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EVERYBODY’S TIPPIN’

Uncertainty wrote me:

I took delivery of a new couch today.  I didn’t know “standard” delivery for this company meant leaving it on the porch!  I just opened the door and the delivery guys carried it right inside, but then mentioned they weren’t supposed to.  I was so shocked that delivery didn’t mean “inside the house” I guess I kind of forgot myself.  Should I have tipped them?  Actually, it wouldn’t matter because I didn’t have any cash at all, but should I have planned to tip them?

LISTEN:

I don’t know what you’re going to do with no cash.  I guess you could smirk and leaning up against the wall say: “Sorry, guys – all I got is whiskey and blow-jobs; which would you prefer?”  Then they’ll be so shocked you won’t have to worry about it.  They’ll trade on that story for the rest of their lives.

No, you don’t have to tip appliance and furniture delivery persons, but you can if you like, and it’s certainly welcome.  Since they pointed out that they did you a favor by actually delivering your couch as opposed to dropping it off in the parking lot, one might guess they were fishing a bit.

Imagine going fishing and pulling up a bottle of whiskey!

Guess what else you might catch.

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LYING FOR A LIVING

Pride thusly wounded, a question:

My husband travels for work.  He’s gone every week, and it’s hard enough being lonely, but now I’m being tortured by my friends.  I have had 3 different friends in the past week ask me if I trust him while he’s gone.  Don’t they realize how hurtful their question is?  Of course I trust him.  What should I say to just shut them up?

LISTEN:

This is a great game, I mean question.  Two questions – first –

Yes, they realize exactly how hurtful their question is.  That’s why they ask it!  They enjoy inflicting pain on other people, and they enjoy sowing misery and discord.  Since you’re asking about this, I’m making the overall assumption that these are not well meaning friends concerned about a pattern you’ve revealed to them – mysterious business trips, random phone calls, unknown credit card charges, etc., – right?

No, they’re just being assholes.  Stop associating with them immediately.  Oh, or just wait … wait for the next time they ask … then you get to do the Best.  Thing.  Ever…

Answer a question with a question.

Socrates got it right, baby – the key is to ask intentional probing questions, ones that both challenged the assumptions of the question and expose the biases of the original questioner.

“Xenophon sure is gone and awful lot, Philesia – how do you know he doesn’t have a little somethin’ somethin’ over in Ionia?  I would never trust my husband to be gone all the time.”

“Xanthippe, why are you questioning my husband’s honor?”

You say this with an open, authoritative tone of voice – one that suggests that you’re open to the truth, but will countenance no gossip or idle speculation.  Other variations include “Why in the world would you ask such a thing,” or “What exactly do you mean?”  Feel free to narrow your eyes for dramatic effect.  They’re after drama, after all, so go ahead and give them a little taste.  “How did you decide to accuse my husband of adultery?”

“I wasn’t!  I didn’t!!” the lying bitch will lie.  “I was just asking questions!”

“I trust Xenophon completely,” you then add, without a note of hesitation.  “I hope that’s good enough for you.”

Then stop associating with these people.  I mean, seriously?  Seriously?  You’re going to invest your time and precious energy, of which I’m sure you have a boundless supply, to those who cast aspersions on your husband, by proxy your relationship and ultimately you and your judgment?  It’s the cultivation of a rotten heart and soul.

Believe me – you’re better off alone.

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DISAVOW

An embarrassed epistle:

I’m so embarrassed.  My office Christmas party was last week, and my husband really stuck his foot in where it didn’t belong.  My business partner sorted out the date, found the restaurant, selected the menu, bought the wine and beer, and had even made a lovely gift basket for our senior partner!  I just didn’t have the time to do anything, really!  So at dinner then, our senior partner was gushing over how nice everything was, telling my partner how great she’d done everything this year – my stupid husband had to butt in and demand recognition for me!  I’m sure he just assumed I must have helped, but I didn’t.  My partner just demurred and said oh, yes, of course – and I just sat there speechless.  What should I have done?

LISTEN:

How about anything?  Anything at all??

You could have helped with any part of the planning or execution – any part! – and then you would have deserved part of your ill-gotten praise.  How long did this take to plan?  You mean to tell me you couldn’t have picked up a gift card at the grocery store, or some gas-station panties-in-a-crack-pipe to help personalize the gift basket??  You couldn’t have picked up a case of beer at any point between knowing the date of the party and showing up to stuff yourself silly?

I don’t believe you.  So you could stop lying about it, too.

“I’m so busy.”  What a crock. Guess what?  Everyone is “so busy.”  You haven’t seen busy like an unemployed homeless person trying to scrounge up his next meal.  If you watched a single television show this year, then you had time to scrape your ass off the couch and help your business partner plan a fucking regularly timed holiday party.

Seriously.

Oh, but you didn’t, and you sat there and didn’t say anything when you got credit.

What you should have done is laughed.  Just busted out laughing –

“HA HA HA HA HA!!!  Oh, NO, Balthazar – this is entirely Vespasia’s doing!!  She pulled the whole thing together…I didn’t even have time to pick up some gas-station panties-in-a-crack-pipe!!”

And then you’d lead the whole table in a toast – “To Vespasia, whose hard work made this all possible!”  Cheers, drink, prost, etc., and then afterward – in a quiet moment, you pull your co-worker aside and tell her in as heartfelt a manner as you can fake – “Seriously, thank you so much for all this, and I’m sorry about Balthazar.  I didn’t say a thing to him so I guess he figured it was an office party we both had a hand it – you did a great job.  Everyone knows it.”

Balthazar should be limping around in the background, unable to walk straight after the thorough kicking his shins received during his impromptu and untoward celebration of your non-effort.

Next year don’t be such a slug.  They’ll make more crack-pipe-panties, but each year slips away and it would be nice if you joined in the planning or execution of the year end celebrations.

A partner who doesn’t at least help take up these tasks is pretty poorly named, don’t you agree?

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SHALL WE EVER FIND THAT LOVELY LAND THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN?

For what it’s worth

Understanding

Compassion

Knowledge –

There is no answer to find

Here and there you look, of course

I think it’s just hubris

So let’s agree to this:

Somehow,

Here in this world of sin and sorrow (apologies to Mencken)

Is a place

That is free from worry, and other troublesome delights.

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ANTS ON A LOG

Conversation interruptus:

I was at a bar with a friend who I get to see maybe once a month.  We like to hang out for a couple of hours after work, catch up, talk about our day, ideas, etc., and have a few whiskeys.  In the middle of the conversation, this other guy came up, interrupted us and started chiming in on what we were talking about.  He wasn’t obnoxious about it, but kind of pushy.  Like he stood there staring at us until there was a break in conversation so he could add his two cents.  This went on for 10 or 15 minutes, and then he asked “Do you guys mind if I join you?”  I said, frankly, yes I did, and he went away.  I was annoyed and didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to talk to this guy, and neither did my friend.  How would you have handled the situation?

LISTEN:

Without a verbatim report, I have to say it’s difficult to know whether or not you were rude, as this guy most certainly was.  If he asked, “Do you mind if I join you?” and you snapped at him and said “Yes” in a harsh tone while staring him down – that’s kind of dickish.

Sure he was annoying and interrupting you, but that’s no excuse to be awful yourself.

If, however, you said something more along the lines of, “Well, actually – look, it’s great to meet you, but my friend and I don’t really get a chance to see each other much so this is kind of our only time to hang out.  Have a great night, though…” then I would say you handled it perfectly.

Drunker people may need some sterner encouragement, but it doesn’t seem like anyone was particularly inebriated.

I’ll leave that for a later time.

The trick here is to not show any signs of anger or frustration, but to be friendly and kind and firm.  Some lonely soul looking for friends doesn’t need your unpleasantness, despite being out of bounds.  A better trick is to feel compassion for these types of people, while maintaining the boundaries you deserve for the cultivation of your own friendship.

A bar is a public place, and the roof, in this instance, does not constitute an introduction – so he was clearly in the wrong.  You are well within your rights and all rights of propriety to say thank you, but we’re going to get on with our conversation – just don’t compound that with being a douche bag.

L’addition, s’il vous plaît… Merci!

 

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COME AGAIN?

A mispronunciation boondoggle:

What do you say when someone mispronounces a word – or worse – corrects your pronunciation of a word incorrectly!?  I brought out the dictionary, but I think I might have hurt my friend’s feelings a little.

LISTEN:

When you say they corrected you incorrectly, did they slap the shit out of you and scream “Wrong!  Do it again!”?  Because while a lovely reference to tyrannical schoolmasters, it would indeed be incorrect.

One should never correct another grown up – oh, GOD, How many times do we have to cover this?? – unless, of course, it’s me doing the correcting.  Actually, that’s not even true, I only correct when asked.  You should tread a little more lightly.

So here’s the scene, someone is trying to serve you – I don’t know – quince paste.  They pronounce it /keense/.

“Have some manchego and KEENSE paste,” says your hostess.

“Why, thank you,” you reply.  “I’ve never heard it pronounced that way – I’ve always said /kwinse/.”

“Well, you’re wrong.  It’s KEENSE, like quinceañera.

“KWINSE, like rinse.  Otherwise it wouldn’t rhyme with “mince.”

“What?”

“They dined on mince, and slices of quince, Which they ate with a runcible spoon.’  Edward Lear?  The Owl and the Pussycat?  Anything?  Oh, just google it.”

Etc.

And that’s about all you can do.  Sure, get the dictionary if you must absolutely win, but it would be nicer for you to protest your own ignorance and suggest you find out together, once and for all – not who’s right, but just how to pronounce the word.

I suggest you have a story at the ready of another word you mispronounced in the past and why – surely you can some up with some convincing reason you thought Persephone must be some kind of homophone.

Then your friend gets to save face, you get to be a pedantic little shit, and the conversation can continue until someone asks what’s in the chai and you have to pronounce cardamom.

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ALL IS FULL OF LOVE

Or full of shit.

When you encounter someone – say, at a cocktail party – who says that their only motivation is to help others, you should excuse yourself immediately and go help yourself.  To another drink.

Otherwise you are in for a wonderful night of passive-aggressive accusations that you, yourself, are not open to love, or whatever else this charlatan is selling.

Yoga lessons, psychic powers, crystal healing, aura massage, homeopathic nonsense and other great business opportunities – why would you turn any of these down?  Perhaps it’s the cartoonish ghost images of dollar signs floating in their dilated pupils.

Generally, I wouldn’t permit any excuse to follow a simple “No, thank you” –  “Would you like to come to an art opening on Saturday?”  “No, thank you.” – that’s how that conversation should start and end.  Cajoling and demanding explanations are nothing else than bullying, so cut it out.  But providing half-hearted excuses is just lying, when what you’re trying to say is “I just don’t want to do it, I don’t have a reason why and I don’t need one.  Do go away.”

But I like the ring that has to it…

No, no, no – back to how to deal with charlatans.  When someone asks you if you want their particular brand of crazy, you have to quickly say No, thanks – and then try to get away.  If they start in hard-selling with oh, how wonderful it is (do they do anything else?) – just say “I’m so sorry, but I just don’t have any money.”

You’ll be amazed at how their amazing opportunities vanish in a flash.  It’s almost like they weren’t sincere.

I suppose a word of warning – if someone persists, offering you a loan, or a trial period and personally guaranteeing your success, you have a first rate grifter and you need to get away.  The polite way to do this is to look longingly at your (empty, half-empty, completely full) glass distractedly…ignoring whatever their saying until prompted to pay attention.

“So…what do you think?”

“Huh?  What?  Oh, my – you know – I think I need another drink.  Excuse me.”

Which is also like serving a fresh glass of shut the fuck up.

Everybody wins.

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XERXES IN BLUE JEANS

An economically disadvantaged discussion:

I have a friend who recently came into a great deal of money.  It wasn’t the lottery, but years of hard work that paid off dramatically.  Now he can afford much nicer things, and I find myself insecure about returning any kind of hospitality.  He’s never said anything one way or the other – he’s actually been beyond gracious.  However, I can’t afford to entertain at his expensive level, and he doesn’t “tone it down”.  What can I do to make him bring it “down a notch”?

LISTEN:

Whatever it is, please don’t “put it in quotes”.  God.  Ugh.  Anyway – OK –

Did you say this person was a friend?  Because if it’s a friend that you’re having this insecurity about, you really just need to quit.  If you were capital F Friends, then he’s happy to share his good fortune and all you have to do is send a thank you note and reciprocate at the level you are capable of – and even that he might miss, now that you don’t have him over cause you drink cheap booze.

If it’s going out to dinner – and it’s your treat – say so in advance.  If he starts ordering from the bottom of the wine list, a cocked head and a well placed “Dude” should elicit the appropriate response.  He’ll either waft his arms open and say “Hey, the wine’s on me!” – in which case, drink up – or he’ll back off and let you order the paint thinner.

Hey!  You might be thinking… It’s not that bad!  I don’t drink THAT cheap of booze… it’s just that…

Just that what?  That somehow because he has more purchasing power, your previously decent bottle of wine is something to be ashamed of?  That the cheap-n-cheerful libations of your mutual history have to be forgotten, replaced by a more subtle and, might I remind you, entirely subjective liquid experience?  There are wines in rather large bottles that you would think by volume should cost twice as much that are as simple, flavorful and accessible as a beaujolais nouveau, and I return to them time and again for large events, mixers, cooking (and drinking while cooking) and just a good ol’ cheap drunk.  We’ve known each other for a long time, and even when I’m flush, I know there is no shame in a sturdy vin du table.  Just because I’ve found a fine wine with particularly luscious flavor suddenly within my price range, it doesn’t mean I’m going to wash a baby in it and throw it all out.

That would be disloyal, like regarding suddenly poorer friends as somehow beneath your new wad o’ cash.  If he doesn’t think that, then why do you?

Self-consciousness in this regard – well, in most regards, really – is a peculiar manifestation of vanity.  To think you rate on any level where all (or any) eyes turn to you with certainty, or scrutiny, or any kind of teleological tape measure is just absurd.  So here’s you – without so much as lifting a finger to star in a movie or write a bestseller – suddenly concerned with what everybody is going to think?

Let me tell you, everybody is going to be thinking about themselves.

Letting your vanity paralyze you into inaction – you call it fear of failure, I call it being full of yourself, whatever – really translates to this in the real world: you’re snubbing an old friend.  So cut it out and invite him over for dinner.  Make pasta.  Serve something cheap and flavorful, lots of it, and talk late into the night about what it is that matters most – your friendship.

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FORENSIC ETIQUETTE

Excavating the ruins of a friendship or a relationship is always tricky.  The classic line of He said / She said morphed somehow into Sex, Lies and Videotape – one imagines it was the advent of videotape, as sexing and lying have been quite popular for some time – and now you can’t get away with anything.

Especially if you have a facebook account.

Any fragment of that shattered tranquility can be wielded as a weapon.  From out of context text messages – in context text messages, for that matter – errant facebook posts, caller ID, your browsing history, your predilection for working late on specific nights… to too short phone calls or unanswered invitations – lying by omission, or just too busy to think? – mistrust, dishonesty, frustration and resentment takes these little needles and uses them like an evil acupuncturist to inflict pain as opposed to alleviating it.

Most of all we do it to ourselves.  Self-flagellation isn’t just for religious nutjobs.  We loooove to suffer, and we love an audience even more, though (maybe) not as much as we love to watch.  That’s a form of suffering in and of itself, really.  You’re either an emotional vagabond or a sadistic voyeur.

Take your pick.

What is to be done?  How does one transition through pain with dignity and foresight?  The tragic hero(ine), devastated by lost love or a calumnious association and crying out for justice, mercy or revenge is embedded into our psyche.  Our own immaturity and attention seeking ratchet that hullabaloo up to heart breaking decibels.

The question, I suppose, is posed to two parties – the ones enjoying their moment of drama, and the ones with free tickets and front row seats.

Let’s take the actors first, shall we?

From an etiquette point of view, as opposed to a legal one – though it will help in that department if it comes to that – start by shutting the hell up.  That’s right – close your mouth, put down your phone, step away from the keyboard – enough is enough.  It is bad enough that you have to go through a break-up or betrayal, but for your own sake, don’t finish the entrusting your confidences to those you turn for support by clicking send.

How sacred a vow could it have been if you think that committing this information to the internet somehow raises the tone of the conversation?  What solace or solution will broadcast ugliness bring to you in the cold, dark night?  The idea of shoving a splinter of shame into the fingernail of your recent confederate might be appealing, but what long term satisfaction has it brought to you?

None.  What it has brought to you is a reputation, now earned, of being a crazy person.  Congratulations, you can pick your meds up tomorrow at 10.

Tarnishing your own honor with hysterical acts of slander against the accused just makes everyone wonder why it took so long for them to see you as the nutjob you are.

So say nothing.  When prodded or probed for more salacious details of your personal disaster, think of how you yourself would view such dire confessions from a nodding acquaintance.  Generally with pity, right? Which grows quickly into fatigue, and scorn?  Is this the costume you’d like to wear to the ball?

I thought not.

Now the rest of you *ahem* us.

Just like a traffic accident or the proverbial train wreck – you just have to watch, correct?  Can’t peel your eyes away from it, huh?  This certainly explains reality TV.

It’s all bullshit.  One associates with tragedy at a distance because it throws the fragility of life into sharp relief.  That could have been you.  Earthquakes, bombings – these things happen without notice, and it really could be anyone bleeding and screaming just around the corner.

Same with train wrecks and smashed automobiles.  You say “Gosh, how horrible,” and gawk a bit and move along…unless you’re a paramedic, or a police man.  In which case you say “Nothing to see here,” which is patently untrue, “move along.”

But you don’t pull over and start asking questions.

Same with a dissolving friendship or marriage.  Let the authorities handle it.

Which isn’t to say that when your friends are undergoing a hardship you turn your back on them.  Far from it.  You hold their hand, act as a shoulder to cry on – maybe you get to be the rebound, who knows? – you do what you can to comfort them and be sympathetic.

What you don’t do is have the reenact the crime again and again.  You may listen to the recriminations for a time, but after that time, you encourage them to move along.  At some point you have to put your foot down and say enough.  You aren’t doing anyone any favors by adding fuel to the fire, or saying you never liked so-and-so anyway.

That’s a long way around, I suppose, to come to the same rule.  Just shut up already.

The problem is this – in the age where every spare and random thought can be committed to … well, not paper, but the ether, I suppose, but it could be printed out if one was truly fastidious and there were enough trees, we are to busy being busybodies and not truly helping anyone, least of all ourselves, by shoving our ever increasing sniffers into the dirt and hay of other people’s lives.  We leave behind these electronic fingerprints and reams of ill-planned commentary which can by used against us, and rightly so, by the real or otherwise wronged party.  When this unfortunate ball of confusion rolls into our lives it’s trouble enough, the real trouble is when it rolls into a court of law, in which case it’s out of my hands and the gentle gloves of good manners are replaced by the somewhat sterner iron mittens of the judiciary.

And then just like that car wreck, you’ll notice – it can happen to anybody…sure…

But not as often to careful drivers.

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WHAT CAN YOU SAY

A jilted lover’s friend of a friend complains:

My very good friend slept with another good friend, a couple of times, and now their little fling is over.  Fine and good – but now she runs him down when he texts her and I just don’t want to hear it.  He’s still a friend of mine.  What can I say to her to convey this?

LISTEN:

“Bernadine, I know you and Horatio had your thing and it’s over, but please don’t insult him behind his back and to my face.  He’s still a good friend to me, even if you’re having buyer’s remorse.  I’m not angry, but please stop.  Thank you.”

How’s that?  Will that work?

I doubt it, too.

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