The sun pouring in my windows shut the furnace down hours ago. My daughter had two friends over for the night and we all walked to the local breakfast place this morning. There was a waiting list, so the girls skipped off to the park while I hung out sipping coffee. I would call them when our number came up (they all three have cell phones of course).

As is my habit, I observed. Attempts to strike up conversations with other guys proved fruitless of course. There was a shiny, navy blue Jetta TDI parked out front (with two biodiesel stickers on it, of course). As a status symbol, it is a step in the right direction, but not quite environmentally benign enough (in my rigorously defended opinion), unless it was made from recycled oil instead of soy.

I watched another family with two young boys. The mother told the boys they had two choices: pay for the breakfast out of their allowance or not eat. I thought, “Wow, you don’t see parenting like than any more.” A few seconds later, the father, in a sudden rage, grabbed the oldest (about 10 years old) by the throat with one large male hand and held on until his child’s face turned red and he began to sob. His transgression? Whining about paying for his own breakfast. Oh well. I had a father like that. I was mildly tempted to ask this father if he would like to grab me by the throat so he could see what would happen next. Men. Would the world be better off without us? Will human cultures evolve to emulate the social insects where males do no work except to mate with queens? Admittedly, the idea appeals to me. On the other hand, social insects make war, so, I don’t know.

I watched as my daughter cut her pancake with the edge of her fork while her friends used knives to cut the pancake, and the fork to lift it. They were quite skilled and never had to touch any of their food. Because we can afford private school, we find ourselves rubbing elbows with very wealthy families, where the cost of private school is irrelevant. These unrelated girls had been taught the proper way to eat.

On the way home, we walked past another restaurant, which had recently been purchased by the father of another classmate as an investment — the same parent who had convinced the school to run its buses on biodiesel. Shortly after purchasing this restaurant, he had traded in all of the gasoline delivery trucks for new ones that run on biodiesel. And yes, that fact is clearly emblazoned on the sides of all of these trucks. Without biodiesel stickers, who would bother to buy it? I will say this: they make it easy to spot the vehicles responsible for the biodiesel exhaust that wafts up my nose all too often nowadays.

The girls had spent the night because of schedule conflicts. I had left a dinner party with their parents early the night before to pick them up from basketball practice. The subject of conversation as I left was the slovenly work ethic of the plumbers, carpenters, electricians, and other assorted people who make a living maintaining their waterfront mansions for them. The consensus was that these workers make too much money.

It is easy to put labels on people, but until we have a couple of million dollars of our own, we don’t really know how we will behave. Odds are, just as we were programmed to behave. The only way out is through conscious effort and understanding. And before you get on your high horse, understand that every parent at the party was a wealthier version of me: liberal, secular, Democrat.

Human nature is real. We all bare our teeth to show non-aggression.