Q. I am a liar and a sneak, completely lacking in any sense of loyalty or duty. It is my special goal to be mean to self-sacrificing old ladies who live alone and have few pleasures in life. If you don't believe me, you can ask either one of my aunts.
You see, I live in New York City. Every once in a while, I have business in Washington, and--are you ready? here it comes!--I come to Washington for the day, do my business and return home. Without going to see my aunts. No, it is worse: without even calling my aunts.
Even that isn't all. Sometimes (I told you I was a liar) I have more than I can do in one day, and I actually spend the night. In Washington. In a hotel. Get it?
Can you think of any reason that a decent man would spend the night in a downtown luxury hotel that his firm is paying for when he has one aunt who has a perfectly good house in Arlington with a spare room that all you have to do is move the sewing machine out and all the stuff being worked on, and you can have it all to yourself; and another aunt who has an apartment just across the Maryland border with a perfectly good sofa bed in the living nook. Both of these establishments serve nourishing meals, too, and excuses about doctor's orders to diet are hospitably pooh-poohed.
Having only my health and welfare in mind, my aunts insist on feeding me not only well but early, if I visit either of them, because they don't want me to exhaust myself with a long work day. Dinner is on the table at sunset, and if I am delayed, it sits there and congeals, as does the temper of the hostess. If I try to go home to New York after dinner I am told that I will probably get a heart attack from rushing about too much, or give a dear lady one from the aggravation of watching me.
Coward that I am, I have taken to sneaking through town. But crime will out, and I have been spotted by the Old Lady Spy League, and also my children have innocently given away my whereabouts (I am not so depraved as to instruct them to lie) when an aunt happened to call at the wrong time.
Please, Miss Manners, help me. I honestly used to like these hospitable tyrants when I could visit them by choice and at leisure. I would like to maintain friendly family relations.
A. Your aunts' rules seem to be that the greater Washington area belongs to them, and that entering requires obeisance at telephone, table and sofa-bed, depending on the length of the trip.
However, these rules are nowhere engraved on pasteboard, and you may frankly admit that you cannot operate under them. If you wish, you may blame your employer who expects you to be available by telephone at late hours, insists that you stay in a hotel where he can reach you, requires business dinners, and so on.
The important thing is to show that the rules you recognize do not exclude affectionate family relations. Call your aunts, every once in a while, from New York, just to say hello. Invite them to visit you at home. Send a postal card for no particular reason. The point is to show that your thoughts of them are in no way related to your geographical location.
Once you have established your unwillingness to submit to their system, you will be able to appear gracious, rather than guilty, by an occasional Washington dinner, sometimes at your hotel, perhaps rarely at their homes. In the end, they will be more flattered because you will be seeing them voluntarily, rather than under compulsion.