Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where Has Ms. Manners Gone?

Lady Nancy Astor: “If you were my husband, I would poison your tea”.
Winston Churchill: “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it”.

Tonight I met my Lady Astor. Now as much as I like to think I am as suave and debonair as Cary Grant or Clark Cable in one of those old time picture shows, I know that I am not. I don’t think everyone needs to sit ramrod straight or have perfect table manners, but what about the basics? My mother instilled a few that are with me to this day.

I chew and swallow what I have in my mouth before shoveling more in. I keep my elbows off the table. I don’t clutch my knife and fork with my fists as if I were some great untrained ape. I don’t speak when my mouth is full. I don’t lick my knife and I don’t use my fingers to push things onto my fork.

This evening, over a working dinner, I experienced all of these little joys. I admit that I found myself wearing my Judgey McJudgerson hat and tried not to let it bother me. Each time I caught myself, I was reminded of a story I heard about the Dalai Lama. In “The Art of Happiness” Howard Cutler asked him how it was possible to like EVERYONE. His Holiness said that we are, at the end of the day, all human beings and therefore the same as one another. If you can like yourself, you can learn to like everyone.

There were five people at my table and within five minutes the tone was set – one person was going to do 95% of the speaking and the rest of us, like it or not, were the audience. After my first two olive salad with vodka dressing, my head started to ache. I ordered a second.

As my cream of mushroom soup was placed before me, I heard how my dinner companion’s 17 year old daughter had a run in with a rum bottle and the ensuing puke fest. What perfect timing! We also heard how she has taught her daughter to drink vodka the proper way – you keep it in the freezer, that way it doesn’t burn going down.

“No, not like that”. I said. “Do it like mommy told you, salt, tequila, lemon! Not salt, lemon, tequila”. I fancied myself quite funny and laughed. Alone.

Dalia Lama.

Third olive salad.

Over soup I heard about plans of putting said daughter on birth control before her trip to Paraguay because “she is my daughter and I am not stupid”. When my steak and mashed potatoes with gravy arrived, my ears were graced with a story about labor, epidurals and other such nifty facts about delivering a baby. Complete with details about the after-birth.

Dalia Lama.

Fourth olive salad. Extra vodka dressing, hold the olives.

For a brief moment, the conversation took a slightly gay turn and I perked up. I hate figure skating (I got asked to leave my class for being disruptive to the other students) but at least it was something. We all heard about the exorbinate fees one is charged for lessons, coaching, skates, outfits and competitions.

Someone mentioned that they were grateful for the warning as he was thinking of signing up his 3 year old daughter next year. He didn’t realize it was so expensive but his wife, a former figure skater herself, was quite insistent on it.

“You could always take her out back and hobble her” I suggested. I laughed again. Alone.

Screw the olive salad, can I get a boiler maker please?

By dessert I knew about her first French kiss (in the third grade!!!!!), the discovery of just how bad a son’s athletic cup can smell and almost lost an eye due to wild gesticulations with a fork.

As I looked at the rest of the studio audience there were nods of understanding and looks of sympathy. I was bewildered and out of my comfort zone.

Perhaps if I had children of my own, I would have found these stories cute and charming. More than likely, if I had children of my own I would be dead from alcohol poisoning. And glad of it too! Move over Zillah, there ain’t enough gin in that bottle for both of us!

5 Comments:

Blogger Blair said...

"Olive Salad". Ba ha ha! That's a good one, I've never heard that one before. You should have done your necklace trick - that would have shut them up.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous cpb said...

eck, children ... who needs them? sure they're a great source of labor but honestly are they worth all the hassle? luckily with all the booze that was consumed i'm sure a full-functioning child is the least of your worries :)

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahaahaah---love the olive salads----actually I love them. One's own children are dreadful enough but to have to hear about someone else's---necklace trick??? do tell---i could use another 'shutter upper' in my repetoire.

5:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the necklace trick is vulgar and I do not advise doing over dinner...in a crowded bar with many cocktails yes...it gets sucked up the nose and comes out the mouth...told you I was not Cary Cooper

9:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

aha!!!! both Anna and Duke can stick their long snakelike tongues up their noses for a parlour trick--my best parlour trick is petite mal or perhaps one could do a grand mal if unbearably bored.
I think Gary Cooper did the necklace trick in High Noon---that's how he won the gun fight---remember?

1:36 PM  

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