This morning I reread T.S. Eliot's play "The Cocktail Party" and as I staggered away from the table, dizzy and breathless, it occurred to me that, having said last week "Fuck Eliot," I might more precisely have said, "Fuck Eliot the great literary genius."
Every now and then you just have to say "Fuck Eliot." "Fuck Nabokov." For that matter, "Fuck God." If you cannot say these things, you will shrivel and die by the garden wall, never having glimpsed the other side. Such utterances are acts of insurrection by which the creative soul survives.
Just wanted to clarify that. Now for today's correspondence.
My home features a lovely in-ground swimming pool. I enjoy using it throughout the warm months, mostly on the weekends and occasionally during the week after work. My kids enjoy it as well, and it is a great pleasure to have such a luxurious retreat right at our own home. My husband has issued an open invitation to just about everyone to use the pool anytime.
While most people have enough couth not to actually take him up on his offer, one of his cousins is taking full advantage. She uses our pool at least once a week, never calling ahead to see if it's OK, because he has specifically told her not to bother. I am tired of seeing her car in my driveway on evenings when I come home from work and hearing her children frolicking in my yard. One evening she sarcastically invited me to join her in "her" pool! She thinks that she is very cute doing this, but she is really very irritating. Another Saturday she showed up while I was entertaining other guests and jumped right in without blinking an eye. My guests left soon thereafter and I went inside as soon as they were gone. I can't even use my own pool in peace.
I have discussed this with my husband, and he does not want me to say anything because he is afraid that it will hurt his aunt and uncle and damage his relationship with them. His family has a history of holding grudges over perceived slights for years at a time. I am looking for a suggestion like your "Put a plant in the open parking space" idea that will serve my purpose of keeping her out but not make me look like a bad guy to her or my husband. Thoughts?
Dear Pool Owner,
I don't know if I can come up with anything as good as "Put a potted plant in the parking space." That kind of thing doesn't come to me every day. All I can think of right now is, like, "Put a dead body in the pool." Or put some yellow dye in the pool. Actually, that might be fun. You could let word leak out that someone has been peeing in the pool from time to time, and that therefore it would be wise for your cousin not to jump in without checking with you first, to see if the proper pH level has been restored.
But really, this is more the kind of thing somebody like Miss Manners would be good at. It concerns the rules that we assume others live by or should live by. I don't think much of those rules. I am for a world in which anyone might say anything, a world full of hot springs and geysers where you never know exactly when steam is going to erupt out of the earth, where people say what is bothering them and ask for what they want, and sometimes the unexpected happens.
I am less interested in the rules that we live by than I am in the rules that govern our living. So much of what governs our lives is not of our making anyway; we're bobbing along in a monstrous sea, fighting the chaos; in the majesty and chaos of this enormous all-powerful sea it's a little silly to pretend we're following rules of our own device, like pass the pepper please, and use your utensils from the outside in. We're dwarfed by giant waves. We've got limited time. Sooner or later, we'll be eaten. So let's say what we need to say. Not that I'm any better at it than the rest of us. Still, let's just try to do it.
If your husband is concerned about offending his aunt and uncle, can't he say to them, "You know, dear aunt and uncle, I'm afraid of offending you, but I have to say this, and I hope you won't be offended, and if you are offended, I hope you will get over it soon and continue to hold me in your esteem as your loving and respectful nephew: Could you please keep your lovely daughter out of our fucking pool."
I would be tossed out of Miss Manners' world so fast! I wouldn't last two minutes in that world. Why, just yesterday at Easter dinner our generous and kind hostess mentioned to someone else that there were some lemons off her tree available. And I said, I'd like some lemons. Because we need lemons. And I got a look. Not from our hostess, but from someone else dear to me. Like I wasn't supposed to say, I'd like some lemons. Like something bad might happen if I said, I'd like some lemons off your tree.
Miss Manners probably knows exactly what bad thing it is that could happen on account of my saying I'd like some lemons. Miss Manners could tell you what is the right thing to do. But I have no clue. I'm not that subtle. If the dead body in the pool doesn't work, and the pee story doesn't work, try plain speaking.
Let's all open our mouths and make requests: I want some lemons. I want your husband's cousin out of the pool. If it leads to disaster, maybe then Miss Manners can help us.
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?