Q. Gauging from the invitations stacking up on the table, the seasonal wedding-toast responsibilities are weighing on us. Help, please.
God help you. Toastmastery is, itself, a tough sport, but wedding toasts are in a class of difficulty all their own. If you mess them up, the mistakes are amplified because they happened in front of everybody who matters most to the bride and groom. But first, to ensure your safety and that of your loved ones après toast, let’s back up: I have much hard-won advice about toasting for you, but for all the wrong reasons. I’m rather well known as one of the single most disastrous toastmasters in the South, and, incidentally, also in the North, and, for that matter, probably also within a five-hundred-mile radius of anywhere I am standing.
So, listen to me: Never assume that any prior personal knowledge of the honorees will be as amusing to everybody as it might be to you. Nothing you can say predicated on intimate knowledge is, will be, or can be funny. In a vainglorious moment at a South Carolina wedding—my stepsister’s—I once proclaimed that the marriage was bound to succeed because of the groom’s stoicism. That didn’t go over well, especially not with my stepfather. At a subsequent family wedding , I thanked the bride for her future gift of much-needed short people’s DNA into the tall-family gene pool. That didn’t fly, either, especially not with her brothers. Get my point? People want to be entertained, but not with the dark side that it so amused me to explore. I recommend that you do everything in your wedding toasts that I historically have not: Be respectful, be unselfishly fond, and channel your inner Winston Churchill. Hold to the ideals everyone wants to hear, but keep it short. Above all, try to land softly, as if from a great height, on the head of a pin. Which is to say, let it be a tender, rather than a roisterous, oratorical kiss. Wedding or no, at any toasting opportunity, you yourself do not matter. It’s what they want that’s important.
Q. There was a boat collision in the marina the other day. Do the nautical rules of the road, or manners on the water, exist anymore?
Ahhh, boating season in the South: a glorious sunset, some succulent fried snapper throats and drinks on deck, then—wham!—the lords of the sea meet unexpectedly. Blessed with more than 1,600 miles of Gulf Coast and some 1,300 miles of Atlantic seaboard, not counting the inland waters that are just as much fun to ply, the South offers beaucoup chances to screw up in a boat and lots of water upon which to do it, even, as you note, in your own aquatic driveway. Nautical manners and traffic laws bear close study—how a powerboat should properly overtake a boat under sail or how much playing room one should accord the mad Jet Skiers and boarders. Many people are not up to the level of thought required as they assume the helm. Bluntly put, this means that there is only, ever, one rule. Be wholly prepared, even if you are solidly in possession of the right-of-way, to yield in an instant. Because the one bit of safety equipment that watercraft are not legally required to carry is a sign saying that they’re being skippered by an idiot.
Q. Is there any excuse for a man to wear sandals? Not flip-flops, sandals.
Our better universities’ classics departments regularly mount productions of Euripedean tragedy, and we have a raging history of toga parties in academic and in civilian life, so, yes, there are a few legitimate reasons for a man of the South to wear sandals, as long as he’s aping the Greeks onstage or, alternately, gatoring the night away in a well-hemmed bedsheet. Other than that, however, I can’t see a reason that a man’s public appearance in the shoe, if I may call it that, is a good idea. As you correctly note, the insouciant flip-flops aren’t trying to be anything, much less shoes. But whether the sandal wearer cares or not, the sandals’ attempt at being shoes brings a version of the king-in-chess operational problem: In them, a man is reduced to a totem needing to be defended who, by definition, cannot be ready for anything—boat, plane, horse, tennis, golf, pickup basketball, fishing, kicking rocks down a dirt road, you name it. I suppose you could read in a pair of sandals, or walk around in your house as long as you weren’t involved in any chores demanding power tools, hammers, handsaws, chisels, or other bladed instruments. I do have a close New Orleans friend who wears sandals, but he also carries a Glock 9-millimeter and wears his sunglasses indoors while extracting money from the many poker machines in the backs of bars along Chartres Street. In other words, a man has to go a long way to get past the style hurdles this footwear presents.