How to Be a Grownup: Miss Manners on Saying “No”

I’ve always loved Miss Manners, ever since college, when my friend Joel Derfner declared himself a fan.

“Really, Miss Manners?” I asked.

“No, you don’t understand,” he said. “She’s really quite witty, and she has excellent advice. For example, she says that if someone points out some flaw, like a hideous mole on your face, you should say, How very kind of you to notice. And if someone totally overshares with you, then you should say, How nice for you. Isn’t that great?!” 

I wasn’t sure about these methods, until a few weeks later when a classmate came up breathless to me in the dining hall:

“Guess What? I’M ON THE PILL!!” she announced — and very loudly, I might add.

Although flabbergasted by this announcement, I was still able to stammer out a response:

“How nice for you.”

Then I saw Miss Manners’ genius.

One of my absolute favorite pieces of Miss Manners’ writing is when she explains how to say “no.”

Here’s the text, excerpted from Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior:

The ability to say no politely is an essential social skill. All that is really needed is the ability to repeat “No, thank you,” interspersed with such small politenesses as “I’m so sorry” and “You’re kind to ask” and “I wish you luck.”

Elaborating is what gets people into trouble. Excuses that are false are traps one sets for oneself, but even true excuses encourage the audacious to argue: “Can’t you do that another night?” “One little piece of cake isn’t going to kill you.” “But this helps more people.”

Yet most people can’t help blabbing on to soften  the “no,” which is apt to be so softened as to give way. So here is a small sample of supplementary sentences:

“I’m afraid I’m not taking on anything else right now.”

“Sorry, I never discuss my finances.”

“I’m sure it’s wonderful, but I’m not going to have any.”

“We never go to balls, but we’d love to see you privately.”

“I’m so sorry, but that’s not something I can help you with.”

“If you care to send me written material, I’ll get in touch if I find it interests me.”

“I didn’t realize what this involved, and I think I’d better bow out.”

And the ultimately correct, no-excuses refusal:

Dr. Peony Wilson

regrets that she is unable to accept

the exceedingly kind invitation of

Mr. and Mrs. Popinjay

for Saturday, the first of June

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An Even Higher Level of Nerdvana

I am honored to say that my song “Dark Matter” has been featured on another episode of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk Radio. My geek cred has just gone up exponentially.**

The new episode is Cosmic Queries: Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Full of all sorts of geeky goodness, including Dr. Who references, and Neil explaining why Dark Matter should really be called “Fred.”

————–

** So exponentially, I want to write a function for the increasing slope of my geek cred.

Web Hyperbole Conversion Chart

Lately, I’ve noticed that every outlet on the web has resorted to Crazy! Amazing! Magnificent! titles to get readers’ attention. Every single link I see on Facebook is “The Most Amazing Thing You’ll Ever See!” and it’s, like, a panda farting or something.

If we use the word “amazing!” to mean “just ok,” then how do we know something really is “mind-blowing,” “world-changing,” etc.? What we have here is Awesomeness Inflation. So maybe a sort of conversion system to regular currency of human interest would help:

“Most Amazing News!”……………………………. common knowledge to anyone not living under a rock

“Incredibly Mind-Blowing!”………………………slightly more interesting than watching paint dry

“Shocking News about Your Health!!”…………………..apparently, fruits and vegetables are good for you

“This Will Change the World!”………………..some rich guy made a video about poor people, but didn’t give any money to them

“So This Happened.”……………..incredible; will blow your mind

—-

Props to Wil Barbour for funny contributions.

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

Sof Sofback’s Baadasssss…

A few years ago, Blaxploitation films came back into vogue, and people started talking again about Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”

Just for the record, I’ve never seen the movie. I’m going to take a wild guess, and assume it’s about somebody getting some vigilante justice, to the tune of funky wah-wah peddles.

But while all these articles were coming out, all I could think of was the poor copy editors at the newsroom: “Wait, how many a‘s are in Baadasssss?”  

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

I Have Reached Nerdvana

Geeks! Do you know who Neil Degrasse Tyson is?

Well, you should! He’s a badass astrophysicist. Head of the Hayden Planetarium. Frequent guest on The Daily Show. And host of an all-things-science-and-geeky podcast called Star Talk Radio.

(How geeky is the podcast? He interviewed Whoopi Goldberg about her role as Guinan on Star Trek. Yesssss! So Awesome!)

Aaaaaaand (drumroll please): My song Dark Matter was featured in a short clip at the top of his latest podcast!

I am such a geek! I have achieved Nerdvana!

I will now sit atop my Geek Mountain while other acolytes come to me, seeking to attain GeekLightenment.

New York Real Estate Stories: Everybody’s Deal

It must’ve been around a decade ago that Chris invited me to L’s new apartment for a housewarming party.

I was confused. Wasn’t her old apartment incredibly affordable? Why would she ever move out?

“She had a great opportunity, and she jumped on it.”

L. was going to be sharing a place with 2 other people. So Chris and I went over for dinner and drinks.

I was expecting the usual gritty apartment that twenty-somethings have in New York, so I was extremely surprised when I got to the address. There was an enormous, ornate building, complete with gate, and circular driveway. Stationed at the gate was a doorman in full livery – epaulets and everything. He signed me in, and told me how to proceed.

Then, I got into a gorgeous, mirrored, private elevator. And I got out at L’s place.

The place was ginormous. It was old – hadn’t been renovated for 50 years – but it was as fabulous a space as ever I’d seen in New York. Enormous ceilings. Enormous windows. Huge gilt-framed mirrors hung from the walls. Fireplaces. And room after room after room after room…

L. wasn’t the leaseholder — that was her friend David. David seemed normal enough. He had the usual things that geeky dudes in their twenties have — action figures and comic books — and he didn’t have super-expensive furniture. Nevertheless, I found it hard to concentrate as the evening progressed. You see, in nearly 10 years in New York, I had never seen an apartment anywhere near this nice. Not when I installed DSL in the apartments of investment bankers. Not even when I got to see the living space of a famous musician. All of their apartments paled in comparison.

So I sat there, eating salmon and broccoli, thinking, “This guy David must have, like, $50 million dollars! He must be incredibly, incredibly wealthy!…be cool, be cool…”

At the end of the evening, Chris asked me what I thought. I said, “That is the nicest apartment I’ve ever seen. Is his father a multi-millionaire?”

Chris said no, they were paying $1200 a month for the apartment.

What?!?

And here is the story. Long ago, a woman had moved into this apartment as a renter. At that time, all apartments in New York were rent-controlled. So, the longer you stayed in an apartment, the better deal you got.

She stayed for 50 years.

As she grew elderly, her nephew moved into her apartment to help take care of her. In New York, you cannot pass on your rent-controlled apartment to your heirs, but you can add someone new to the lease if they live with you for a certain length of time. David lived with her for a couple years, and then she died. So now the apartment was in his name.

This apartment building was one of the fanciest addresses in all of New York City. Movie stars and scions of industry paid top dollar to compete for a place there. Maybe you’ve heard of The Dakota? This place was just as nice, if not nicer.

When David got the lease for $1200, the management offerred him a deal: If you move out, we’ll pay you $2 million.

He refused.

Instead, since the rent on his gargantuan apartment was a little too high for his taste, he got two roommates. Now they would each pay $400 a month. To live with millionaires and movie stars.

When I heard this story, I started laughing. Perhaps a little maniacally. I was thrilled, gleefully happy.

New York City is brutally hard to live in. Getting through the day and getting out from under take an enormous amount of will. Everything’s paid for; nothing’s free.

But in this whole wide city, I’d finally found it. Somebody, somewhere, had finally gotten something for nothing.

And in a way, he did it for us all.

New York Real Estate Stories: The Other Roommate

My friend J. told me this story.

Once, a decade or two ago, J. was looking for a decent apartment in New York City. She answered a “roommate wanted” ad for an apartment that seemed suprisingly affordable.

The apartment was spacious. Both of the women living there seemed nice. But at a certain point, one of the women said, “Well, have you showed J. our other roommate?

J. said, “What “other” roommate?”

The two young ladies took her downstairs. They were laughing uncomfortably. There, on the wooden floor of the living room, was a strange…stain that could only be referred to as “man-size.”

Apparently, the previous occupant of the apartment had died, reaching for the phone to call for help. No one had found his body for a long time. In the meantime, his body had sort of…melted into the floor, providing a permanent stain and indentation in the floor. A frozen moment in time.

And that’s why the apartment was so affordable.

J. did not move in.

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

New York Real Estate Stories: The House on Poo Corner

If you’ve ever lived in New York City, you know that, for people living there, “real estate” forms an even larger part of your brain activity than “sex.” Every month, you write your landlord a surreally large check, all for the privilege of living in a space your friends back home would refer to as “a walk-in closet.”

It’s no wonder you get a bit obsessed. Is there a better deal out there? Could you buy the apartment next door, and actually have a bedroom? People go to outrageous lengths to get and keep apartments that would baffle any outsiders. Case in point, a story I like to call,

The House on Poo Corner 

In 2003, my friend Darryl Purpose was performing in an artist’s live/work space in Greenpoint, Queens.

The building was in a gritty, industrial neighborhood, and the apartment itself was enormous. Room after room, with high ceilings, and lots of light. Along with the nickel tour, I got the usual story from the apartment’s tenant, “Oh yeah, when we moved here, the place was a mess…but now the neighborhood’s gotten a lot more established…our landlord’s trying to jack up the rent big-time, but we’re taking him to landlord-tenant court…it’s just too good a deal…we’re definitely going to fight, I think we’re going to win…”

I listened with one ear, and certainly envied the large, airy space. But there was one thing that kept distracting me.

A certain…smell.

Yes, wherever I went in the house, it smelled like poo. It was pretty strong. Maybe the toilet had overflowed a couple of days before, and the smell hadn’t dissipated yet. Whatever it was, I was too discreet to mention it, as I assumed the tenant was aware of the problem. I didn’t want to embarrass him.

As day turned into evening, I noticed what looked like a huge flame out the window, against the night sky.

“Oh yeah,” said the tenant. “That’s the methane burnoff from the sewage treatment plant half a block away.”

I suddenly realized that the awful smell was not temporary. It was permanent. Every day, and every night, 365 days a year, it smelled like that.

That night I thought, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t live in the kind of city where people fight tooth and nail for the privilege of living in an apartment that smells like raw sewage. 

I moved six months later.

By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

Burt Bacharach’s Music is What They Play on the Elevator Going to Hell*

One Sunday morning, while listening to NPR, I heard a piece on Burt Bacharach. It listed some of his classics — Walk on By, Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head, What’s New, Pussycat, etc.

“That is amazing!” I thought. “That’s truly extraordinary!”

“Why, I hate all of these songs!”

Yes, apparently there was an unseen force in the universe, tying all smarmy music together, and that force was Burt Bacharach. Who knew? I was fascinated — how can One Man write so many songs that make me immediately want to take a shower?

I tried to be open-minded. Everyone says he’s a genius, and who am I? Just a weirdo with a dream.** Nevertheless, though I haven’t yet known “success” or “acclaim” from music, and Burt Bacharach is “rich,” I still have my opinions!

I really wanted to feel differently about him. I even watched documentaries about Burt Bacharach and the Brill building. But no dice. He still creeped me out.

As he spoke in his fuzzy powder-blue turtleneck, I had a vision in my head. It’s the 1970’s, and pretty naive Californian housewife Rhonda is visited by her husband’s sleazy friend when her husband’s away.

“Oh Rhonda, let’s go for a ride, it’s a nice day.”

“Oh Burt, gosh I don’t know. I don’t know if I should. Larry might not like it.”

“It’s just a ride, right? Besides, some fresh air might do you good.”

They stop to have lunch, and it just so happens that the restaurant is in the lobby of a hotel. After dinner, wouldn’t you know it? The manager is a friend of Burt’s, and he always makes a room available, just for an hour or two, when his good friend Burt is in town. Burt sure is tired, he’d like to lie down and have some shut-eye for 45 minutes before hitting the road again. Rhonda wouldn’t want him to be an unsafe driver, now would she? And maybe she can have a nap, too! It’ll be so European.

After getting her into the hotel room, Burt says that Rhonda looks “tense” and she needs to “relax more.” After giving her a massage, he starts to kiss her, and when she pulls away, he says how this is a “new time” and “bourgeoise ideas about ‘ownership’ don’t apply to modern people like us” and “grownups make their own choices in the world.”***

Rhonda is hopelessly confused. She’s always been a good girl, but Burt is saying that being a good girl is really being a bad girl. Oh, but what about Larry? He’d be so upset. He wouldn’t understand all that stuff about being modern and grownup, he’d just be mad.

Rhonda pulls away, at which point Burt becomes enraged, “So that’s it, huh? You’re just like all the others. A tease and a bitch. You’re a cold bitch who lures me up here and then turns on me. I’ll never forgive you for this, never!

“What? I…what?”

“You’re just heartless. You don’t care for me at all.”

“No! That’s not true! I do care for you!”

And so on. At last, by a combination of smooth talking and bullying, our friend Burt sleeps with Rhonda. Afterwards, she’s completely baffled by what has occurred, but falls into a regular affair with Burt because “after all, you seemed to like it the first time” and “your husband isn’t as enlightened as we are — I’d hate to see him find out.” Maybe she even leaves her husband for Burt in the end.

And all the while, he’s wearing that same powder blue turtleneck! When she visits him, she’s not allowed to drive his car, touch his stereo, or pick out any records herself from his meticulously-arranged record collection. And of course, she needs to leave after they have sex. “I need to get my sleep, babe.”

That scenario is what I think of whenever I hear the music of Burt Bacharach. 

———————————————————

* The main downside to writing this piece is that I now have Burt Bacharach songs stuck in my head. The things I do for you people.

** Or a muppet who somehow took human form. You decide.

***He might also bring up something about yoga and EST and wanting to help her “open up her chakras.” It depends on which flavor of sleazy 70’s guy he is.