There was once, a kinder, gentler time. There was once a world of grace and manners, of dancing classes, apples for teachers, golden rules, and hand-written thank-you notes. There was once, like something from a fairy tale, a special breed of human creatures that were known as Ladies and Gentlemen. I have been lucky enough to know some of them.
When I was young in America, I did not hear grown-ups swear, or ever witness the gentleman who was my father succumb to road rage, or see banners sold in party stores, proudly proclaiming, “I’m the Birthday Bitch!”
As the song proclaims, “The world’s gone mad today and good’s bad today.” A new low has certainly been reached in a recent commercial for Jack-In-The-Box, right on public airwaves, which presents that awful corporate Jack character, asking in a snarky, unsavory, play-on-words innuendo, “Do you want to try my bowls?” My answer is, “No, Jack, No!”
Yes, a certain civility seems to have drained away, like a soggy Jell-O I once made, or faded, sadly, like a chalk drawing in the rain. Personally, I have a theory that the decline of civil society can be traced directly to the unfortunate, yet popular fashion choice that some men have recently adopted, of appearing in shorts and flip-flops year-round. Perhaps it is some unexpected effect of global warming, but the only one who can or should run with such laissez-faire style, or lack thereof of any style, is Jeffrey Lebowski (The Big Lebowski), because, after all, he is, The Dude. And of course, a White Russian always adds a splash of sophistication.
The arrival of cell phones has further chipped away at our societal refinement. People mosey with a misplaced sense of entitlement through supermarkets, bookstores, or shoe departments, in private conversation in a public place, completely oblivious to their surroundings and speaking words—in a See’s Candy Store, of all places—that I did not want my children to hear.
“Now, heaven knows, anything goes.”
What I really miss is the example, in what is supposed to be a civilized country, of a civilized leader. I know that one can appear civilized and yet be guilty of dubious deeds, as Hamlet observed: “One may smile and smile and still be a villain.” A true gentleman, however, is incapable of villainy and a true lady is never a villainess, unless, of course, she’s playing the evil queen because who can resist such a great role and you get to wear a crown. “Oh, mirror, mirror, upon the wall, who’s the fairest…,” or, wait! What about Lady Macbeth? “Come you mortal spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here and fill me from the crown to toe-top full of direst cruelty…” or the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz, “I’ll get you my pretty and your little…” Ahh, but I digress.
My mother was a lady and, although I once saw her pour a glass of milk over my brother’s head as he was loudly and obnoxiously complaining that we were out of Frosted Flakes, she did it in a ladylike way. It was that or hauling off and belting him, but ladies don’t hit children unless it’s Tom’s Sawyer’s whining little brother, Sid, who had it coming.
Ladies and Gentlemen—be they rich or poor, young or old, or of varying gender identity—have class. It is something, not defined by charm school teachings, or phony politeness but it is a touch of class inherent in their nature that shines through soiled hands, weathered faces, or even the trappings of fame and fortune. Tug Boat Annie had class. Nat King Cole had class. A Tuxedo cat I once knew had a whole lotta class, and, don’t tell him I said so but, yes, the Beleaguered Husband is a classy guy, (even though he once called Bert Bacharach, a ****head).
As my mother’s daughter, I know that name-calling and pointing fingers will not solve things. I can only vote or march in a civilized manner, or support candidates I do believe in, and teach children that included in the precious free speech to which we are entitled, are the words, love and friendship and peace.
Yes, hard times have befallen the tribe of Ladies and Gentlemen. The definition of a Lady is one who is gracious, loving, patient, polite, and diplomatic. I like to consider myself a lady but I have created my own criteria, cutting myself some slack. I take it to mean wearing panties, being patient with inefficient salespeople, allowing the person with just a few items to go ahead of me in line, never cheating in a game of Old Maid (well not too much), and always dancing with the one who brought you. Still it is sometimes a challenge.
The day, which is 9/11, is melancholy in its own right. Not to minimize its sad importance, for me it was further daunting due to an unexpected root canal that lasted over three hours, after which I happened to catch an unflattering reflection of myself in a mirror that frankly, shocked me. Then I received the call from my daughter reporting she had just been in a car accident. I was relieved that Miranda and the other driver were uninjured but not so the vehicles. I was, I admit, tempted to self-pity and profanity.
There is however, a Lady who is always an inspiration. Someone to aspire to. Someone who has stood tall and straight through the test of time for well over a hundred years, still noble in her green patina robe, (bet she is wearing panties under them). Yes, she has had a bit of work done but after a century or so what lady wouldn’t need a little help? She is a light in the world and although our current president may try to besmirch that for which she stands, she still shines bright and true. And may she always.
One of her names is, in fact, Lady Liberty, and her inscription—the last line from a sonnet, “New Colossus,” written by another great lady, American poet Emma Lazarus—still resonates with a gracious inclusion that behooves a real Lady.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!