COFFEE GROUNDS IN MY ICED MOCHA
There are coffee grounds in my iced Mocha.
I say nothing to the barista
practicing the manners I learned as a young boy,
that politeness drummed into me
over the years,
with repetition after repetition:
Elbows off the table.
Don’t slurp your soup.
Always use a spoon.
Knife and fork, never with your fingers.
Napkin on your lap.
Emily Post, the original etiquette expert,
lived in New York City,
home schooled and then educated
at Miss Graham’s finishing school,
whose great-great grandchildren
wrote the book “Emily Post’s Etiquette”
now in its 18th edition
the definitive guide to American manners,
died in 1960 in her New York apartment.
And the woman who carried on that tradition,
Judith Perlman, aka Ms. Manners, born in 1938
writing a three times weekly advice column
which appears in over 200 newspapers worldwide
and expounds her “heavy etiquette theory,”
on manners and politeness,
widely read and establishing her worldwide fame.
And I remember when my mother,
so concerned that I would go out into the world
(as if I had not already gone out into the world)
without knowing etiquette or proper manners,
ordered me down to the basement of our townhouse
to watch a grainy videotape on an old VHS/VCR recorder,
of an older woman teaching manners,
neither Emily nor Judith but some second-rate substitute.
I sat there fuming at my mother
and regarding with disdain the woman on the tape
with her graying hair and veined hands,
her brittle, croaking voice, and trying, for my mother’s sake,
to pay attention, to learn something, anything,
though knowing full well I would come away
with at best only one or two grains of knowledge about manners,
the rest I would promptly forget.
And so, I watched the tape as it reeled along,
the ancient woman croaking like a wounded frog
about the Continental Style of holding a knife and fork
at dinners or lunches,
always fork in left hand, tines facing downwards;
how you should bring your mouth to the food,
to be sure none spilled on the table
for that would be oh so embarrassing
and you would blush like a schoolgirl,
in her pleated navy and white skirt and black laced shoes,
and your knife would be in your right hand,
and you should place the napkin on your chair
if getting up and leaving the table,
and always the outside left fork is used for salad
(“No, No,” she croaked “never the inside fork”),
and I wondered what she must have said to her children,
or whether she even had any children,
and if she did, if she drilled these rules into them as well--
or was it just me, the hapless watcher of this hapless tape
who was being subjected to what I was sure
was useless information that I would never use,
and wanting to just stay on in the basement
after the tape had ended, just to be alone
in the dark and the quiet like some meditative monk.
And not having to go upstairs
and put on a false smile and in a false voice
say, “Yes, that was very interesting”
or, “Oh, I learned so much”.
I was actually thinking
how soon I could escape the confines
of our red brick townhouse to go out with my friends
to ogle girls walking by in the street
with halter tops and cut-off jeans,
play basketball or soccer or tennis and gather,
as we did in those years,
when we would grab a six pack of beer and go to a friend’s house
to drink and hang out and generally cause trouble playing poker or watching TV;
or go to a house party where all sorts
of unmentionable things happened--
things that would shock my parents out of their complacency
if they knew about them.
Or maybe not,
for they probably knew more of what went on
than I gave them credit for, and I, knowing full well
that it was all a waste of time
and would come to nothing as most things in hindsight
at that age really do; and that especially
learning about etiquette was of absolutely no use whatsoever
and would never benefit me
or even be something
I would remember or put into practice as I grew up
and did go out in the world full force to encounter
the harsh realities of adult life.
But watching that tape was one thing I do remember
from those early years
when I lived at home
with my mother and father;
and to this day I do think about table manners
when at a lunch with friends,
Or a dinner with family.
For love is a force stronger than
and the love given
is equal to the love received.
Published in 34THPARALLEL
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