It's not the grand sorrows that do us in (says a character in that admirable novel "The Last Puritan") since everybody gets his share of grand despairs. No sir, it's the price of eggs that ultimately breaks your back.
Man and boy I have never even thought of the price of eggs, believing that a product so perfect and so flawlessly packaged is worth infinitely more than is charged, but I do agree the minor vexations of this world weigh heavily.
For a longer time than anybody would believe likely, I have fumed at one aspect of English television dramas, and that is their infuriating habit of showing characters talking with their mouths full of food.
There must be some acting school in England in which a major course consists of talking while eating. The "Barchester" show was peculiarly revolting in this respect, but you see it continually. Most recently in "Charters & Caldicott," a whodunit, they like to sit around a table and take a large bite, which they chomp twice, then begin to speak. Then, like an absent-minded cow, they finish chewing.
I never noticed in England that people did this in real life. It is a device that television people believe is important, to give an air of verisimilitude.
Of course food was in short supply during the Hitler war, and possibly the television people now active in Britain grew up with nothing but rose hips and sprouts to eat, so that in later years they still have the notion there is something deliciously heady in the sight of a character speaking with a mouth full of food.
Which reminds me of an important lesson once taught in a news room elsewhere, in which a woman of great charm and ability had the affliction of going HA-REEEMPH every half hour. We all assumed she had grievous woe in the larynx or esophagus, probably running all the way down to the gizzard, so nobody ever said anything, any more than one would complain of those tics and twitches to which so many reporters are susceptible.
But one day an ancient editorial writer (this was when editorial writers were old, wise, familiar with Greek and endlessly experienced in life) walked past as she let out her combination bellow-cough-screech.
"My dear Mrs. X," he said, "has nobody ever told you you don't have to do that?"
We were horrified, at such a personal remark. The woman never did it again, not once in the years to follow.
I feel somebody should tell the actors of Albion they do not have to talk with their mouths aslurp with pudding.
Now we live in a nation such that we are rarely tempted ever to live elsewhere, but if there is any ground for leaving the country it must be to avoid the word "like." Just this week the celebrated writer Peter Taylor was quoted, "blah, blah, blah, like Robert Penn Warren said . . . " and while I am the most tolerant and charitable of men, that use of "like" is abominable and weighs strongly against his merits. There is no excuse in this world or any other for a writer to ape the illiterates of Nashville except for purposes of humor or local color. God knows I am not a snob about language -- Taylor's reported barbarism is perfectly all right in a car salesman, banker, Bulgarian immigrant or Johnny Carson. It is not okay in a writer.
Another thing far from okay is the umbrella on L Street. If people wish to parade about with umbrellas in the privacy of their houses, or in a field, there is no objection. On L Street there is. It rains virtually every day in this capital, and at the first cloud all these umbrellas explode on crowded city streets. Those who carry umbrellas (like those who drive moving vans) have no idea whatever how much space they take up. They go waddling along like penguins, bumping into one and all, or requiring sane people to dodge them. An umbrella tax of $680 a year would be fair and might help.
And there is the matter of cocktail parties with food. I do not mind those who hang about the table eating steadily. A hungry man takes high precedence in my book, especially since these cocktail events commonly occur at supper time. I can well wait till the pig finishes.
What is wrong is to go to the table, seize one baked oyster or roach or whatever is inside the puff pastry, and then stand there for 40 minutes talking to some other nitwit about Libya.
There is a time to talk about Libya (which is not at a party unless one has firm control of one's temper) and a place to talk about it (which is not at a serving table). I look to the day in which cattle prods become standard equipment of every hostess.
Now I am the sort of fellow who will ride the bus six hours each way to Lexington and its monuments to Traveller, Lee and Jackson, rather than drive or fly, and of course there is no train anywhere nowadays except to New York. On a recent excursion a pale and understandably desperate mother ("Zebulon, you want me to smack your butt? Shut up. Here's some candy") was herding four children, all of them dismally small. She got them to sleep, possibly with chloroform (an excellent drug in some ways) so that the wee family occupied 10 seats. I noticed two men who wanted to smoke but who did not, since all 10 smoking seats were steaming with supine tots.
A related abuse occurs on our own subway system, in which men posing as stockbrokers occupy the outside seat leaving the window seat empty, though people are standing. It is important in such cases to say, "Excuse me" and barge right in to the empty seat. Commonly there is a briefcase in the empty seat, in which case you say, "Why, look here, sir, is this yours?" and hand it over. I make exceptions for women past 80 with four suitcases on the subway to Union Station, and women about to be delivered of twins or better, but in general one should not encourage people to sprawl.
I believe we have now covered the chief evils of the capital and the nation.