ETIQUETTE IS SUCH a tiresome discipline that most 20th century Americans are loath to study it, let alone practice its niceties in their daily affairs. It was not always so.
Upon a time, virtually every American man or woman, boy or girl, regardless of economic or social standing, knew proper manners and practiced them in all appropriate venues.
Much of what colonial Americans practiced as daily manners was taught them by a strong family orientation and, it must be conceded, the rigid caste system of George III's England. Elsewhere on the planet it wasn't appreciably different in that era: everyone knew what class and circumstance he was born into, and he learned how to defer to his betters and lord it over his inferiors.
The democratic experience in the Great Melting Pot of America changed much of that. Early Americans went to great lengths to unlearn the habits of the bended knee. Still, firm as the family stood as cornerstone of our culture, and strict as the Puritan ethic was in its own hierarchy, descending from God on down to minister and Mother and Father, from eldest to youngest, we remained, among ourselves and out from under the yoke of monarchical oppression, a polite society.
Lately, however, the pace of change seems to have left in the dust much by way of custom from more graceful and leisurely times. My own children, try though their mother and I might as they grew up, still require reminding about table napkins. They are as likely as not to burp when gas afflicts them during a meal. One of them--I won't divulge which--will rise up on one cheek and let rip, unless she is in a nice restaurant, in which instance she just cuts loose without preamble.
It distresses me, probably more out of reflex than genuine concern, because while I stress to them that gentlepersonly manners will always make them welcome and respected at court, they aren't likely to have an audience with the queen, and everybody else they hang out with behaves like a heathen gasbag as well.
Still, one must recognize that changing circumstances require changing manners and a new etiquette is being fashioned daily, without an Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt to light its way. Sorry, but I can't bring myself to accept that hermaphroditic-looking sex-columnist in the Star as my guide to personal behavior.
Here I am almost 50 and back in the gene pool all of a sudden and unprepared. Aside from the emotional scuffing one takes going through a divorce, there's simply a hell of a lot of mental strain involved in figuring out this dating business. Believe thee me, the dating game looks a lot different when viewed from the other side of virginity, the far side of marriage, the bittersweet knowledge of how two people in love can give one another a case of the ass.
These are large issues of universal application and are suitable grist for the mill of serious philosophers, or at least long-winded novelists. I am neither of these at the present: I'm just an old bachelor trying to figure out how to get lucky. As such my questions are of a more mundane and practical nature.
For instance, should I keep on sleeping with Annie and Mona? Is it all right for me to sleep with both of them at once, or is one at a time more reasonable? And what if, just hypothetically, I have a date who decides to sleep over? Should I tell Mona and Annie they have to use the beds downstairs?
These are things I never had to worry about when I was married, not even when I was a bachelor back in college.
For one thing, I was sleeping with Elvis back then, and Elvis had black hair that blended with my clothing and didn't give me away. Annie and Mona are both platinum blondes, and by the time I get through groveling around in bed with them every morning, and dig my clothes out from under the pillows and bodies and books and TV remotes in bed, I look like something that just came out of a snowstorm--all fuzzy and out of focus and vaguely haloed in white.
For the past three years I've been getting a fair amount of unsolicited advice about this sleeping arrangement--most of it from lady friends, and most of it to the effect that if I expect any of them to spend the night, the dogs have got to go.
Not far, but out of the bed.
You did understand, did you not, that Annie and Mona are my two dogs? Elvis was my dog, too, but she (yes, she) died 13 years ago. Elvis slept with me too, along with Barbie, who was and is not a dog, but a wife, and Mac, another dog. When I was just a kid, Ginger slept with me. Dog.
My kin hail neither from Kentucky nor Arkansas, but Maine; yet it never dawned on anyone in the family, including Barbie when she came to Tucson from Pasadena and came to set up housekeeping with me, not to make room for the dogs at the foot of the bed. Or right up amongst the pillows. When Barb was pregnant with Liza, and we had Mac and Elvis and just a regular double bed, things were pretty cozy. Fortunately this was during the winter months so the additional BTUs were welcome.
But now I live alone, except for the aforementioned bitches (and Zeb and Eddie, but they are of the equine persuasion and too big and untidy to share the bed with the rest of us), and I learn somewhat belatedly that there are women in this world who do not enjoy the feel of a cold wet nose out of nowhere. Or the downy softness of a Labrador-white hairball the size of a Shetland pony.
Some have claimed to have allergies. Other affect to love the doggies and think they'd be much more comfortable out in the fresh air. Others just call me a swine and leave. Up until now my response has been:
I've known you for just XYZ months, but these girls are my family. I could no more kick them out of bed than sell my own children.
To which they often respond:
Well then you need a bigger bed.
To which I must in honesty answer:
If I had a bigger bed, the horse and burro would be in here with us. Is that what you want?
Is that what I want? I'm not sure I want to be a lonely old bachelor for the rest of my life. What should I do? I'm not sleeping with any of you, so far as I know, so you can offer dispassionate advice.
Help me out here.
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