Anybody who knows me will tell you that I ain’t no fashion plate or GQ cover boy.  I do, however, have a few standards that I think make sense.  I’m not preaching–nobody in their right mind would want to look like me–just blabbering, or, in 2010 parlance, blogging.

I’m absolutely not telling anybody what to do or how to do it; these are just things I try to live by.  You can take ’em or leave ’em.  Like I said, I’m just blabbering.

  1. Keep it clean.  That means a thorough shower or bath (I happen to be a bath guy) at least once a day.  Dousing yourself with cologne doesn’t hide anything; it  just makes you smell like stink and cologne simultaneously.
  2. On the subject of cologne:  Less is more. Anyone not embracing you should not be able to smell it.
  3. Gold and silver don’t mix.  Gold is gaudy and when people see it, it only makes them wonder whether it’s real.  Stick with silver and you can’t go wrong.
  4. Wear a belt.  I can’t explain exactly why, because I don’t know exactly why, but trust me:  A belt can make or break it.  In the best of all worlds, your belt will–more or less–match your shoes.
  5. Keep your shoes clean.  To quote Chef Michel Leborgne, “A clean shoe is a happy shoe.”
  6. “Accessorize” sounds like an unbearably girly term, but if you can manage to keep a few different watches on hand, that’d be nice.  If you’re wearing brown shoes and a brown belt, wear a watch with a brown band.
  7. Never wear a neck-tie with a short-sleeved shirt.
  8. No one wants to hear you complain.  Some people may appear to tolerate it, but you’re actually making them miserable.
  9. Assume that everyone you speak to is a gentleman or a lady, and address them accordingly.
  10. Remember that discretion is the better part of valor.
  11. Never bend at the waist.
  12. As long as anyone is under your roof, you are directly responsible for their happiness.
  13. White socks are not always a good idea.  However, you can’t really go wrong with black socks.
  14. Cultivate “sprezzatura“–the skill of making the difficult appear facile.
  15. Keep your fingernails neat and clean.  The occasional manicure won’t hurt.
  16. Try to remember and live by the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments.
  17. When kissing a lady’s hand, lower yourself to it rather than lifting it up to yourself.
  18. Don’t talk about people who aren’t in your presence.
  19. Above all, be nice, try not to worry, and have a little harmless fun every day (the Professor Edgar Ruff amendment:  “Don’t swing too high and don’t eat too much potato salad”).

Here’s the part that I can’t put into one sentence:

There are two kinds of pride–one bad and one good.  The bad one is sometimes called–especially by high school English teachers–hubris, or “overweening pride.”  No one knows what the word “overweening” means, but high school English teachers are required by law to use it.

There are, as you know, Seven Deadly Sins.  I can never remember all of them–which probably tells you a thing or two about my own psychological profile–but I can tell you that numero uno on the list, the deadliest of the seven deadlies, is pride.

We’re talking about the kind of pride that got Oedipus into such deep doo-doo.  This variety of pride is really the ignorance born of arrogance.  By “ignorance” I don’t mean stupidity, but refusal to see what’s going on around you.

Oddly, the Seven Deadly Sins are outnumbered by the Three Graces–fortitude, justice, and humility (which are manifested in acts of faith, hope, and charity).

The grace most directly counteracting pride is humility.  In its original sense, “humility” didn’t mean keeping your cake-hole shut and taking licks no matter what; it meant knowing your weaknesses as well as your strengths, and being honest about all of them.

If you think about it, confronting your own strengths and weaknesses–and therefore your own limitations–can indeed make you humble, and maybe begin to dilute some pride.

Again, I’m not preaching to anyone (well, maybe myself).  Hollering at people to improve themselves through humility would be too much irony even for me.

When I started high school, there was a girl who had to wear a spinal brace (don’t know why).  It was an awful, torturous-looking thing, like it was left over from the Spanish Inquisition.  This cast iron contraption started somewhere around her lower back and went all the way up to her chin.  I felt really sorry for her and wondered what other people thought, what taunts she had to endure (you know how petty kids can be).

First day of senior year, she showed up without that brace on her, and she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen–I was breathless; I remember standing on the steps by the library and just staring at her glide through the crowds like a reed sticking straight out of a swamp.

She had carriage, presence, and she had real beauty–kind of a quiet ease and confidence without a lick of pretense.  That’s grace; that’s good pride.

I don’t think she and I ever even said hello to each other, but thirty years laters, I still think of her as the definition of class and appropriate pride.

It all kind of goes back to Ruskin and Carlyle and what Coleridge said about Shakespeare:  Mechanical genius is nothing to shout about; organic genius is what makes every day worthy of celebration.

20.  Tip at least 18%, regardless of the quality of service, and always approach the manager with points of praise.  Learn and remember your servers’s names.

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