Entangled, Bespangled in the Slippery Subject of Spaghetti

I did not mean to get so wound up in spaghetti and the etiquette of eating it. I'm finished with it.

However, there are inevitably some loose strands. Melanie Lewis of Modern Manners writes that she is writing a new book on etiquette, evidently focusing on the manners of Southern California. (Her address, if you have any ideas for her, is 1502 Welldow Lane, Fullerton CA 92631.)

"I deplore Californians who take it upon themselves to change etiquette guidelines to fit their whims or ignore them altogether," she says. "The entire foundation of which etiquette and manners exists is: consideration of others. An individual is never made to look foolish nor does 'he' create this unwanted image for 'himself.' "

I am puzzled by Ms. Lewis' stylistic device of enclosing he in quotation marks. Evidently it is her solution to the problem of the generic male pronoun. She means to say that he does not mean he , but he and she . This is not the most facile of solutions, but certainly an improvement over he or she .

If that is indeed her intent, it means that women are as likely as men to commit breaches of etiquette. This certainly is borne out by situation comedies in which women are far more likely than men to utter the demoralizing wisecrack. In fact, without the presence of women, there could be no such thing as the comedy of manners.

I don't know what it is about Californians' manners that Lewis deplores, but perhaps it is habits that have come from the outdoor barbecue. To me, this informal outdoor style of dining is very pleasant.

Also, we are much given to the cocktail party, at which one is required to develop exquisite athletic skills in eating with a fork from a small plateful of hors d'oeuvres balanced on "his" knee while holding a glass of wine in the other hand.

The manners of cocktail parties are not hard to learn. One is not required to choose from various tools, nor from various plates; digital skill and a good sense of balance, for sharing a chair with one's wife, are all one needs.

I suspect that the old-fashioned family dinner, with everyone seated around the table, is a rarity. Most of us probably sit at trays watching television. This also eliminates small talk, which can be dangerous.

The most despicable intrusion on one's sense of privacy and well-being is the telephone pitch that comes around dinner time. They always say, "Is this Jack Smith?" You say yes, you are, knowing already that you're hooked. Then they say, "This is Mary Ann. (Or Fred.) How are you today?"

I want to tell them that it's none of their business how I am. Or that I'm having a pancreatic attack and do not expect to outlive this conversation. But I always say, "I'm all right," They're counting on my courtesy. Lately, I've been saying, "What do you want? Get to the point." Then they make their pitch. I say I'm not interested.

They can't believe it. "You don't want a free trip to Hawaii?" "No, I've been to Hawaii." "You don't want to go to the Caribbean?" "I already have tickets for the Caribbean." Abruptly, we terminate.

What bothers me is that their discourtesy in calling me away from my dinner, or my cocktail hour, or my early TV, has forced me to be discourteous in turn. l don't like to be discourteous.

A few years ago my wife and I responded to one of those pitches. We were told we had won one of several luxurious tours. All we had to do was drive down to Carlsbad and look at a condominium. We did. A young woman showed us the condominium and tried to sell it to us. We declined. We said we wanted our prize. She had us sign a paper to show that she had done her job, then we were directed to the prize desk. We won a trip to Lake Tahoe, by bus. The bus left Los Angeles at 6 o'clock in the morning. We didn't go.

Before I leave spaghetti, I'd like to publish a poem by David Bogen of La Canada Flintridge. He says it has never been published.

Here's to spaghetti,

Supple and sinuous,

Slender and tenuous,

Long and continuous;

Slippery, peppery,

Doomed to entangle us;

Dangling down in festoons

To bespangle us;

Whirling and twirling

And nestling tenderly

In our mustaches

And best haberdashery

Succulent serpentine,

Food of the brave;

Here's to spaghetti

And long may it wave!

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