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Elizabeth Post, the doyenne-by-default of the Emily Post etiquette dynasty, died, week before last, on April 24. Her age was held to be 89, a semi-rumor that she never fully credentialed.  She died in Naples, Fla., a fact with which nobody would ever dare to argue.

Elizabeth Post did not descend in direct lineage from Emily Post, that magisterial, well-born, self-invented, self-appointed source of all things proper, decorous, and acceptable. She was, in fact, a grand-daughter-in-law. (A tough spot to be caught in, if you’re part of an etiquette dynasty.)

The dicta of the initial Emily Post were almost invariably targeted at the dream world of the emerging bourgeoursie. The unwritten message, of course, was that, if you pretended to be anybody, you were intent on having “manners.”

On the other hand, if you actually were somebody, and had been born that way, you could make up your own”manners” as you drove along. You could put your fork down anywhere you pleased, and the butler would pick it up, and put it where it might most conveniently go, considering the inevitability of the course next to come.

The fascination with “proper behavior” seems to have had its birth in the Edwardian era, just around the first turn of the past century, when the classes started to mingle, when the then-Prince of Wales and his mistresses consented to dine with barristers, the lower nobility, and even the better-known theatricals. The rising middle class began to mimic that behavior and keep track of where every fork was placed, how many waistcoat buttons might be left unbuttoned, and how an unapologetic, lordly belch might be stifled behind the mask of a damask napkin. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, never said, “Excuse me,” or “Pardon me,” of course.

The class of gentlemen who grew up around him, and who wandered about, slim in their good suits, but lost in his bulky, overwhelming shadow, spent much of their time saying “Excuse me,” and “Pardon me,” to people they had never met.

And thus “manners,” as we know them, were born, and Emily Post, recently divorced but immaculately credentialed, lept into the breach, decreeing where there had been no decrees before, laying down the foundations for inferiority complexes that are still be sorted out by high-school guidance counselors and board-certified psychoanalysts.

The first Mrs. Post never made her peace with the concept of a house completely lacking in servers; it was only her spin-off successor, Amy Vanderbilt, who, trading upon the cachet of her own bourgeouis married name, dealt with hostesses who might actually have to cook their own dinners and hire in people to serve them, (In the worst of circumstances, they might also have to cook and serve, both at once, depending on the husband to mix the cocktails, and if he was sober enough, to pour the wine.)  A Vogue etiquette guide published in 1948, under the putative editorship of Millicent Fenwick, took the issue even farther down the slope. Ladies were even instructed in the stirring of cocktails. Single ladies were even given guidelines about entertaining, on their own, provided an available gentleman could be elbowed in to stir the Manhattans.

Elizabeth Post took on an even more treacherous task, since she was merely a grand-daughter in law.  Well-bred and well-heeled, she was an interloper, nonetheless, always faced with the challenge of living up to her grandmother-in-law’s grandeur. She was a Post, but only by marriage; her genes were not fossilized. Always evolving, because she had to, almost inevitably at the behest of her editors, she took up the letter knife bravely, ditching what seemed antiquated, upgrading what might be made even more elegant, making the world a trifle more understandable for brides-to-be who have been living with their fiances for the past five-and-a-half years.

I doubt it is a task she cottoned to kindly, in every instance.

So, this evening when you are at dinner with a loved one, turn off your cell phone for at least a few minutes. In those few minutes, I trust, the soul of Elizabeth Post will know at least a modicum of peace. And her grandmother-in-law will finally approve. Or maybe not.

— John

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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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The cover story in this month’s Vanity Fair purports to be about Grace Kelly — at least that’s the way things look if you’re giving a cursory browse to the racks at the airport news stand. But the real news in this month’s Vanity Fair — or what seems to be the virtually unavoidable substitute for news these days, is ( you guessed it)  the unseemly saga of Tiger Woods. Not one but two cover blurbs, each playing off our  blacklure to learn more about Tiger’s “kinks,” and promise us the spectacle of “Tiger’s Girlathon Gallery!” (At least VF subjects us to only one exclamation point; thank god for journalistic restraint.)

With good reason, cover blurbs such as these are also known as “teasers.” But Vanity Fair, making good on its pledge, comes through with a spread of full-page, professional-makeup-artist-styled portraits of at least a limited cross-section of Tiger’s girlfriends. Some of them are wearing underwear. At least one of them, I’m pretty certain, is not. Almost all the photos are shot in the restaurants, or in the bedrooms. or, even more egregiously, in the hallways leading to ill-specified hotel rooms.

Meanwhile, I’m distinctly uncertain whether”girlfriend” is the term I’m looking for in this instance, precisely.  (Maybe you can help me think of the word.) “Mistress” doesn’t quite do it. “Mistresses” traditionally maintain at least a modicum of decorum and can command at least some fragile claim on a gentleman’s commitment. (Think of Susan Hayward in Backstreet.) What’s more, “mistresses” know how to keep their mouths shut — maybe out of some misguided, self-flagellating sense of loyalty, or maybe as a means of just making sure their mortgage payments continue to get covered.

But nobody these days, whether they’re part of the John-Rielle-Elizabeth triangle or a participant in the Sandra-Jesse-Michelle trifecta, seems to have any resistance to the temptation to talk, especially when a hot microphone is within shouting distance, when there’s a seat available on Oprah’s sofa, or when there might even possibly be a book deal in the offing. And it’s hard to tell who’s most at fault — the feckless and the forsaken who can’t manage to keep their mouths shut, or the rest of us who can’t resist the urge to eavesdrop.

Maybe the question that needs to be asked of everybody — the philanderers, their ill-used other halves, and the rest of us who just can’t stop flipping through In Touch at the check-out counter — is “Have we no shame?”

Vanity Fair knows, of course, the wry-making irony of putting Princess Grace on the cover of its “Tiger’s Girlathon” issue. Grace Kelly was nobody’s fragile flower. (Nobody seems quite sure how many of her leading men she slept with; she seems to have felt no particular urge to say whether she did or didn’t — grown-up, inexpressibly beautiful people of her age simply screwed around, and nobody seems to have dared to have pressed the awkward questions — how often, and if ever, and with whom?.) It’s stunning, by today’s standards, to note that, as young Miss Kelly, Oscar winner and fiancee to the Monagasque Prince Ranier, could actually pursue their multi-continental courtship in 1956, writing actual letters back and forth to each other, with nobody–at least as far as we know — steaming open the envelopes.

Imagine such intimacy. Imagine such privacy. Imagine the naughtinesses lost forever, before the advent of e-mail.

In tiny print, up in the right hand corner of its current cover, Vanity Fair quotes a couple of lines from W.B. Yeats. “The innocent and the beautiful,” Yeats says, ‘Have no enemy but time.” Grace Kelly seems to have known how to stop the clock.

For the rest of this crowd, it’s still ticking.

— 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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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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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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Here’s a real-life conundrum from a friend in Virginia. (Let’s call him “Prentice.”  Let’s call his wife “Leticia.”)

Since Prentice and Leticia have a two-year-old (let’s call her “Brandoline”), they’ve become part of a play-group community. (How did it happen? Via e-mail? By means of a bulletin board at the Y? As a result of a bulletin listing at church? As the result of some curious encounter at the dog park? Who knows?)

Brandoline loves all of this, and Brandoline’s life would be entirely dandy, Prentice advises me, if it weren’t for Birthday Parties — not to mention Second-Baby Baby Showers.

“This all started out, sort of idyllic,” Prentice said. “It was about little children playing together, sliding up and down, bumping up and down on see-saws. A lot of juice got spilled, but a lot of mothers got to know one another. A lot of Pampers got changed outside the sandbox.”

“Leticia tells me it was good, really good,” Prentice said, “Until money got involved.”

Now, predictably enough, every child in the play group is having a birthday; and a great many of the mothers are pregnant, once again. (Parties are being planned; shower invitations have already been printed.)

Inevitably, there’s one mother in the group who never pitches in. “It drives Leticia crazy,” Prentice said. “It’s not just about the money.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to club-like situations such as this one, when everybody is expected to pitch in, it is all about the money.

Leticia might take the bold leap, by simply dropping a “best-wishes” card in the gift basket. Or she might suggest that the play-group mothers toss their cash contributions into one happy basket.  (Since the gift is intended to be from the play-group, as a group, no checks will be accepted. Anonymity assured. This is not, by the way, a bad idea.)

Better yet, somebody in the group might be deputized to take the unwitting mother aside, reminding her, in a kindly way, that everybody in the group usually pitches in. (” It’s just what people usually do,” the deputee might say. If the unwitting mother takes umbrage, and says she wants nothing more to do with the group — and that she is taking her tiny Tad and his twin brother, Teddy, to another play-group, the ultimate goal has been accomplished. Hasn’t it?)

“All in all, the whole thing begins to sound like a cash-exchange,” Prentice said, “money  simply shuffling back and forth. Leticia plops in $20 at the next birthday shower; and then, if Leticia is lucky, everybody else will plop in another $20, when Brandoline turns 3.”

“Is that right?” he asked.

I said, “Of course, that isn’t right. The giving of gifts should never be seen as a matter of tit-for-tat. If you give a gift, you don’t necessarily expect a gift in return.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Prentice. “But I’m not sure Leticia sees it that way; and she’s concerned about what Brandoline will think.”

I said, “Brandoline is just turning 3. If she doesn’t get a gift from everybody in her play group, it probably won’t be the hardest lesson she’ll ever have to learn.”

“Maybe not,” Prentice said. “But we’re still  concerned.”

— John /

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Some people simply cannot let it go.

Take, for example, my friend Hiram, who called me, from Minneapolis, day before yesterday. He was busy at his desk. (I could hear the shuffling of papers in the background, and the murmur of people talking on their headsets.)

“You know Lorene and I are divorced,” he said.

I said, “Yes, Hiram. You’ve been divorced for ages.”

“It’s not ‘ages,’ ” Hiram said. “It’s just 26 months.”

I said, “Twenty-six months is more than two years.”

Hiram said, “Can you hold?” I was left alone, for a brief time, all by myself in a void with nobody but me and the Bee-Gees; then Hiram was back with me. “Where were we?” he asked.

I said, “We weren’t any where.”

“Valentine’s Day,” he said. “I need to do something.

“Do you know somebody who could do some flowers? Nice, you know, but not roses. Can you hold?” This time the void was filled by Celine Dion. Then he was back.

“I was thinking maybe the florist could deliver them to Meghan.”  Meghan is Hiram and Lorene’s daughter — their only child, except for Hiram, Jr., also known as “Hype.” (Hype spends a lot of his time in a recovery center in Providence, R. I.) “Then she could just take them to her mom, and say, ‘Dad wanted me to give you these.’ ”

“Why?” I asked.

“Sheez,” Hiram said. “It’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t want her to be lonely.”

“But what if she …?” I started to ask. But Hiram took care of the rest of the sentence. “Hate not to be paying attention,” he said. “Major presentation at 10:45.” (I spent the next minute-and-a-half with Barry Manilow.)

“I’m back,” he said.

“What should the note say?” I asked. “What note?” Hiram asked.

“The note Meghan’s going to deliver with the flowers.”

“Don’t worry about Meghan,” Hiram said. “She’ll know what to say.”

“What if Meghan gets out of this equation? What if she has a date of her own?” I asked. “What if you just had the flowers delivered tomorrow afternoon?”

More than a trifle aghast, Hiram said, “What do you think Lorene wants? A bunch of dead pom-pom mums on Valentine’s Day?

“I still have a great deal of respect for that woman,” he said.

“Can you hold?”

I spent the next three-and-a-half minutes with ABBA.

When he came back on the line, Hiram said, “And would you make sure they don’t send roses? Anybody could send a bunch of roses. I could have ordered a bunch of roses for myself.”

He took a quick, short breath of hesitation. There was a flustering of papers in the background.

“Hate to do this to you” he said. “But can you hold?”

— John/

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