Thursday, April 29, 2010

DP 4/29 and Gender Ruminations

It does seem as if various little tweaks to these letters could improve them considerably.

L1: Now this is interesting. Your supervisor constantly has little "crises de nerfs," and spends much of the workday in a state of considerable Upset with a clearly capital U (like Mrs Oliver in *Dead Man's Folly*) making demands on you for your sympathy. You, good sir, are working for Mrs Bennet of *Pride and Prejudice*.

Mrs B, as any reader of P&P will instantly recall, is inclined to react to any vexation, be it minor or major, from Kitty's coughing to Mr Bennet's saying he will not visit a new neighbour who happens to be a highly eligible bachelor to Elizabeth's refusing the proposal of marriage from a man she despises who happens to be the future inheritor of the family estate, with loud lamentations that noone appreciates her suffering or has any compassion for her poor nerves. It's difficult to know exactly how to rate Mrs Bennet's judgment. One is inclined to dislike her so much that it is difficult to rate her conduct with objectivity. Yet, to judge by results, she comes out almost tolerably well. Her judgment is seriously off for thinking that Elizabeth could ever find Mr Collins even a tolerable husband, but then again she does manage to get Jane and Bingley together with speed, and her results exceed even her own expectations. Not bad for a woman of little or no understanding and illiberal mind.

I wonder about LW1's supervisor. Does she spend her entire day going from employee to employee sobbing her poor little heart out while forming and dismantling vendettas at whim? It doesn't seem terribly likely. It might be entertaining to determine why she singles out LW1 and what he might have in common with any other favourites of hers at the office.

But I suspect that the real problem just does not appear in the question, and might not even have occurred to LW1 yet. The strange conduct of his wife is what concerns me. LW1's wife knows that Another Woman is telling LW1 her Feelings - the most sincere, precious and important communication any woman can ever disclose to a mere man - and her extremely unwifely reaction is to be so completely sanguine and to encourage such an outrageous assault on the entire foundation of American Family Values to continue? This will not do. Mrs LW1 is clearly cheating on her husband, or at least wishes to do so, probably with another woman. Unless LW1's lifelong fantasy is to be the Creme Filling in an Oreo Cookie, he must divorce her at once.

Moral: Reverse the genders of the couple, and would this even be a letter? Make the couple gay and bisexual males for maximum number of interesting side lines to pursue.

L2: This one is creeping me out a bit. Here I shall have to draw a parallel between a rather spaniel-like human and an actual dog. LW2 has returned home to find that his best friend has turned into Mrs Norris from *Mansfield Park*.

Mrs Norris might well make a rewarding case study, perhaps one of the most rewarding case studies in all of Austeniana. Beginning life as Miss Ward, with a fortune of seven thousand pounds, she has the remarkably mixed blessing of seeing her sister Maria marry up after captivating a baronet. Shortly thereafter, Miss Ward finds herself obliged to become attached to Mr Norris,a clerical friend of her brother-in-law's. On the plus side, Sir Thomas can give his friend a living, and the Norrises begin their career of conjugal felicity with an income (that would satisfy Elinor Dashwood) of very little less than a thousand a year. On the minus side, this throws Mrs Norris into a lifetime of scrounging and toadying to her inactive sister, a situation slightly similar to that of Sir Walter and Miss Elliot at the end of *Persuasion* when they are forced to find their only consolation with Lady Dalrymple - that to follow and flatter others without being followed and flattered in return is but a state of half enjoyment. However much Mrs Norris might enjoy the direction of affairs at Mansfield Park to the extent that she can act in Lady Bertram's stead, she has noone to whom she can openly feel superiour, which, one must presume, grates on her during the course of her marriage until the action of the novel begins.

Fortunately for Mrs Norris, there were three Miss Wards. While Miss Maria married up, Miss Frances married considerably down. By the time of her ninth confinement, her last recourse is to appeal to her sisters (primarily Lady Bertram) for relief. This is all Mrs Norris could request of life, and it is no coincidence that the scheme to raise Mrs Price's oldest daughter at Mansfield comes from her older, poorer and more active aunt. After more than a decade and a half of subordinating herself to the Bertrams, Mrs Norris has a relation to whom she can condescend, and the treatment Fanny receives at her hands is about what one might expect from someone who has had to repress herself for so long and now finds an object ideally suited both in temperament and situation to all the worst excesses within her character.

As to what LW2 should do, I'm just too sick that he went around consulting others instead of taking action at once. That he sorta-kinda-should-woulda-coulda tried to do the right thing is all very nice and cute, but if I had my way LW2 would spend a day (with only the same recreation breaks provided) in a cage meant for someone rather smaller than he is for every day he knew the abuse to the dog to be continuing and did nothing to stop it. We can deal with the friend and determine whether he's a likely serial murderer or just very sick later, but the main thing is that the dog must be saved. Buy the dog. Blackmail the friend if necessary, just do not let the poor animal live through another day of mistreatment. Do it at once, yesterday, last week. If you really want to worry about the friend later, be my guest.

Moral: Talk about Good Men Doing Nothing...

L3: As if L2 weren't bad enough. Now we go all the way to Miss Austen's juvenilia, with a fiance who could have been a model for a title character in her story, "Jack and Alice." The Johnsons were a devoted family and, though a little addicted to the bottle and the dice, had many amiable qualities. At least LW3's intended does not gamble, so far as we know. Jack, sadly, does not get to do very much in the story. He appears in the opening chapter, at the masquerade to celebrate his father's birthday, and then is not mentioned until he dies young (considerably assisted in this endeavour by alcohol), an event which, as it makes her her father's sole heiress and thus increases the possibility of her being considered worthy to marry the exquisite Charles Adams, is a source of pleasure to his sister.

It might be possible to spend a long afternoon asking questions about how LW3 had it drummed into her that judgment was such a negative quality, but taking any interest in such an exercise would be considerably assisted by feeling at least the tiniest piece less contempt for her. In fact, I think her course of conduct is quite clear. She must get herself both spayed and neutred just to be safe, move with him to Manhattan where he will not have to drive ever again, and marry him at once. In fact, my heart may be more set on this pair marrying than on any other pair that has ever appeared in this column.

Moral: I suppose it's progress of a kind if the general reaction to the situation would be the same with the genders reversed. Would it be? I'm not sure.

L4: I could spend the rest of the day trying to decide whether this is an improvement or not over the previous letter from the woman who did reconnect with her (Swoon) First Love and then had a Psychic Dream about his dying. In a way, working off my previous moral, it's a little interesting to see LW4 producing a letter that looks like such a bad fake it almost has to be genuine (unless it had been written by a novice female staffer who had not yet taken a course in How to Sound Male). And I am going to give LW4 at least a few points for sounding a lot less crude than the LW of some weeks ago whose old flame was married to the demented man and who could neither write two sentences without mentioning the strength of her sex drive or instance even one point of merit in the poor woman's character.

But I would refer LW4 to *Persuasion* and how Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot may have gone on with their lives, but neither of them married and had children even though they were neither expecting nor hoping to meet again. As Eleanor of Aquitaine said to Henry II in *The Lion in Winter* - Save your aching arches; that road is closed.

LW4's manner of mentioning his wife in passing opens up all sorts of possibilities. I think I should cross-examine him along the line of finding out exactly what the trigger was that woke him up one day to his being in late middle age with nothing much in his life except a sense that his Golden Past seemed to suggest so much more Promise in his future than life actually delivered. I think the comic strip *Mary Worth* recently had a not-too-dissimilar story line. Wilbur Weston, a man of about 50 who writes an advice column called, I think, Dear Wendy, had a recent brush with his past. A young man appeared briefly in his life; his mother had been Wilbur's college sweetheart and Wilbur just might have been his father. He wasn't, apparently (I only saw the Sunday strip and a rare one on a weekday and didn't think to follow it on line), but I recall a strip or two of reminiscence about Abby and what a free spirit she was, and how she and her son basically grew up together. Unfortunately, Wilbur Weston is widowed, but LW4 might as well be for all the interest he seems to be showing in his marriage. (Perhaps his wife expected him to buy her an expensive engagement ring and never got over it, so that now she is free with her affections only when she receives presents that will fetch a decent amount at the pawnbroker's.) That seems a decent long along which to start; he doesn't really give off the impression of having been half-consciously obsessed with his (Swoon) First Love all the time, though the cross could easily transpose into such a vein.

As for what LW4 should do, this seems one of those times when a heartfelt note would be genuinely heartfelt. It would be easy enough to omit any little details that would be less than comforting to the grieving family. And their could be a side benefit in such a course of conduct. If the family happen to reply, LW4 might learn a thing or two of interest, such as whether his (Swoon) First Love ever mentioned him to her children, or perhaps compared him favourably to their father, or maybe even went so far as wish she'd had them with LW4 instead and openly cried to them every night that she'd thrown away Her One Chance At True Love - well, a LW can dream, can't he? And if it had happened that his (Swoon) First Love had turned him into her family joke, at least the relations would probably be sufficiently polite to keep that from him.

Moral: This sort of letter really needs something like non-matching sexual orientations in order to give it sufficient seasoning. Otherwise it just comes out all swoony and droopy.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chapter and Verse

I'll admit I'd have been surprised if anyone had recognized the quotation I gave.

I'm not sure whether it was 1985 or 1986. I had been thinking about various friends from college, I remember that much, and somehow happened to stumble upon what appeared to be a new release on a remarkably obscure label by, of all people, Melanie. As it happened, one of the people I'd been remembering had been a suitemate who had been passionately devoted to her recordings. The general consensus at the time had been that he'd seemed better naturally suited to her era than our own. That and a natural curiosity about someone reappearing after some years comprised enough reason and interest for a minor purchase.

It was a painful listening experience. Melanie had attempted to drag herself into the 80's and it just did not work. I can't really recall much of how or why it didn't work apart from one line, "Abuse is just a game I play in bed." But I recall feeling rather sad as the album neared its conclusion, as she seemed just so out of her time.

Then the last song, "Some Body Love," began with, "I fell in love with a man who was twice my age and half my size," and quickly made itself the one success in the entire misplaced collection. I could not really recall how much of her own brand of It she still had, but she still had something worthwhile. And somehow that made the whole thing seem that much sadder. It would have been so much simpler just to be able to stamp, Outlived Her Time, and file her away. But ever since there's been a twinge of lingering regret that comes to me every so often, and has become a sort of benchmark for considering how other well-known people have aged.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

DP 4/22 - Back to the Cold Climate

This week I shall open with a quotation that, in context, sometimes breaks my heart. I have been meditating upon how some people in the public eye age considerably better than others, which turned out to be quite apt for the first letter this week. Because I suspect this one might even merit Final Jeopardy, I shall provide pertinent details after the weekend.

"I fell in love with a man who was twice my age and half my size."

On to the letters and a return to Miss Mitford.

L1: I have seen one or two posters speculate that LW1 might be male. The theory, which has some ingenuity to it, is that LW1 made an advance or two of some sort to the kitty in question only to discover her to be a cougar. I shall not quite side with that assessment. LW1 comes across as very nearly an A-Gay Wannabe, which would explain the tone of desperation in L1 to make a mountain out of a little pile of grass as well as the excessive concern about age as a number. But I'll agree with the theory that a male LW1 would have only written that letter out of thwarted passion, so that, unless LW1 is Mr Carvey's character Lyle the Effeminate Heterosexual (not a pleasant thought), that leaves LW1 as a Fag Hag. The cross-examination of this witness would be highly entertaining for the general public, and would deal with exact details of precisely how people should act at various ages. My guess is that she might respond to questioning rather like Stacy London on steroids.

As to what LW1 should actually do, I think she should show enthusiasm for the birthday lunch in question, but, in the spirit of the Fake Prom, do a bit of rearranging. She should divert the invited (young) guests to a different location, and invite a group of what she would call Old Frumps and the rest of us would call respectable 40-year-olds to join the Cougar at the appointed rendezvous, armed with the gag gifts. When word of her cleverness gets back to those in charge of the radio station, she should reap her richly deserved reward.

Love in a Cold Climate contains a number of people passing for younger or mingling with a younger set. At the end we have Fanny's mother, the Bolter, thinking that it might have been as well for Linda to have died young, life being unkind for women like Linda and herself when they aged (even if the Bolter had brought a young and devoted Spaniard to escort her on her return to England). There is Boy Dugdale of indeterminate age, who chooses marriage and bolting partners from the younger generation. And there is Lady Montdore, whom I shall choose for my comparison.

As portrayed by Sheila Gish, Lady Montdore appears as if she could be practically any age between 40 and 60. Her meeting life with an air of command and her regal indifference to fashion are great age blurrers. But she meets her match after she sees to it that Polly is disinherited. Our last view of the old Lady Montdore is when she suddenly appears at Fanny's home and invites Fanny to Hampton to meet Montdore's new heir, a Canadian distant cousin whom she expects to behave like a lumberjack. Then Cedric swishes in and takes her over in the first ten minutes. Lady Montdore's last typical pronouncement is how she has never been very fond of France and finds the French frivolousl she prefers Germans. Cedric's extreme reaction ("The frivolity of the Germans terrifies even one!") overwhelms and seems to hypnotize her. He charms Fanny and Montdore as well, but "Aunt Sonia's" iron will crumbles before him. Invited originally for two weeks, Cedric is clearly there to stay, and he immediately sets about transforming Lady Montdore into one of those ageless-looking women with perfectly smooth makeup and a gay smile for every occasion. At the first public appearance of Cedric and Aunt Sonia with her new look, she's summed up by her friend Veronica, Mrs Chadley Corbett, as being so wonderful and so young. "I hope I look like that when *I'm* a hundred."

Moral: Only look into mirrors before turning into Lucrezia Borgia.

L2: I rather feel for LW2, who seems to be a blameless version of LW4 from last week. Last week it was just someone pressured into agreeing to an excessive expense as a bridesmaid through the expedient of almost crying. This week's LW2 more seriously has saddled herself with guilt simply because of someone else's thoughtless comment that she was driving too slowly. It is interesting that she describes herself as witnessing the accident, but I would only want to undertake this cross-examination if I were being paid for it. There's a lot more there than just the accident, though. This LW falls into my least favourite category, that of those who do not deserve severe treatment but who need it because it's the only thing to do them any good.

Looking in LIACC for inappropriate remarks, there's a runaway winner. After Polly and Boy marry and she is disinherited, they cannot afford to live in England and only come back when he's invited to write or research a family history. Polly is pregnant, but it is already clear that the marriage is not a success. The baby dies, leaving Fanny and Polly distraught. But Polly has rallied enough to be curious about how Cedric has transformed her mother when Lady Montdore comes to see her for the first time since the wedding. Lady Montdore sails in with her blue hair and her perfect makeup and her fixed smile which is completely unsuitable for the occasion, and instead of her formerly typical heavy remarks comes out airly with a remark about the poor baby dying and her supposing it was all for the best as if a rainy day had forced the cancellation of a tennis party. It is enough to leave one speechless, quite speechless (and, as Sophie Thompson's Miss Bates adds in Gwyneth Paltrow's *Emma* - "and we have not stopped taking of it since").

Moral: Scapegoats never go out of fashion.

L3: Now this letter confuses me. LW3 handled an awkward situation with somewhat less grace than she might have done. Okay, that happens. But now here she is and she has come up with a proposed solution that makes no sense. LW3 wonders whether she should send a message to the brother of the woman in question in order to shame her into better behaviour. What on earth does she expect such a course of action to accomplish? (Apparently LW3 posted in the comments that she intended sending a private message, not making a public post.) Does the brother in question control his sister's every move? What on earth would he do?

Singularly missing from the letter is an account of the boyfriend's reaction. Naturally one wonders why he has not taken any part in the proceedings. After all, the male in question wasthe friend of his friend. He is much closer to the situation than LW3.

A fairly large number of posters and DP herself advance the opinion that the correct response to hearing the sounds of Hanky Panky is to ignore them and let the couple in question get on with it. That is enough to drive me to bad language again. Why the SB1 should the SB1 hostess just have to ignore the SB1 highjinks of SB1 guests SB1ing each other on her SB1 sofa? Perhaps I have a bit too much of a case of Ama Clutch, but I feel for the poor furniture. I think anyone in LW3's situation well within her rights at least to offer the couple a sheet or two to protect the sofa.

The LIACC comparison is clear and obvious again, and it is a priceless moment. Anthony Andrews, playing Boy Dugdale, is seated next to Rosamund Pike's Fanny at dinner during Lady Montdore's house party (designed to try to match Polly up with the Duc de Sauterre), gives the most marvelously nauseating leer and then proceeds to grope her under the table. It is the sort of image that burns itself onto one's eyeballs.

I shall now bring up a point of order that I have not seen raised by anyone else at this point. A few people seem to be skimming lightly over the written evidence, just as Phyllida Erskine Brown did when she thought Claude was advertising for extramarital companionship and missed the [F] in the description that pointed to his pupil Mrs Whitaker as the lonely heart. It may be one thing when hosting a party of friends that includes one or more couples or potential couples to accept that sometimes Nature will take its course. However little one likes LW3, though, it is quite another thing in the case here. The male in question, while her guest, was not personally known to either herself or her boyfriend. Indeed, only one member of the house party was a friend of her boyfriend. The guests (one can establish with a quick question whether the boyfriend accompanied them or not) went out to a party which LW3 did not attend, and one of them brought a pickup back to her home. Again, where was the boyfriend in all this? Did he go to the party? Did he know of the hookup? Did he accede to the impromptu addition of an extra guest? If so, there are various other issues in play that noone has raised. But my initial assumption, as LW3 seems the sort who would enumerate all her complaints about her boyfriend if he'd taken some part in the goings-on, was that there was no reason for either host to expect to hear Loud Sex on the living room sofa. This does detract considerably from whatever blame LW3 may merit.

One of the few Logistical Advantages of Heterosexuality is that one can have a house party and invite more than two guests, perhaps a good many more than two, and have a reasonable expectation that the weekend will be Hanky Panky Free.

Moral: There is no way on earth that one should ever allow both a Submariner and a Mermaid within five miles of one's Victorian Fainting Sofa at the same time, however trustworthy either might be when alone.

L4: Perhaps LW4's resentment is the result, as some posters deduce through their own experiences, of her husband trying to push her too deeply into his life and take her over. Perhaps they are really equally matched. Perhaps he thinks they have too little in common. Which is the case will emerge at the end of questioning if one can muster the interest for it. At the moment, I feel too little inclined to take the requisite interest in the exercise.

LIACC has couples with a range of divergent interests. Fanny and Alfred are well suited. The Montdores, Polly's parents, don't seem to do much together, but are sustained by their great estate. Linda's parents, the Radletts, are clearly in a relationship in which he Expresses Himself and she Manages Him, but it works well. When Linda marries Tony Kroezig, she soon finds that they have far too little by way of common interests (she already knew their families were incompatible). Moved by Christian's Communism, Linda never really can take it up properly, which she eventually realizes when she sees how well he gets on with Lavender, and she bolts again. But I think Polly and Boy make the couple with the most divergent interests.

The previous moral seems uncappable; I shall not attempt it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

4/15 DP - Required Reading List

This week, I have been meditating upon this year's version of Prom Wars, or at least the three cases that have come to my attention. The best known would probably be that girl in Mississippi whose case led to the cancellation of the prom, the ACLU, court cases, private proms invented and reinvented, and in the end her attendance at a fake prom with seven attendees while the real prom, about which she had not been informed, was held elsewhere. Her family were supportive if not particularly enthusiastic, and she did apparently get some television time out of the whole debacle. Then there was the boy in Georgia whose school caved almost at once, but whose father kicked him out of the house and is no longer proud of him on Facebook. Finally there are the two boys in North Carolina. One was called to the principal's office, asked if he had bought his prom ticket yet and if he really intended to bring his boyfriend, and then given one or two rather silly-sounding reasons why same-sex escorts were disallowed. His mother called the principal within a day or so, and after a very short conversation the policy was rescinded.

It would be a mistake to speculate that opposition to these young people is centred mainly in the South. Northerners of that sort of lack of charm just have a cleverer way of opposing us. My own high school was too small to hold a prom, and, even if it had, I'm sure I could never have brought A.C., B.C. or either of the J.M.s. But it is heartening to study the photographs of the new crew, see that the rising generation has greatly improved prospects and hope that they have the same look when the digits of their ages are reversed. They make their own case far better than I could, and those Social Worker types who would deny them what everyone their age ought to have and would put them into more conventional appearing couples no longer fret me.

For this week's letters, I shall simply provide the LWs with some recommended reading.

L1: Now, this letter filled me with joy. It would be almost unsporting to cross-examine LW1 on the delight she takes in swooning over the phrase "first love" and I shall let that sit. One might speculate that the death in question is not the actual physical death of her (swoon) First Love. My best guess would be that she might have to kill off her love for her (swoon) First Love to maintain her marriage - but does she really want to maintain her marriage? Despite the joy this letter brought me, I cannot raise a good swoon either way.

My own form of Psychic Flashes is to say something for apparently very little reason and it then happens. The best example of this was in the postscript of a letter to a friend. It was written about a week after John Lennon died, and predicted the month and year of the death of Karen Carpenter. I was shown the letter about ten years ago, and there was no reason for the idea just occurring to me, but there it was.

But now for why L1 makes me happy. Dear LW1, I get to tell you that you absolutely must read Oscar Wilde's story, "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," an especial favourite of mine for years. A young man on the brink of marriage visits a fortune-teller who sees something terrible in his future. At last, Lord Arthur is told that it was seen that he will commit a murder in the future. Scared to death that he will murder the woman he loves, he tries to get the murder out of the way by attempting to kill off one and then another of his elderly relatives. Sadly, he does not succeed in these endeavours. Still refusing to marry before the murder, Lord Arthur is in despair when he meets the fortune-teller and kills him (I think by throwing him off the bridge).

So tell or don't tell; it matters little. But do write again after the divorce. Or shouldn't I have mentioned that?

Moral: Sometimes life shows us what will happen and sometimes what we shall make happen.

L2: An interesting letter, this. I feel inclined to a lengthy cross on the exact nature of the formation of the pappa's second connection. As the son is only six and there is a new child, there might be no real overlap between the two relationships, or there could be a good deal of causation in play. I remind myself of Sir Henry Clithering in "The Herb of Death" when he tells Mrs Bantry that, if she later reveals that the estate of the fiance of the murdered girl in the story she tells is heavily mortgaged, he will claim a foul. LW2 makes no mention of the start of her relationship or its proximity to her boyfriend's divorce - perhaps she is being careful to avoid any such mention. If there is more there than she reveals, perhaps there is a lingering residue of guilt that might be having the good effect of what respect she can bring herself to show the boy. I find I must ascertain a few more facts before being able to pronounce on LW2's character.

I shall refer LW2 to Ibsen's "The Lady from the Sea," as an example of the beneficial effects of a stepmother once her own issues are resolved.

The plight of the poor boy is rather worrisome, and there's really no solution. Maybe if LW2 is really lucky, it will all turn out like the *Cracker* episode *True Romance* with a third dog chasing after the same bone, only Woman #3 will kidnap the boy and do away with him. I almost wish the poor boy could be adopted by a family that wouldn't see him as a bother or a weapon or anything but himself.

Any credit LW2 may gain for wanting to change her own feelings (if she really does) before marrying pretty well evaporates in her terrible timing. It almost sounds as if on some level she's trying to drive a wedge between father and son by making the boy the reason to delay the marriage.

I'd only tell her to replace in her comparison between his son and her son the word IF with the word WHEN. And she should write again after the divorce.

Moral: Nothing is so unfashionable as last marriage's child.

L3: I can top LW3's story with a novel by Martyn Goff, *The Youngest Director*, in which the protagonist is appointed to an executive position in his company, only to be told almost at once that studies have proven that the married executive is happier and therefore a better worker, and accordingly he is expected to report to the director of personnel with his marriage lines within the year. When he does not marry within the year, and indeed forms a relationship of a different nature, he is knocked out of the company by the machinations of his mentor, who played by the rules despite similar inclinations.

This is an odd letter. We have the use of "I" once, and thereafter it is always we. Does LW3 have multiple personalities? The list is interesting, and not necessarily relevant to many of the employees of a small industrial-supply company. I suppose dandruff might reasonably be included on a Don't list, but that would seem to be covered under basic grooming, or very nearly. There is a difference between reasonably tended teeth and a "nice smile" as the presenter designated. I am very well acquainted with the owner of a small business who has very grey hair and is considerably overweight, but has always struck me as completely professional. The complexion point is not so simple. Did the presenter actually tell attendees, "You don't have a nice complexion," or was that just LW3 extending a line of thought? I've seen enough of a few unscientific studies to be willing to believe that there is something behind the claim that there is a preference for light skin tints over dark, though the extent might be difficult to determine. But what shines through is LW3's resentment. What is the first point mentioned? Expensive clothes. Now the presenter might have mentioned a presentable appearance, but LW3 doesn't, and resenting being unable to afford expensive clothes addresses none of the unreasonable points. Besides, workers for small industrial-supply companies rarely find it much to their advantage to look like graduates of *What Not to Wear*. Spa treatments *might* help with some skin conditions, but that seems rather tenuous, and since when does one require a gym membership to avoid being overweight?

I am of two minds about what to do. It is rather a pity that there was no direct challenge made to the presenter at the time - or was there, if she really told people to their faces that they didn't have nice complexions? It might be reasonable to present a list of the more questionable points and ask management to clarify that there will not be any such policies implemented along the line of the recent Japanese requirement of waistlines no larger than 33.5 inches. But on the other hand, just because the executives were nodding doesn't mean that they necessarily were taking anything in. Raising the question might put ideas into their heads. They might require dyed hair if anyone asks.

As anyone so resentful can hardly keep a husband for long, I'd like LW3 to write back after the divorce to let us know if she is still employed at the same company.

Moral: Don't throw sticks for sleeping dogs?

L4: LW4 obviously needs a sister named Joanie to keep saying, "You're terrible." So there she is, pressured into accepting a role in a wedding only to find herself surrounded by Bridezilla and the richer bridesmaids. The solution to her situation is obvious. She should shoplift dresses, catch the bouquet, see the groom SB1ing the maid of honour during the wedding reception, get her father's girlfriend to offer her employment as a sales repre - sorry, beauty consultant, have her mother make out blank checks to cash, steal twelve thousand dollars, and then, after the bride and the other bridesmaids have dumped her, join them at a popular and expensive holiday resort. Run away, tell hard luck stories at all the bridal shops in town, and then, for proper compensation, marry an athlete who needs citizenship - all to a soundtrack dominated by ABBA. THAT will show the bride! Or, of course, LW4 can just watch *Muriel's Wedding." Sorry to recommend watching instead of reading, but *Muriel's Wedding" is perhaps as good as a book.

As little fond as I am of Bridezilla, I am almost inclined to tell LW4 that she will learn a great deal more from the experience if she sucks it up than if she weasels her way out of it. She did not have the spine to tell Bridezilla where to get off. her attempt to decline was not strong enough to be able to withstand the horrific and blood-curdling circumstance that Bridezilla actually "looked as if she were [I refuse to type 'was'] going to cry" and doubtless the thought of actually having to have a free and frank conversation about her circumstances appeals to her about as much as Captain Brown's references in *Cranford* to his reduced circumstances appeal to Miss (Deborah) Jenkyns.

The friendship is not worth a moment's concern either way. Rather like Alice and the month of dinners at once, it seems highly preferable to go without Bridezilla's friendship than with it. But I fearfor LW4. She is clearly susceptible to the slightest pressure. If Bridezilla can do this to her without even having to shed a single actual tear, I would shudder to think of leaving LW4 alone with a skilled salesperson of handbags or shoes, let alone cars or jewelry.

It's not that it would be unreasonable for LW4 to claim that it would financially cripple her to be able to give the wedding the full and joyous participation that she would certainly get away with saying Bridezilla deserved. It's just that there are not so many clear opportunities to let oneself learn from a mistake. She can weasel out of this one. But the next mistake might be much more expensive. And anyone who will agree to expenses she can't afford simply over the appearance of possible tears in the near future probably needs to learn the hard way when the lesson is still relatively affordable. Going into debt for a thousand dollars is unpleasant, but LW4 will learn from the experience, and it probably will not break her. Getting into a habit of agreeing to incur large expenses and then backing out afterwards is perilous.

And of course, if I liked LW4, I could point out that maintaining her willingness to be in the wedding party but declining one or two of the numerous pre-wedding events on grounds of it being a choice between the event and paying the rent might well cause Bridezilla to deem her ungrateful and reassign the post of her own accord.

Moral: I shall now lose sleep wondering whether someone so tender-hearted as to agree to unaffordable expenses simply because a friend happened to appear to be on the verge of tears deserves to be liked sufficiently to be wished a happy way out of her travails instead of a stern lesson.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

4/8 - DP in a Cold Climate

Before taking off to the delights of Miss Mitford, this seems as good a time as any to take up a favourite question from Monday, the rather overlooked Washington, D.C., who only arranged for his mother to have lunch with the boyfriend's parents because he couldn't think of a good reason not to.

At first view, this almost reads like something that was probably an episode of *Dharma and Greg* or something similar with a few cosmetic changes. Does it matter that the parental situation will be 2-on-1? Reviewing the Austenian comparisons, although not always strictly parental, does not offer a lot of hope. Lady Catherine deBourgh is not impressed by the Bennets, while General Tilney doesn't exactly warm to the Morlands. Sir Walter Elliot does warm to Admiral Croft if not his wife, not so much because he conquers his prejudicial frame of mind as because it works on him in another way, when he decides that Captain Wentworth's superiour appearance is sufficient to offset Anne's superiour rank.

It would be instructive to cross-examine the questioner on how politically he meant the designations of conservative and liberal. It does seem increasingly likely in this age that people might well believe that the days in which folk were generally capable of mixing with those of vastly differing political stripes are vanishing into the past at an alarming pace. But this grouping doesn't give me the impression of Michelle Malkin vs Michael Moore. The boyfriend's parents, if anything, seem like Thurston Howell III and Lovey. Or perhaps, if it's socially conservative instead of economically conservative, Darcy's Christian parents meeting Peter's divorced(?) mother on *Degrassi*. It would also be useful to cross-examine the boyfriend. The question was noticeably (perhaps refreshingly) free from comment about the relationship, but it has endured a few years, which is mildly surprising given the questioner's seeming overreaction to the simple prospect of In-Laws Lunching.

The one thing we do know about the relationship is that he does not like the boyfriend's parents. It's possible the use of the C word and the L word has more personal than political meaning attached; there are gay people who automatically equate "Conservative" with "Wanting to Overturn Lawrence v Texas and Send Us All to Prison". But the real key to the question is his calling the boyfriend's parents *stiff* - a definite pejorative when used in place of something like "formal" and when not given any mitigating stamp of approval. I don't think I'd ask anything about it specifically, though, but would prefer to comment about the questioner's dislike of the In-Laws in a final statement.

As to what the questioner should do, the solution is easy. Don't just rely on speedy liquor orders; refer to Rumpole and the Spirit of Christmas or Rumpole and the Old, Old Story and make sure that all three parents in question are sufficiently tanked up before they meet.

Now on to the Thursday questions and Miss Mitford:

L1: LW1 seems rather like Fanny, the narratrix, only without the close tie of friendship to the young woman In Pig (as Linda describes her first pregnancy). Both Linda and Polly might be a good tie to the roommate indulging in dangerous behaviour. Linda's first pregnancy just avoids disaster, and she is warned not to undergo another, although she does when she finds Mr Right on the third try. Polly, not satisfied with pressuring Boy Dugdale into marriage immediately on the occasion of his widowhood, losing the Montdore inheritance and not being able to afford to live in England, has to go and get pregnant after it's abundantly clear that her marriage isn't working. Fanny hovers without much effect, but at least with her own much superiour marriage and family for consolation. With Linda and Polly's baby both falling casualties, LW1 might be pleased not to have much invested in this situation.

As to what she should do, I have little to say. Being in no way, shape or form acquainted with the institution of pregnancy, I shall defer to those of personal experience. One can balance concern against a Nanny State with a Word to the Wise for the Inexperienced. I shall agree, though, with those who wonder why there has been no discussion of the Elephant in the Room - the Afterlife of the Pregnancy's Conclusion. The future mamma might feel as little concerned in the matter as she did in its origin, but the others might just dredge up the courage to consider the future. Disliking LW1, I waste no moral on her.

L2: I am so irritated by L2 that I feel the rare necessity to indulge in... salty language. Here we go. Why the SB1 do all the SB1 parents of every SB1 child in the SB1 school feel it to be so SB1 necessary to invite every last SB1 child in the SB1 class to every single SB1 birthday party?

This is ghastly. How on earth did this revolting habit ever spring up? Inviting the entire class or every member of the appropriate gender is a disastrous way to raise a child, particularly a girl. I hope LW2 and her husband pay for this through the nose when Constantina grows up to be a Grade A Bridezilla, requiring a wedding that runs into six figures. This is the natural consequence of raising a child to think that a crowd is appropriate and indeed required to celebrate an event so momentous as the anniversary of its birth.

The parallel in LiaCC is Lord Merlin, who dyes his doves pink and has a folly with an angel on top. Every evening at 9:20, it blows its horn to celebrate the hour of his birth, annoying those villagers who are just too late to catch the beginning of the news on the wireless.

There is quite decent cross-examination fodder here. So many posters seemed convinced that the invitations were handed out at school in front of the entire class that I had to refer to L2 to make sure that there was indeed no evidence of how the invitations were delivered. It would prove rather entertaining if the invitations had been mailed and Constantina's, lost in the post, were to arrive an hour after LW2 sent off her nasty email. Then, too, we have the suggestions that Morgana suppressed the invitation on her own initiative or that Constantina might have mislaid it, not realizing its significance. But why should LW2 bother herself with the ascertainment of facts that might interfere with her jolly good snit? It's likely justified to some extent, but I've little patience with those who want to indulge in confrontations that will let them feel better while making the situation worse for the child on whose behalf the confrontation is apparently initiated.

It would probably require rather better acting than LW2 could manage, but it might be possible to approach the situation presuming good will on the part of Morgana's parents, or at least pretending to do so. But no; it just doesn't convince me. The real problem with the situation is that almost any parental action from LW2 will seem hostile. The school might be able to do something, but one wonders, as the girls were all in the same class, how much the teacher knew about the other girls discussing the party and Constantina's exclusion therefrom. In many cases, official school policy is only as enforceable as the teacher in charge of the classroom. Is there anything else about Constantina that might induce people to set her apart in a not very good way? There might be something else about the unlucky little girl that just pushes her teacher's prejudices, especially if Constantina is not the easiest child to have in class.

Moral: One can overdose on Kumbayah.

L3: I rather dislike LW3 as well; her use of "shamefully" is quite enough cause on its own. It's too bad, as she raises a large number of potential comparisons. But what twaddle! It reminds me in part of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and in part of that pitiful literary exercise, the diary of Joan Plumleigh Bruce. Anyone who wants so little control over her own life is quite likely enough to get it.

Regarding LW3, she seems bound to set out on a course very similar to Linda's. She might have made a slightly better first marriage (and one of the few points on which one can give her any creidt is that she doesn't try either to justify her fantasy life with specious complaints or go into the standard blather about how she married Mr Wonderful-but-Unexciting) than Linda, but she can take warning from Fanny's summation after her second marriage that Linda had neither found great love nor inspired it in others, even though she did have better luck outside of marriage the third time around. Or LW3 can go that even better and take up a career similar to that of Fanny's mother, the Bolter, described as too beautiful and gay to be burdened with a child (and the drudgery of mundane daily trivia), who ends up running away from six husbands. LW3 seems so determined not to control her own life that she may be similarly blown about in the wind. Then too, we have such a variety of opinions offered - Lord Merlin's that "Love is for grown-up people," Lady Montdore's that "Whoever invented love ought to be shot," and the Bolter's, in response to Fanny's assertion at the end that Fabrice was the great love of Linda's life and she of his, "Oh, darling - one always thinks that - every, every time."

As tempting as it is to advise LW3 to take Lady Montdore as an example and transform herself completely into a frivolous Bright Not-So-Young Thing, I shall go a different route and advise her to feed her fantasies as much as she dares, letting her mind go farther and farther. It's probably the only way to get her to treat her husband halfway decently.

Moral: There's no motivator like guilt.

L4: I shall again not attempt commentary on specialized details. The pets in question seem to come with their own particularities. I am reminded of the young Radletts meeting in the linen cupboard, cavorting with mice and discussing the mating habits of ducks. That is really the best I can do.

Where the life of a pet is concerned, I don't care to be frivolous. Let LW4 present the truth and whatever facts are pertinent to help the imprisoned friend make an informed decision, see to it that an informed decision is made and carried out, and let the people involved shift for themselves.

Moral: Sometimes treating someone like an adult might just be enough to induce her to act like one.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

4/1 DP - Bleah

As this week's crop of letters largely manages to defeat Austenian, Murdochian, Sparkian and perhaps even Woolfian analogy, I shall be fairly quick.

Before starting, however, I want to raise a point about cross-examination from Monday and Mr Now-I-Like-Women, after looking at some possible strategies at his disposal.

He can always go in a more or less straightforward manner, but it might be advisable not to date long term for some time. A fantasy is one thing and a reality quite another. It would not be prudent to commit oneself too soon when one is relatively unsettled. But this may be too dull.

A more interesting course of action may be to continue to use his gay identity and to get flirty with women as a gay man. This may prove intriguing to certain women. Some may enjoy the challenge or see themselves as Heroines of Heterosexuality rescuing a Poor Confused Soul. Even if they don't go that far, some might let down their guard with a gay friend until a Magic Moment arrives and the earth changes the course of its rotation.

But there are grander possibilities afoot for our hero. He can go one farther and become a full-fledged Ex-Gay. Go to one of those churches with a conversion program and testify, testify, testify. Even go through the program and emerge as a success story if desired. Do it well and there's a career opportunity as a spokesman for the program, but at the very least they will provide a nice ex-lesbian wife. And there is further potential advantage - if he swings back the other way, he might meet his future Ex-Ex-Gay partner there as well. The possibilities are mouth-watering.

Now I come to my point about cross-examination. It is not always about asking the right question; sometimes one finds the right question not to ask. In *Rumpole for the Prosecution*, Rumpole, being a fair prosecutor, after establishing that the murdered woman might have used the name of a Victorian author as a pseudonym for the defendant in her diary and meeting with no objection from defence counsel, asks Chief Inspector Brush if Christopher Jago's coming forward voluntarily after his return from abroad was a reason he was not charged with the murder of Veronica Fabian. When the Chief Inspector replies that that was why they thought Jago was being honest, Rumpole whispers to Soapy Sam Ballard, "I've just made your best point for you. Don't ruin it." Ballard then proceeds to asks if the police still think Jago was being honest, only to get the reply that, if Jago really knew Veronica after all, how could anyone believe any of his evidence?

In this case I noticed one or two posters drawing the conclusion that they might feel confident dating the questioner despite his past, as he had tried men and realized what he didn't want. But notice that the questioner provides no evidence whatsoever concerning his relationships with men. He voices no complaint about dating men or the relationships he had, and for all we know might even still be in a same-sex relationship at this moment. Given how many or perhaps even most of those who want to leave "the gay lifestyle" behind are prone to instancing something they found rather less than desirable about it, this omission jumped out at me.

Now it might tempt a cross-examiner to try to follow up on the question. But I should not touch this with a ten inch pole. Why run the risk? There is little to be gained even from confirmation of one's ideas, and a golden opportunity to use the omission to great effect in one's final speech. There is not one scrap of evidence, members of the jury, that this witness' new interest in dating women came after or coincided with any loss of interest in dating men, etc.

L1: I have nothing to say to this letter writer. I have not uttered the V word in the entire course of my adult life, and it would be rather late for me to start now. But I shall make one quick point. Most relationships now start with hook-ups that become serious? Declare the Culture Wars over, Maggie Gallagher - Teh Gaiboiz hazz won. Anything not nailed down in the next twenty years or so won't stand much longer if the stereotypical gay mindset has truly succeeded in so conquering Young Heterosexuality.

L2:Poor LW2. I can only hope that she has a devoted lifelong family friend sixteen years her senior to marry me as compensation for her devotion to her father. If not, then she should at least read *Emma* again and take heart from that.

L3: I am still fuming over this one, but shall do my best. While DP is hideously condescending on this one and only right by accident about a couple of minor points, there is excellent cross-examination fodder. How fat is fat? I know people who call themselves fat because of a size 33 waist. Where exactly in the Hierarchy of Beauty would he fall, if we were to accept it as entirely valid? As there is a modicum of truism (despite the gamut of Specialized Tastes out there wherein LW3 might find he has a stronger claim than he thinks) in the opening assumption, it could make a difference. If his friend is, for example, a Matthew Broderick, is he a Michael Moore or a Harvey Fierstein? And is his feeling out of the loop due to his just carrying around a few more pounds than the idealized Gym Rat although he is in reasonable shape, or is he in dire need of Richard Simmons? Has he completely surrendered to the idea of being Unable to Get a Seven, or can he emulate Camryn Mannheim (I am rather tempted to recommend her book *Fat! So?* except that I've never seen it and wonder whether it might be too aggressive) and present his Best Self to the world, taking whatever it brings him?

While there are virtues in a Slow Approach, I must proclaim myself still angered by DP's proposed course of action from which I infer that she views LW3's making any show of interest as sure to meet with disgust and repulsion. She seems more to be advising him on the proper procedure for defusing a bomb than on attempting to date a friend. But besides the insult, her course might not be practical. If his hot friend is a Pretty Person, said friend might have no experience in or liking for making the necessary first move. Should LW3 repress himself out of fear that Making the First Move would be a Terrible Mistake, they will drift along in limbo until PP, after several moments that could have been The Right Time go unexploited, finds someone less interesting but prettier and bolder, and moves on with some reluctance for What Might Have Been. And the condescension in his being relegated to the Remnants Pile is all the more striking because of the attempt to cover it up, much more so than for the very limited range of truth contained. LW3 need only follow a couple of Twink-v-Bear threads I've seen on various sites to discover that there's more of a market for him than he thinks, even if he doesn't choose to trim down to model weight. One is reminded of the Prince of Arragon - "I will not choose what many men desire/Because I will not jump with common spirits", etc.

It really seems that both DP and LW3 have taken the exaggerated parts of *Broadway Damage* far too seriously. It makes me think of early on when Marc doesn't think much of Robert's chances with Hair-in-Face ("This is America; there are rules here"), and the later rebuttal, perhaps Cynthia's best moment, when she attacks the Hierarchy itself out of disgust over Robert thinking he can't declare his affection for Marc.

I'm almost inclined to think that LW3 should instead take a page from *Get Real*. Steven may not be fat, but his relationship with John, the School Star, seems quite unequal enough as far as the Hierarchy goes. Only we see that Steven has rather the stronger character. It may not be the case that LW3 could find something in his mirror that his friend sees and admires, but it might do him good to acknowledge the possibility.

Of course, if LW3 lives in one of the correct states, he might try changing his name from Burton to Barton and marrying someone who needs citizenship, but I shouldn't feel right advising anyone to embark on a course of embezzlement. Now I just have to get rid of the nasty taste in my mouth from all that thinking about "levels" and such.

L4: There must be some clever way for LW4 and his wife to bring this sort of thing out to best effect, but I am too fed up with the paralyzed attitude to tell them a thing. Let them punch their own way out of the paper bag.