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 His mother called the principal within a day or so, and after a very short conversation the policy was rescinded.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.


  1. Hrumpole, I seem to grow fonder of you with each passing week. I hope you don't mind me saying that in front of everyone. It's like you're a fly on the wall ~ inside my head. Last week it was Gilligan's Island and DeGrassi, and this week it was ABBA. And I'll admit ~ I got a rather pleasant rush of adrenaline when my eyes lit upon "True Romance", thinking you were referencing the Quentin Tarantino-scripted-but-not-directed movie, until I saw it was Cracker you meant. That's all right, however, honestly. I guess I'm slightly relieved to find that you're not absolutely perfect in EVERY way. It makes you so much more accessible.

    I think you're making that up about Karen Carpenter, though ~ you sly devil. Surely as a savvy DP poster, one who has been around as long as you have, surely you are aware of my ad nauseum ruminations on how I used to pretty much stalk Richard Carpenter on my purple Stingray bike with the banana seat and sissy bar, because I grew up in a house 4 streets down from the house they both lived in with their parents AND recorded all their music in. So I think you're just saying that about predicting Karen's death to impress me because you KNOW how AWESOME I would think that is if it was true. Which I find totally charming.

    You're one of the things I look forward to each week ~ my respite and my treat. I love your work, hrumpole. :)

  2. Thank you much - and I greatly enjoy watching you try to raise humanity to a higher level.

    While I shall admit that SB1's musical debate confounds me, I can assure you that the Carpenter postscript was quite genuine. Not that I'd ever had a great interest in the Carpenters. I don't think I'd actually heard anything about her for some years when I wrote the postscript in question. I was just writing a letter and mentioning in the postscript John Lennon's recent death when someone said something entirely unrelated about Elvis Presley, who'd died a few years before that, and I just suddenly wrote that I wondered if Karen Carpenter would be next and took a guess at when. Then when it happened, I definitely remembered thinking she'd die, but I didn't recall having guessed when until later when I was shown the letter.

    I wrote so many letters in those days - taking Virginia Woolf as a role model, I suppose.

  3. hrumpole, you have outdone yourself this week! Of course, that observation is true every week, but, if I said it every week, it might eventually come to sound less sincere. So, there's that. But regardless, it's no less true. Of course, saying one has outdone themselves may sound insulting, as if one's performance is so incredible as to have been unexpected to the reader. And that's not the case, either, because I'm well aware of your considerable writing talent! So, perhaps I should restate and say that you've, once again, produced an outstanding and mind-blowing post!

    I'm glad that you opened with this year's prom news. The MS case has caused me quite a few tirades. I believe that the young lady in this case has been treated poorly several times over by a plethora of "adults" who should definitely know better, including lawyers, a school board and court system that, with a wink and nod, conspired to dismiss her concerns and sweep them under a rug. I hope that she grows stronger from this experience and that seeing how she was treated empowers others to stand up and insist on being allowed simple rights. The young man in GA, one hopes, had reaffirmed for him what he already knew about his "father" (hereafter referred to as "sperm donor", since actual fathering seems beyond the idiot). In this case, the school board and town seem far more reasonable than in MS, and, too, the sperm donor not only seems to be the town bully and ring master, but believes himself some sort of representative of the good Lord Himself and His Teachings. I wish that there really *was* a God, only so that He could smite the sperm donor in a flash of exploding head flesh, a la LW#1. I hate to admit that I would derive no small amount of pleasure were sperm donor made to spontaneously combust under the heat of his righteous indignation. I hadn't read about the situation in NC, but it sounds as if it has resolved itself correctly as well in that the young men aren’t being marginalized, tricked and dismissed by the entire town and legal system.

    Regarding LW#1, I will leave that in your and MM’s more capable hands, but, I will say that any mention of Oscar Wilde, to me, is an automatic thumbs up because he was, among many other wonderful and tragic things, exceedingly brilliant.

    I cannot be as kind to LW#2, even providing the tiniest benefit of the doubt to her, because to not recognize the needs of a six-year-old child is to lack basic humanity. While I don’t overlook the fact that she wrote to Prudie, I entirely question her motives. And, evil as this may sound, I was thrilled to see that you informed her of how her child “will” be perceived.

    I was surprised to find you assigning gender to LW#3! I read “male” from the subtle clues in the letter (as a matter of fact, I hadn’t even thought female for a millisecond), but, your take opened my eyes to the possibility of a female LW and caused me to reassess my own take. I will have to ponder this a bit more, although, in the end, gender is nearly irrelevant, and your observations spot on.

    Finally, LW#4. I was uncomfortable with your use of the word “weasel” in describing the LW’s desire to un-commit herself to the wedding, but, by the end, I must admit that I have come around to your observations on the lesson that there is to be taught here. I’m not sure if she’ll learn it, but, your logic is superior to mine in the final advice and I bow to your superior wisdom.

    A wonderful read, as always, hrumpole. Thank you!

  4. I hope you don't mind if I add another two cents to this discussion, gentlemen.

    I thought the LW#3 was a woman also. Perhaps because I'm a woman who has sat through similar seminars, although apparently not with the same personalized results as the LW with the tender Achilles heels. I wonder what Smag's "subtle clues" were that the LW was a man?

    I'd like to share with you my reasoning behind my advice to LW#4, hrumpole, if I may.

    If this were any other sort of commitment, one that did not involve the thoughts and feelings of a third party (like, say, a car or student loan, or as you say, the purchase of some jewelry) then I would agree with you that it's important to keep one's financial commitments, and that following through with her promises under those conditions would be a lesson well learned.

    But I was speaking from the vantage point of someone who has not only been a bride, but as someone who has been honored to be a maid or matron of honor three times (not including my one truncated go-round previously mentioned) and a bridesmaid seven times. So I know how these things work, and the thought, feelings and emotions behind them. And it is those thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the bride, as well as the rest of the bridal party, that I was taking into consideration, not just those of the LW.

    The first thing one should keep in mind, hrumpole, is that the bride wants people in her bridal party WHO REALLY WANT TO PARTICIPATE. There may be many reasons for the initial invitation, anything from politics (as in my case) or genuine affection (as in the others), but those invitations all have one thing in common and that is that the bride wants people involved who are truly on board with her, as they are meant to be of support and assistance to her at this time. She doesn't want to have to drag someone along who clearly doesn't want to be there ~ and let me say from experience, there is little worse that can occur during wedding festivities than someone who is seething quietly or sitting things out and making things difficult for the rest of the group because she cannot or will not simply bow out gracefully.

    *At this point I have been warned that my post is over-long ~ Part II shall immediately follow*

  5. *Part II commences*

    That's one aspect of why I told the LW she needed to bow out ~ for the sake of the bride and the rest of the bridal party, who will all have to bear the cost split-wise of festivities the LW cannot afford just so she can participate as tradition would dictate. But here is where I have the most trouble with your reasoning:

    "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."

    Although I see this being the actual outcome for this particular situation (and I don't think it takes a psychic to see that ;) ~ the LW truly cannot afford to attend these events, the bride will feel snubbed by someone who is "not on board" and will give her place to someone else ~ this tactic as you've laid it out smacks too much like the lover who doesn't have the guts to break up with his partner and so uses passive-aggressive methods to make themselves appear so unpleasant as to earn being broken up with.

    I suppose I framed my response less as a reason for the whole bridal party, as outlined above, and more of a reason for the LW (i.e. "You can't afford it.") because this is the number one reason for people wanting to decline the honor of attending ~ and the one reason least likely to want to be used by people when declining. People are embarrassed, I suppose, by not having the money. So I was anxious to push to the head of the line and assure the LW that lack of funds is a perfectly legitimate excuse for backing out, and one she should take as soon as possible ~ so as to not make a bad situation worse by shortening the length of time the bride has to procure a replacement.

    I hate to think of you ever standing alone on anything, hrumpole. Even if we don't agree on a point, Mermaid is staunchly by your side in friendship ~ always!

  6. Oh my! MM, I didn't mean that I had specific subtle points that I was willing to put up against your or hrumpole's points! I'd be a fool to ever imply that! :-) I just meant that, as I read, I thought that I'd picked up a generic, subtle impression that the LW was a guy. However, after reading that you both found the LW to be female, I went back and read the original letter again and I'm blown away by all of the clues that I missed! Damn, I'd clearly not had enough coffee when I read it the first time!

    "bad complexion", "Well, most of us have at least one of these physical flaws", "can't afford expensive clothing, spa treatments", "—Not a Model"

    I have no idea what letter I read, but, seriously, you guys nailed me on this one. :-( I'll be back next week, though. Stronger than ever! :-) That which doesn't kill us...and you know, all of that, what, what.

  7. Ah, but dear Mermaid, that is almost exactly what I was thinking. What I left unsaid was that Bridezilla gets nearly as big a lesson out of this as LW4. Someone who wants an over-the-top extravaganza of a wedding needs to have the sense either to underwrite the expense from the beginning or select bridesmaids able and willing to undertake the expenses involved. It might be a bit much to ask them to do so eagerly, but cheerfully seems acceptable.

    You almost seem to think that Bridezilla deserves a happy ending, something which I am not willing to bestow upon her until the divorce, which is so many cases is the happiest ending of all.

    I do think at this point we need a bit more cross-examination on the total outlay involved and the exact details of Bridey's offer to assist. But in general, it seems safe to say that, if one plans an overextended Event and a desired participant's first response is that she can't afford it, pressuring her with pleading and almost crying is Not A Wise Course Of Action.

    Now I am quite prepared to yield to those of greater experience, but I do wonder exactly how many events there can be that will require bridesmaid expenditure and how long all the other bridesmaids will be so Enthusiastically On Board as Bridey might consider desirable. Somehow I doubt most of them will get to within three months of the wedding without flagging considerably.

    My "paying the rent" choice, on reflection, might be meant to be mainly hyperbolic. I've vaguely assumed all along that LW4 had access to sufficient credit if necessary to cover her share of expenditure, and that she should bear with the cheerfulness all the other bridesmaids will employ once their enthusiasm for Bridey has worn off - and it will. But is anything genuinely beyond her? Something might be.

    If LW4 just unilaterally drops out, Bridey gets the moral high ground - "But I TOLD her I'd help!" - and probably gets an understudy all the more eager to encourage her excesses. If LW4 hangs in there as much as she can with a good sport attitude, Bridey will probably drop her only to find the rest of the supporting cast not quite so supportive.

    Of course, the two of them could meet privately and have a full, free and frank financial discussion of disclosure, but what fun would that be?

    In closing, I am quite content to yield on logistical points to those experienced in Bridesmaid Wars. But I shall stick to my point that LW4 comes across as much worse than MM in her personal example. LW4 has no new evidence to bring before the Court of Appeal.