They Call Me Mister Tibbs!

That was a quote from Sidney Poitier’s character, Virgil Tibbs, from In the Heat of the Night. It was in direct response to being called “boy” in the movie. I follow Virgil perfectly. You see, the human condition has a dichotomy of wishing equality with dominance. We’re intelligent enough to create ethical behavior, yet animalistic enough to ignore it when convenient.

I observe people, not in a voyeuristic manner but take note of their actions in public. Avoiding awkward phrases like “people watching,” I merely observe the reactions of others under certain stimuli. It’s more clinical than “people watching,” and many of my observations come from personal experience.

One particular section of knowledge pertains to the less savory of human characters: bullies. They’re everywhere. They come in all sorts of colors and both sexes (no offense the people in the gradient). That is something I’ve been trying to convey for some time, as people tend to cherry-pick their beliefs based on political platforms. Also, societal norms often silence the more surprising cases of hatred. Apparently, I’m privileged, even if I was clothes lined, run over, punched, pelted, shoved, kicked, bludgeoned, choked, berated, gossiped about, back stabbed, jeered, mocked, marginalized, threatened, laughed at and finally alienated. I’ve been expected to shut up about these things, or otherwise be taken less seriously due to my race, gender, and class. My life clashes with political agendas, and my data point is to be quickly spun away.

For anyone with a soapbox, that’s all the airtime I’ll give it. I understand you have crusades elsewhere and won’t stand in your way. People like that are better let go to march on, while men like me are suited to perches high above city centers quietly looking out over the skyline. It’s not as glamorous as Batman makes it out to be.

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

~ Henry David Thoreau

So, what’s this all about then? It’s about how I cope and why I do what I think is right. A few months ago, I read a blistering “freshly pressed” article about how a woman didn’t want to be called “ma’am.” I’m not going to link it, as I find it putrid trash. Someone who obviously found the address inseparable from old age belched fire at people she didn’t know for calling her “ma’am” or “madam.” In her egocentric mind, there was no other explanation for a complete stranger addressing her otherwise. I’d like to emphasize complete stranger, for it’s one thing to be upset with the acquaintance and another with the unfamiliar.

Due to all of the experiences I’ve witnessed over the years, I’ve found it necessary to take a stand for myself. I often address unfamiliar people as “sir,” “madam,” “Mister [insert last name],” “Missus [insert last name],” or “Miz [insert last name].” Many of my contemporaries and colleagues will say something along the lines of “Mr. [insert last name] is my father. Please call me [insert first name]” or some variation of that. This is perfectly fine. I am eager to accommodate people with their level of comfort, however I often find myself in the precarious position of requesting my formal address from complete strangers. It doesn’t go so well, and I have to let things slide frequently. It’s still a goal I like to have. My friends and family should know me on more casual terms, but from someone I’ve never met? I’d like a little more respect than that.

That’s why I initially address people as “sir,” “ma’am,” “miss,” “mister,” or “missus.” It’s the respect I never got growing up, and I wouldn’t be able to stand myself if I didn’t return the favor. Without even the most basic level of respect, this rock drifting through the vacuum of space is filled with nothing but savages.

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11 thoughts on “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!

  1. The quotation from Thoreau is very apposite and very moving. Very powerful piece you’ve written today.

  2. […] They Call Me Mister Tibbs! ( […]

  3. kerbey says:

    I always say “sir” and “ma’am,” no matter what the age, as long as they are adults. I called my young server at Red Lobster today “ma’am” at least ten times. (Yes, we were living high on the hog; that’s what being subjected to the 4-course commercial can do. Advertising works!) That’s common courtesy, even though I’m twice her age. I teach my son to say “yes, sir” and “yes, ma’am,” to hold open doors for ladies at stores and restaurants, and whenever he sees an officer, fireman, or soldier in fatigues (which is super common at bbq joints) to walk up to him (or her) and say, “thank you for your service.” Now the two over-seventy men I’ll see at church tomorrow, I slap on the back and call “old coots,” but they take it in stride. They get to be embraced by a 40 yr old woman in a dress, so that’s the trade-off. Honestly, if people have time enough to get upset about being referred to with respect, then they’re luckier than 99% of this world. Actually, I guess any of us on WordPress, typing on laptops in air-conditioned homes, are in the top tier of affluence. We are all pretty fortunate.

    • We are in the top tier of affluence. Now, if you’ll excuse me, madam, I’m off to purchase my gold-plated toilet and a crate of foie gras for my oil magnate soiree tomorrow night. Then, I shall dance on a homeless person whilst lighting my cigar with a burning one hundred dollar bill.

      Nah, just kidding, I’ll be sitting here drinking my Dr. Faygo after a long day of moving furniture for my parents.

      • kerbey says:

        Don’t dance on the hobo whom we gave our Red Lobster cheddar biscuits to until he’s done eating them. Wasteful!! What is Dr. Faygo? Like Dr. Pepper?

      • Yes, it’s an off brand, almost half the price too. Faygo is a Detroit-based beverage company that makes all sorts of pop. It’s like the Malt-o-Meal of the cola industry.

  4. Joseph Nebus says:

    It’s worth pointing out that Faygo is really good. Apparently the original bottlers of it, not knowing any better, started out with flavors based on the ice creams and Italian ices of their parents, and they kept at it.

    Vernor’s ginger ale is also a Michigan-regional specialty and incredibly good; I didn’t realize how cheated I was of ginger ale before trying it.

    • We’re close enough to Michigan that we’ve had distribution of Faygo and Vernor’s since I was little. It’s almost taken for granted, but I wouldn’t drink it if I didn’t like it. It reminds me of movie nights from long ago. I used to drink red pop like it was going out of style.

  5. Interesting post, likes the Mr Tibbs movie, etc. just an fyi, (and please don’t take this the wrong way) I used the same HDT quote the other day and learned it has been long misquoted. here are the details, as followed by the real quote, as copied and pasted from the HDT mis-quote page at

    Misquotation: Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

    The first half of this quotation is a misquotation from Thoreau’s Walden:

    “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”

    The second half of this quotation is mis-attributed to Thoreau and may be a misquotation or misremembering of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ (1809-1894) “The Voiceless”:

    Alas for those that never sing,
    But die with all their music in them.

    thanks, Louisa

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