Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ten Thousand Things

Checking out at our Brooklyn Foodtown is not unlike getting through the intake at Ellis Island: huddled masses of people from many lands, yearning to get out of there with their cartloads of Huggies. There are impossibly narrow spaces; there are disaffected teenage clerks, also from many lands, dreamily eating pilfered Reese's cups. If you have any self-preservative instincts at all, you start bagging your own groceries as soon as the disaffected teen scans your Greenpoints card*.

Which is why I felt white-hot rage pooling in the backs of my knees on Saturday night when the older lady in front of me and the Comrade paid for her box of something, plucked another plastic bag off the rack, and then promptly fell into a K-hole as she tried to pull it open along its unhelpfully underperforated edges. We all stood there while the world slowed and finally stopped, and our groceries piled up, and our fellow shoppers piled up, and I prepared a fresh clip for my imaginary tommy gun.

So imagine my shame when the Comrade said, "Here, let me help you -- you have gloves on," took the bag, opened it and handed it back. Now imagine that shame multiplied tenfold when she said in a matter-of-fact way, "I just can't get it together, I have no money, and everything's falling apart."

I patted her on the back and said, "Well, your bag works now!" She laughed, and I laughed, and the Comrade laughed, and we all laughed.

I am naturally Chip-and-Dale polite, friends, but maybe not naturally kind. Imagine my disappointment in myself. Now imagine that disappointment multiplied tenfold when I realized I was wearing an overpriced Ganesh medallion I bought on Bleecker Street.

*I understand there are places here in our own United States where the teenager bags the groceries for you, and another wheels them out to your waiting car. O, to push a cart through those Elysian Fields!


Anonymous ashok said...

Speaking of politeness...

Where I'm blogging right now, people get paid per unique visit to the page (except me. I disabled the Adsense ads because I hate Google). So what they're doing is constantly trying to shock one another, or disgust, revolt, or provoke in order to get clicks.

I have been chided by others for calling this behavior childish, and I don't know what to do. I know I'm right, and I know precisely because I'm right I can't win this fight.

I was thinking of putting up an incredibly esoteric argument along the lines of this, and seeing what happens:

"Political maturity can come from two separate, irreconcilable starting points:

1) Man cannot be trusted; his desires are base and the best way to deal with man is to account for the desire and satisfy it. Man is an animal, not a rational animal.

2) All men do evil because they desire a greater good. It is impossible to kill oneself out of despair without satisying at least one want. Man is a rational animal to greater or lesser degrees, and he needs to be respected for that fact.

These two points of view lend themselves to tremendous insights: #1 can be seen in "Ambition is made to counteract ambition," the basis of our Constitution. #2 can be seen in good families: good parents and kids, agreed on the ends, bring forth an amazing amount of ways those ends can be achieved.

But anything other than a commitment to one point of view or the other is less than mature. Either you trust man as rational, or you don't. If you waver, you're a big baby who doesn't care for whether the Good or mere order can come about, and your involvement in the political is purely as a chaotic element. You're no better, in that case, than the people who voted for Bush because they liked Laura Bush's dress. All other positions politically - "I am concerned with the state of freedom," or "I want guns for 6 year olds," or "I love being taxed out of my inheritance" - depend on how you believe man acts or will act. There's no getting around this.

Perhaps this statement of what rational political thinking is can be extended to other matters, seemingly less than political (although I hold the political is all of life). Any takers?"

Think that'll fly? Or am I gonna get stoned by the unbelievers?

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Judith Martin said...

Oh, Frostine--I just wrote Fistine, someone else altogether, perhaps....

I am so dazzled by these gleaming bolts of self-awareness:

"I am naturally Chip-and-Dale polite, friends, but maybe not naturally kind."

Your fan

8:34 PM  
Blogger frostine99 said...

Dear Judith, this pleases me immensely. If can I count you among my fans, then who cares that I'm never going to be Truffaut?


Woody Allen

2:24 PM  
Blogger thirty-year-old secretary said...

I think you actually are a kind person. You made a joke and the situation became bearable.

4:34 PM  

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