Tolerance: a two-way street

It’s easy to talk tolerance. Tolerance is politically correct.Tolerance is nice. Tolerance is right.
Try talking tolerance on a Saturday night in mid-July when you’ve just walked out of Wal-Mart.
A loud bunch of snot-nosed kids have just used a cart piled high with food as a battering ram and your ankles as the door.
Their mother stands nearby, yammering in Yiddish to another woman, ignoring her offspring as they once again zoom in on your tender tendons.
Try driving down Route 17B in a 55 mph zone, rounding the corner to find a Lexus with New Jersey plates stopped dead in the middle of your lane.
They’re pointing at a deer and her fawn.
You slam on your brakes and veer into the shoulder, narrowly missing their bumper by a hair.
Not. So. Easy.
But it is easy to make mountains of molehills, to lump into groups the people who visit our county every summer.
Somewhere, deep down, we should be proud of our homes.
We are a tourist community because we have something no one else has.
They come from Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Williamsburg, Va. to witness the Sullivan County Catskills.
They crowd into our pizzerias and block the aisles of our grocery stores.
And they bug us because we are so often taken for granted.
Our waitresses gypped a tip by one too many women with that unmistakeable “Lung Guylin” accent finds it harder with each successive customer to paste on that smile and list the specials.
A truck driver cut off repeatedly on Route 17 by men with long curls and black hats finds himself speeding up when he sees a van on the exit ramp, his vehicle fueled by frustration.
I’m no better.
I’ve gritted my teeth in ShopRite, asking once, twice, three times if someone would move their cart from my path finally gripping the offending wagon by the handle and moving it forcefully a mere 10 inches or so to the side.
Rounding the corner to see the same woman’s cart parked haphazardly in the center of the cereal aisle, I don’t bother to ask. I grab hold and drag, the wheels screeching as I yank it out of the way.
Then I barrel past.
I talk a good game, but it’s not so easy.
Of course every summer something forces me back over the line to where I was raised.
An over-the-top salesman hassling a group of Hasidic women for no apparent reason, a kindly old lady with her nasal Queens accent patting my daughter on the head and telling her grandson to knock off his obnoxious behavior.
I’m subtly reminded what it’s like to be judged for something beyond one’s control – as I have been for being a woman, a Catholic, a young professional and – the one I’m most proud of – for being a New Yorker.
As I thumbed my nose at their disapproval, I purse my lips in a Bronx cheer for the narrow-minded.
I’ll lay out the welcome mat.
But I expect my visitors to wipe their feet outside.
I vow to collect my flies with honey, reserving the right to put in the proper place those who abuse my hospitality.
I will tolerate you, if you tolerate me, my customs and my home.
It’s that easy.


  1. Most excellent conclusion. Do unto others as you would have done to you!I like the smile approach as well. Not always reciprocated, but when one smile comes in return, ahhh.And definitely no clumping!! Difficult to see us all as individuals and not part of a group.

  2. this is so true. I wish everyone made a habit out of considering others before doing something.It’s a tricky thing to live out your values in spite of the rest of the world.

  3. This was the most intolerant column I have seen written by a newspaper staff member. It’s bad enough to read “letters to the editor” with bigoted statements, but I expected better from you. I too spent many years in Jeff, but now am a Long Islander who generally enjoys reading about my hometown. The disclaimers near the end of your column do not make up for the stereotypes that you reinforced in your anecdotes. Would you like your child referred to as “snot-nosed”? Did your editor really approve this?

  4. Yup, he did! Frankly, it’s clear you didn’t take the time to consider the column before commenting. You did as many have and took the easy road . . . and you made it even easier for yourself by posting this comment anonymously! I stand behind my statements. I have seen thousands of visitors to Sullivan County in my time. I’ve seen the bad and the downright wonderful. No matter their culture, their color, their sexuality, I accept and treat them with respect and decency. I just ask that they do the same to me. Respect, like tolerance, is a two-way street. How about showing a little?

  5. You’ve written what I believe many people in Sullivan County have felt for a long time. Bravo! I know, as a former resident, I was always looking forward to the fall, when the summer tourism dwindled down, and driving, shopping and the customers (I did work in the service industry) became much easier to bear. It had nothing to do with their religion, the way they looked or the way they sounded. It was always about the way they behaved. In all honesty, anyone who deals with the rude behavior summer after summer is nothing but tolerant!

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