Q. As football season approaches, we were wondering what happens to the people who went to the wrong school—say, the people from Georgia who went to the University of Florida, or the Tennesseeans who went to Ole Miss. Do they have difficulty later in life?
I don’t believe there have been any conclusive medical or demographic studies on the problem, but cross-state SEC football loyalties are an odd phenomenon, I’ll grant you. I have a good friend from New Orleans who belongs to a distinguished line of LSU graduates but who, inexplicably, attended the University of Alabama. It could have been a rogue rebellious gene, or he could have just checked the wrong box with his high school guidance counselor—the origins are shrouded in mystery. But imagine this: He roots for LSU with his family until LSU plays Alabama, at which point he actually walks around the French Quarter in a crimson-and-white scarf and one of those egregious “Bama” trucker hats. His childhood friends cannot fathom it but have admirably grown to accept it as a shard of insanity in the man they’ve known since kindergarten. I think of him as a sort of lovable Frankenstein—some different arms and legs were grafted on in the football lab over in Tuscaloosa, and he kind of forgot to amputate them before he returned home after graduation. Delightful company, smart in every other way, he has a successful business in the Quarter and another one Uptown. But every fall, in addition to fighting his friends and family, it’s as if he’s having to fight his own DNA when the Tide rolls in. That’s why the Frankenstein narrative is so soulfully apt. If you recall, the powerful cellular memory of who he had been was why the tortured monster ran amok.
Q. What’s the etiquette for sitting at a social gathering or dinner party? Just take any seat you want?
No, you’re not allowed to sit down willy-nilly, anywhere—ever, as a matter of fact. Let’s mangle some Dr. Seuss into service here, because Dr. Seuss is mostly about manners: not in a club or in a house, not in a restaurant or on a dock, not at a tea or in a church, not at a lunch or on a beach, not at a banquet or on a boat, not in a barn or at a table d’hôte. Even when it seems no permission is required, permission is required. Divining these tacit seating arrangements, of which there are many, is a way of honing your social antennae to the finer transmission frequencies. Some people just aren’t capable of hearing those whistles, and they will remain what I’ll call the space junk in the seating cosmos through which we all move. Two general rules: Any obvious, prime, comfortable spots in any room will be taken, either by the deserving or the undeserving, so they’re not yours to take. Second, ask yourself: Are all present at the venue—the host, the elders, and any women—comfortable? Do they have that well-served look? If so, you can start looking for a seat.
Q. Every Labor Day we have an invite-the-phone-book blowout at the lake, but this time we stopped over a name, realizing that we hadn’t been invited to their last big shindig. What’s the play?
Definitely invite them. Life is not well lived in a strict Old Testament eye-for-an-eye mode. What I’m suggesting is a benefit-of-the-doubt power invite. It’s a test, of them. First, you’ve got bigger fish to fry than to fret about this pettiness. Second, you can’t tell what happened with their list on the basis of a failed invite, and it’s not your place to ask. If there’s a pattern extending over a few months or a year, fair enough, have your gloves off and flay the enemy. But either way, extending your lake invite to the list cutters is a big, clear gesture on your part, and will sow discord and confusion in their camp if they truly have cut you from their list. Grace beats malice almost every day in this world. In that case, then, your service return is now at their feet, whatever conflict might have existed in their minds is now firmly beneath you, and they have to respond. Do they have the guts to show up at your fete? Your invitation will begin to answer that question. Sally forth to your lake. If revenge is needed, your best revenge will be to hold a fabulous party. With ’em. Or without ’em.
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