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Yes, Steven Slater, the freaked-out JetBlue flight attendant, went over the top when he picked up the mic and called out nasty names for the passenger who kept dragging her bag down from the bins, when she’d been told to stay in her seat, just like the rest of the rule-obeying passengers on the flight.

Yes, Steven Slater was wrong. But wouldn’t you have liked to be him, just for that moment? It’s a moment out of Airplane, or Airplane II. (I cherish the image, unsafe and unwarranted though it may be, of Slater grabbing a beer, punching the button, and sliding down the safety chute.)

You know the moment. It’s the moment when the jerk sitting next to you won’t turn off the his (or her) cell phone, even though the flight attendant has said, repeatedly, “Please turn off all cell phones.” It’s the moment when, although the flight attendants have said, “Please remain in your seats until the plane has safely reached the gate,” some jerk gets up and starts jerking his (or her) bag out of the bin, even before the cabin lights have been turned on.

I’m not apologizing for Steven Slater, whom I’ve never met. I know flight attendants can be rude, beyond words; and I know Steven Slater faces felony charges, so I’m not taking sides in the case.

Steven Slater, and his passenger, certainly ate up a lot of time for everybody. Didn’t they?

And they still do. Don’t they?

Neither of them followed the rules, remotely precisely.

But still — although he’s out of a job — don’t you envy Steven Slater?

Just a tiny bit?

— John

It’s wedding time, and the invite business, sticky-note-wise and otherwise, is already bedecking the break-room bulletin boards.

One, fiercely engraved, says:

Mr. and Mrs. Herrick Kinsley Postough

request the honour of your presence

at the marriage of their daughter

Marryanne Eugienne

to

Mr. Jeremey Allan Glanzich

Saturday, the sixth of June

Two thousand and ten

at six o’clock

Church of the Best Birthings

856 Interbred Road

Tautly, Connecticut

Then there is another, simply thermographed, with an entanglement of wedding rings dancing round its margin:

Ms. CAUSELINE ROBERTA INGAWE THOMAS

and Mr. ALBERTO FRANZ DiFOCCO

along with THEIR CHILDREN (from a number of previous marriages)

cordially invite YOU to join THEM

as they SOLEMNIZE their

REAFFIRMING PERSONALLY SACRED VOWS OF HOLY MATRIMONY

June 6, 2010

(Saturday, starting at 5 p.m.; continuing until closing)

Monimo’s Gyros Take-Out and Kurdish Dip Bar

528-K 4326 E.128 St.

New York, NY.

(Cash bar only.)

Please R/S/V/P at causeline@becauseitsdifocconow.com

What is one supposed to do, when such invitations appear out of nowhere, briskly pinned up on the cork board in the office break room?

One may assume that Margienne’s invite, deeply engraved, is stuck there simply for purposes of information, intimidation and the setting down of boundaries.

Causeline’s invitation may be asking for something more — especially if it’s accompanied by a sign-up list for the

IT Office Pot-Luck Lunch and Second-Time-Around Wedding Shower,”

honoring “Causeline“.

and “Alberto”.

focusing on wine and

gifts they might use for their children, ages 9-13

(registered at Target.com, including kitchen utensils)

Large Break Room

11:30=12:30 EST

Please sign on, below.

Guests are requested to clean up after themselves.

Must you sign on? (Of course not.)

Must you show up for the party? (No, especially if you have no interest in being involved in any office wedding showers, ever again.)

Must you bring a gift, if  you show up for the party?  (Not necessarily, since, in many instances, the dictum is “your presence is your present.” A fruitless and ineffectual dictum, if there ever was one. It’s useful, always,  to stop by the wine store, or by a shop that hawks clever cocktail napkins.)

What’s more, if you don’t take a present to the party, age-old propriety maintains that you don’t eat the cake. That’s the basic trade-off.

Age-old propriety is full of itself.

Go to the party. (Go on-line; send Causeline the Target-store garbage can she’s been dreaming of.)

Eat the cake.

— John




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My friend Minerva is fed up with her cousins. To put it more precisely, she’s fed up with the way they feed each other.

The cousins (let’s call them Calvin and Blanche, since, having actual names of their own, they truly do exist) have been married forever — at least 40 years. All that time, it appears, they’ve been eating off each other’s plates, both at home and in public. I, for one, have actually seen them do it —  at Minerva’s house, at their own house, and at fine restaurants in major cities, all across our fair nation.

There appears to be an unspoken agreement between the two of them. Blanche takes a few bites from her entree and then slides her plate across to Calvin. Forthwith, Calvin takes a forkful of Blanche’s poached salmon and shifts the plate back toward her. Being more adventurous of spirit, she then stretches across the table and dips into Calvin’s boeuf bourguignon, holding her napkin under her soup spoon, so as not to dribble on the linen. Then they look at each other and say either “Mmmm…” or “Mmmm?”

In short order, and after a swift swallow of wine, they return to their own dishes. Until the dessert course arrives, nothing else is shared across the course of the evening, except polite conversation.

It drives Minerva crazy. (“Why can’t they just eat their own food?!!?” she’s been known to screech in the cab riding home from a restaurant.) And it would drive me crazy, too, if this weren’t such a ritual for Calvin and Blanche, a rudeness they’ve fine-tuned down to the point of high art. They handle it subtly, and rather elegantly, to tell the truth. Hardly anybody notices, except perhaps for probing eyes who have very little to pay attention at their own tables.

What would drive me crazy, however, would be if Calvin and Blanche — on a first date, or four decades into their marriage — were heard asking each other, “What does that taste like?” “May I have a bite of that?” or, worst of all, “You’re not going to eat all of that, are you?”

Such questions suggest a hunger that cannot be healed by the size of any portion on any plate. They also bespeak disturbing lacks of self-confidence, self-reliance and self-discipline.

In such cases, the fellow diner is perfectly correct in asking — even if it’s something he’s been asking for the past 40 years — “Would you like to order something else?”

The answer, almost inevitably, will be, “No. Of course not. I’m loving my poached tripe on cheese grits. I’m sure the second bite will be wonderful.”

To which the well-thought-out response will be, “Waiter! May we take another look at the menu?”

Even amongst the closest of friends, the trading of tidbits is a questionable practice. Who will know, at the end of the meal, how to divvy up the tab? Who will have been keeping track of the spoonfuls of boeuf bourguignon? Who will be counting the shrimp in the scampi?

Friendships have been parted over smaller things. Reputations have been ruined by considerably less.

— John/

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This question in, via e-mail:

I know it’s not an uncommon experience, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me. My son, who’s 6, was part of a sleep-over party at a friend’s house last week. When he got home, there was a red spot on his arm. It looked like a bug bite, so I checked him out. What I found was something that looked like a bedbug crawling around under the collar of his shirt. The mother who was hosting the party is scrupulous when it comes to cleanliness, so I know she doesn’t want bugs crawling around in her house; but I don’t want to embarrass her. What can I do?

The bug-bite — bedbug or not — may have come from anywhere, or from the sleeping bag of any kid cuddled up at the party. (Is there no possible chance your own kid was the carrier? Have you checked out your own mattress pads?)

Every mother involved in the spend-the-night needs to be informed; but it’s not your job to alarm the entire guest list.  Your responsibility — which is tough enough, in and of itself — is to call the host-mother and say, “Tom-Tom had a great time at your house the other night. When he got home on Saturday morning, however, he had what looked like a bug-bite on his arm. Later in the day, I found a little critter crawling around on his collar.

“Have you heard any similar reports from any of the other boys?”

Inevitably, the mother-in-question will say, “No! My goodness! What a horrible thing!” In the absolutely best of instances, she will say, “Oh! My goodness! What a horrible thing! Let me check on this!” (Unless she is uncleanly by habit, she will be stunned by this revelation; and it will take a few seconds for the reality to sink in.)

It is not your responsibility to contact all attendant mothers, asking “Did you hear that my tiny Tom-Tom got a bedbug bite at Mikey’s?” It is the responsibility of the hostess-mother to run through the roster, if she chooses to do so.

Your only responsibility is to decide whether you want to risk Tom-Tom’s sleeping bag-to-bag with Mikey, ever again.

This is a situation best handled directly by phone. E-mail is a bad option, since it offers a “Reply All” to all the mothers involved.

And every mother’s business is her own.

–John/

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Here’s a concern voiced to me, post-Oscar Monday, by a not-overly blond nor excessively slender person, at the gym:

“Last night, I threw my Oscars party. I did all the food, except for the part of it that people brought, just because they wanted to. Drinks-wise, I asked everybody to BYOB. Almost everybody brought wine. [One friend; let’s not give his name] brought a jug of not-so-good Merlot; so it never got opened, all night long. When it came time to leave, he picked up his jug and went home — no explanations, no apologies, no nothing. How rude is that?”

A BYOB invite always begs for mixed blessings, of course.

Not only does it empower people to drink more than they ought to — since they’re consuming their own hooch (so who’s counting?) — it also leads to an unseemly confusion:

Should I — acting like a graduate-school student — scrawl my name on a bit of masking-tape and and stick it across my personal bottle of vodka? (I’d seem chintzy if I did that. Wouldn’t I?) Meanwhile, if I’d really like another cocktail, and, if it’s not all that late in the evening, while unscrupulous others have already emptied my fifth of good Scotch? (I ought to have a right to somebody else’s rot-gut? Shouldn’t I?)

If almost everybody is bringing a bottle of wine for the evening, and if some bottles don’t get opened, it’s perfectly all right for [One Friend; Let’s Not Give His Name] or anybody else, to take home his unopened bottle.

[One Friend; Let’s Not Give His Name] may have decided that his wine was too fine to be wasted on the company at hand. Or he may simply have decided that it’s time to take home his unopened bottle.

This was a BYOB party, after all.

A wrong idea from the beginning; so any judgment calls are iffy.

To make matters worse, the recycling of bottles is unlikely.

John/

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Here’s an inquiry from a Facebook Friend

Sometimes when you see someone in person after you haven’t seen them in a long time, you might not recognize them right away. Whether we want to admit it or not, some of us have changed over the years 🙂

Hair changes. Cheeks change. Jaws change. Teeth change.  Anything can change, hour by hour, day by day  — even without the assistance of a surgeon or a hair-dresser, even without the assistance of a well-meaning :).

A glitter in the eye remains the same, always, as a means of welcome.  A nod or a mild wave across the air can most often cover the reach of an uncomfortable room.

If a gentleman friend appears healthy, and has trimmed down, it’s always right to cheer him on by saying, “Well, Eric, you’re certainly looking fit.” To which he will usually respond by saying, “Thanks. I’ve been working on it.” If such is not the case — and if he has lost weight for some reason he’d rather not talk about — he will say, “Thanks. And how are you?”

If a lady friend has lost weight, or if her hair color has changed, or if her jawline has been joisted up to a point where she is virtually unrecognizable, she is usually aware of that fact, and will go ahead and re-introduce herself, even to some semi-intimate acquaintances. If one is forced into the most discomforted of corners, where there is no possible means of remembering the lady’s name, the only appropriate greeting is a quick kiss followed by, “Don’t you look wonderful?” or “I love you in purple!” or “You’ve got to tell me about that pin!”

“I’m on my way to the bar. Will you come with me?” provides a ready escape from almost any awkward encounter, in passing, with a lady left alone.

Then one can only pray for another person to come along — a person with a name one actually knows — so that one can say to his lady-friend, “I want you to meet my friend Bobo Highsworth.” To which one can only pray that the re-done lady will pitch in and say, as she would appropriately do in any social situation, “Hello, Bobo. I’m Angela Taughtely. It’s so nice to meet you.” If the introducer is left foundering in absolutely desperate straits, his last resort (or his first resort, if he sees trouble brewing, from afar) is to chat amongst the three of them, for just the space of a breath, and then say, “I’m sure you know each other.”

In the most potentially awkward of situations, a gentleman’s only out is to say, “You’re going to have to forgive me. I fear you’re going to have to introduce yourselves.”

But a gentleman can only do that once in a lifetime, with any one pair of acquaintances.

Otherwise, he will have to find a corner where he can stand by himself, until his friend Angela Taughtely draws him into the room and says, “You do know my friend Bobo Highsworth. Don’t you?”

–John/

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I had absolutely no idea who you were, the other night at a cocktail party.

It was probably my mother’s fault.

Sometime last week, NPR reported “the results of a recent scientific study” indicating that the gift for recognizing the faces of others, at cocktail parties and elsewhere, may be inherited. In that study — if I understood it correctly — some relatively newborn babies were presented with a chart consisting of a square, a triangle, and a smiley face. First time around, nothing much happened. Second time around, the selfsame babies slapped on the smiley face.

I wish I could be as lucky as those babies. And I wish I could politely slap your face at a cocktail party, as well, if it would help me remember your name.

Reconnecting with faces may be a gift, but remembering the names to go with them is a craft.

Once you’ve been introduced to a person, repeating that person’s name, over the course of the conversation, early on, usually helps. (As in, “Yes, Jared, I was wondering, Jared, what you were doing with your poodles, Jared”; or ” Yes, Jeannette, I was wondering how you, Jeannette, made that happen with your hair, Jeannette”; or “Yes, Morcum, I was wondering whatever happened to my 401K, Morcum. I thought you, Morcum, were taking care of it.)

Mnemonics (the trick of memory games) may help. For example: It helps if I remember that “David,” of a couple, is “dark,” as opposed to Michael, who is “mild.” It also helps if I look at my friend Callie and remember that she and her husband live on Bittersweet. (Bittersweet is a flower; so is a calla lilly; every connection boosts.)

But if a face and a name don’t click — particularly if the face has been reworked or the hair has been re-colored — there’s no embarrassment in saying what my good friend Henschel usually says to people he may have met before : “I’m sorry; but I fear you have the advantage of me.”

Worse things might have happened.  The research reported on NPR also involved chimpanzees, and their handlers, most of whom were wearing masks. No faces were ever recognized.

I’ve been to that party, too. Haven’t you?

John/

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“How late may we linger at a restaurant?” friends ask me, trying to put a little parley-voo-spin on the obvious question.

What they’re actually asking, of course, is, “If we just sit at the table, ordering nothing but coffee re-fills, and more water, and stay there for 90 minutes, without even asking for a second round of cognac, while 27 couples are lined up at the check-in desk, will the servers hate us?”

I’ve conducted a brief, relatively random survey of restaurant servers. The servers claim they don’t care, as long as they’re tipped considerately — not just in terms of their percentage of the bill, but also with some consideration of the time they’ve spent re-filling coffee cups and water glasses, while old friends simply reminisce, long after the plates have been cleared.

Every server in my random survey is a liar.

Unless we’re ordering a third or fourth round of drinks, or another set of Choc-o-mania Brownie Upsets for the entire table, any rational server with a rent payment to make would clearly prefer that we move on. They hope to see us again, very soon; but they hope to see another table-full of patrons even sooner.

This is one of those moments when the relationship between diner and server devolves into a sort of unspoken arithmetic. The tally, at the bottom line, is the tip.

At a fine restaurant, where reservations must be made weeks in advance, and where the tables are spread with linen, and the silver truly is silver, patrons may linger as long as they wish. (The expense of their lingering is built into the final tab; the customers get to tip on top of the charge for lingering.) And, even at a restaurant where wanna-be diners are lined up, waiting for the hostess’s next available, every patron — even if he’s only headed to the salad bar — should feel free to ask for an extra cup of Catalina, on the side. Everything should happen in its own time. But everything in life, if we are closely attuned to it, also has its own rhythm.

The other night my friend Lynette and I were the last two patrons in a restaurant. As we got up to leave, one of the servers was waiting to plug in the floor-waxer.

I had tried to be kind with the tip. I even blew out the candles at the table next to ours.

“Do you think they hate us?” Lynette asked, as I helped her into her coat.

I said, “I don’t know.

“I usually eat at the bar.”

— John/

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It’s not quite March, but already the clanging of wedding bells can be heard in the distance. Already, in some cases, they’re clanging out of tune.

Witness the extremely public example of Washington Post writer Sally Quinn, whose son, Quinn Bradlee, is scheduled to be married in Washington on April 10, which turns out to be the selfsame day when Sally Quinn’s step-granddaughter  (which makes her Quinn Bradlee’s niece, for those of you who are keeping score)  is scheduled to be married in California.

Since a number of the bodies thrown into this nuptial bed of nettles come equipped with well-known names (Sally Quinn is married to Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the Post. The mother of the California bride is ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz; the father of the California bride is Ben Bradlee Jr., a high-profile editor at the Boston Globe), a situation that might best be handled entirely by in-house negotiations has become fodder for all sort of unneeded comment, and unrequested input, all over the blogosphere.

This past weekend, Sally Quinn (who’s in a no-win situation, since she’s mother of the groom on one side, and step-mother of the bride on the other) tried to walk the readers of her Post column through this mangled maze, a bootless effort if there ever was one. I hate to tell her, but it won’t work.

Any wedding, no matter how private it intends to be, is everybody’s wedding. Even the uninvited (especially the uninvited) can take aim at it. In terms of public opinion, and bruised feelings, danger lurks at every turn.

The other night, after a committee meeting, I was talking with my friend Claude, whose son, Claude Jr. (familiarly known as “Cloffo,”) is scheduled to be married this coming July. (That makes Claude the father of the groom, the least necessary party in any wedding party.)

Because he is a sincere and caring person, Claude is predictably concerned. The mother of the bride (as is her enforced responsibility) has set a limit on the number of seats at the ceremony — on both sides of the aisle. Rhonda, Claude’s wife and the mother of the groom, is doing her best to understand. She remains uncomfortable.

“Cloffo and Miranda have a lot of friends,” Claude said, leaning against the driver’s side of his Lexus. “If they can’t all come to the wedding, I told Rhonda, ‘Let’s you and me give a big party on our own, for Cloffo and Miranda and all their friends, whether they’re invited to the wedding, or not.’ ”

I said, “That sounds swell.”

Claude said, “Rhonda hates it.”

There was a brief pause, spent mostly by Claude clicking the alarm button on his Lexus keypad on and off. “Rhonda says you can’t invite people to a wedding party,” Claude said, “if you can’t invite them to the wedding too.”

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Claude said.

I leant against the bumper of my Camry and said, “Have the party.”

“Thank you,” said Claude, as he slipped into his driver’s seat. “I was almost pretty-sure I was right.

“But one more thing …”

“Yes?” I said, taking my own keys out of my pocket.

“If it’s July, and everybody else is wearing white dinner jackets, can I wear one too?”

I said, “It’ll be after Memorial Day. Wear the jacket.” Claude hit the start button on his keypad, and his engine revved.

“It’s all up to you from now on,” I said, “… sort of.”

“I’m rockin’ with it,” he said, watching carefully in all mirrors as he backed out of his parking space. “This should be easy … sort of.”

At no time is it too early to forestall the calamities of an uncoming wedding. Claude is lucky to do his deals in a parking lot, with hardly anybody watching. Meanwhile, the rules should all be the same, for Sally Quinn, or for anybody else, when it comes to the intensitivities of our private lives.

“Except, now I have to go home to Rhonda,” Claude said, as he roared backward out of the parking lot.

— John/

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J.D. Salinger died on January 27th.  Can’t we give him a rest?

The life of a genius recluse holds a lurid fascination. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye, a book that, once it’s been read  — from its publication in 1951, on through the 1960’s, into the 1970’s, and probably even now, in the 2010’s — has turned out to be a defining moment for most of post-adolescent malehood, straight or gay, in English and in any number of foreign languages.  (The narrator, Holden Caulfield, is 16; but I’ll bet it’s 18-year-olds, and onward, who identify with him most, which probably says a lot about the eternal verities of post-adolescent malehood.) The book continues to be troublesome, at least for some boards of education.

Salinger himself continues to drive scholars, journalists, and reporters crazy. The last time a certifiably Salinger story was published was in 1965. The last time he’d had a great success with a story, before that, was in 1963. His life indeed had its oddities (an attraction to Christian Science, Dianetics, and urine therapy). There is at least one report that the mother of his children was driven almost to the brink of madness. (The fault for the madness is not quite clear.)

Nevertheless, in a town like Cornish, N.H., where Salinger eventually settled, he seemed to come and go pretty much like an average person (at least by the standards in Cornish, N.H.) He seems to have had no Chappaquiddick.

So, a couple weeks ago, the New Yorker, the magazine which championed much of Salinger’s work from beginning to end, filled page after page with self-gratifying contemplations on, and remembrances of,  J.D. Salinger. There was even a “Talk of the Town” item in which the writer reminisced about the night when a girlfriend and he went to Salinger’s house, in Cornish, for the screening of a 16 mm. movie. Nobody was drunk. Nothing happened.

Just a couple of days back, the New York Times gave a third of a page, complete with a glamour photo, to a woman whose real name is not revealed. (She writes, professionally, under a pseudonym). Her story is that she had her first date with “Jerry” Salinger. She went out a virgin. She came back the same way. Nothing happened. (Thus the Times’ status as the “Paper of Record” remains assured.)

Of course, Salinger remains a story to tell. The briefness of his notoriety, along with the length of his reclusion, and the perfection of his work, is a story rife with doctoral dissertations. Edward M. Kennedy, full of incidents, is a long story, full of life-long notoriety, clumbered by imperfections — with no place to hide, even in Hyannis Port. He is fodder for best-sellers to come, as long as there remains a Kennedy.

Maybe the difference lies in the notoriety of the names.  Or maybe (could it be possible?)  one life was simply more interesting than the other…

— John/

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