I confess that I have met Alford briefly and have found him polite, though not extraordinarily so. However, he reports that he volunteers as a New York City tour guide for visiting foreigners, always tries to strike up conversations with people standing alone at parties and considers himself responsible for the cleanliness of the toilet seat in any “single-stall facility” he emerges from, whether or not he splashed it himself. Such behavior does indeed seem above and beyond the ordinary call of manners and sets a standard worthy of a role model.
Yet all these points for gallantry are nearly wiped out in my book by Alford’s account of a game he is fond of playing in restaurants, called “Touch the Waiter.” The goal is to “see who at your table can touch the waiter the greatest number of times without the waiter’s figuring out you’re doing so.” Although he stipulates that this touching should never be lecherous or “directed at the sullen or the insecure” (the preferred target is an overly attentive or effusive waiter) it is nevertheless a creepy activity, a prank aimed at people whose livelihood depends on making themselves agreeable to patrons. Would it kill him to stop doing that?