carl stormed off without even shutting the treadmill down. And he left the television blaring, too.
“Well,” Joe thought, “at least he was civil.”