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Polite Quiz.

etiquetteThis quiz will test your knowledge of etiquette. If you encounter ambiguous or confusing questions consult the answer key before proceeding.





1) You’re walking with a friend down the street. You should

a) Walk on their left

b) Walk on their right

c) Decide based on whether they’re left or right-handed

d) Pretend to push them into traffic and laugh

2) A co-worker shares confidential information about a fellow co-worker with you. You should

a) Say nothing

b) Report the co-worker who spoke to you to HR

c) Report both co-workers to HR

d) Use the information to blackmail Kevin into bringing you duty-free Scotch from the conference he’s attending

3) You’re running late for a meeting and step into the elevator. You see another person approaching from a distance. You should

a) Hold the door

b) Let them get the next elevator

c) Pretend you don’t see them

d) Yell “Hurry!” while you’re pressing the ‘Door close’ button

4) You’re tweeting  a Periscope video that was shared from an Instagram link on Facebook. Should you also like it on Tumblr for your Tindr profile?

a) Yes

b) No

c) Only if the person who sent it has added you to their LinkedIn network

d) Get off my lawn!

5) You’re spending the night at Lord Buldlington’s manor. Whilst dressing for afternoon tea you discover your third valet forgot to pack an extra set of garters. You should

a) Send word to the sophomore footman that you require supplemental livery

b) Ask the underbutler to create a distraction in the parlor so your manservant can slip into Sir Merton’s room and “borrow” his walrus-ivory cufflinks

c) Feign illness and have a cold supper of smoked tongue and aspic in your room

d) Create a scandal by calling Lady Bertrille “a swotty knickerbocker”

6) You’re having drinks with coworkers. The person to your left has purchased a round for the entire table. Everyone expects you to do the same but you don’t have enough money. You should

a) Apologize and offer to pay for the drink the other person purchased

b) Buy drinks but quietly ask a friend to help

c) Decide you can be a little late with this month’s rent

d) Buy several more rounds and appetizers and wake up three days later in a Vegas hotel room with an armadillo and the word “ANTHROPOMORPHIZE” tattooed on your forehead

7) You make a bank shot off two rails and sink one of your opponent’s balls. You believe this is a foul and the ball should be replaced. Your opponent disagrees. According to the rules

a) You are correct

b) Your opponent is correct

c) The ball doesn’t count but should remain pocketed

d) It’s time for another round of drinks

8) You are driving down a narrow road and the driver behind you insists on tailgating. You should

a) Maintain your current speed

b) Slow down

c) Tap your brakes

d) You’re driving in Russia, so who cares? Go offroad!

9) You’re at an elegant dinner party and a dish you don’t recognize is served. You look at the array of utensils next to your plate. You should

a) See what the people on either side of you pick up

b) Use the shrimp fork

c) Use the oyster knife

d) Get a new plate each time you return to the buffet

10) You and a friend have made plans to go out. At the last minute your friend cancels but you learn later that your friend was seen out without you. You should

a) Say nothing and assume your friend had good reasons

b) Say nothing and save it for a later argument

c) Ask your friend what happened

d) Disguise yourself and start stalking them

11) You receive an email and forget to reply to it. After a week the sender sends a follow-up email asking if you received the first email. You should

a) Apologize and reply immediately.

b) Claim the email went to your junk folder

c) See if they’ll send a third email

d) Cut off all internet access, move to Borneo, and adopt a whole new identity

12) You’re about to drop your calling card at the Windermere House and you notice both Henry Greene and Aloysius Wells have left their cards first. You should

a) Leave your card on top even though this will reveal you were late

b) Slip your card to the bottom

c) Split and double down

d) Take Greene’s card and inscribe the word “Scallywag” on it

13) You’re at a party and are introduced to a large number of strangers. To remember their names you should

a) Mentally repeat each person’s name to imprint it on your memory

b) Repeat each person’s name once as you’re introduced to them

c) Suggest that everyone wear nametags

d) Just call everyone “Jeff”

14) A person to whom you’ve just been introduced asks how much money you make. You should

a) Say you don’t discuss personal finances

b) Ask, “Why, do you need to borrow some?”

c) Say, “Obviously more than you based on those shoes.”

d) Set them on fire.

15) You’re taking an online quiz and start to doubt your answers. You should:

a) Keep going. You’re doing your best and that’s all you can do

b) Quit because who really needs this crap?

c) Take “Potent Potables” for $600

d) Check the answer key



Don’t Just Phone It In.

customerserviceI know people who will scream for customer service, ask to speak to a manager, or demand a refund at the drop of a hat. The slightest thing sets them off an angry tirade. I don’t know if I can say I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum but I let a lot of things slide, mainly because they just don’t bother me enough to deserve the time and energy it would take to get angry. There are things that set me off like a firecracker in a furnace, like stupid unnecessary computer “upgrades” that are really just cosmetic changes because some developer has too much time on his hands, but on the whole I don’t have a lot of pet peeves. They require a lot of care and feeding and shed too much.

So generally I don’t bother reporting things to customer service, but once in a while I have to say something.

The bus driver kept stopping at random places. Technically you can flag down a bus at any intersection along the route, and while drivers are only supposed to stop and let people off at approved stops sometimes they’ll let somebody off at an intersection or even between intersections. It’s not a big deal. This driver, though, stopped between intersections when nobody needed to get off or on and he’d pull out his cell phone and fiddle around with it.

Technically bus drivers are not supposed to use their cell phones while driving. There’s even a metal box that blocks signals at the front of the bus where the drivers are supposed to store their phones while driving. If a bus driver preferred to keep their phone in their pocket and didn’t text or play Candy Crush while driving I’d say it was no big deal, but I wanted to get home and this guy stopped three times over the course of eight blocks. Still I didn’t say anything. Then someone else did.

“He needs to get this bus moving!” a guy in a seat across from me said very loudly. Several other people agreed. That’s when the driver turned around and said, “There’s another bus behind me that y’all need to take.”

I can’t speak for anyone else but this is where I gave the driver a little benefit of the doubt. Maybe he kept stopping because there was something wrong with the bus. I wondered why he was using his cell phone instead of the bus radio but maybe he was using Google to look up what it meant when the little oil light on the dashboard lit up. Anyway we all got out. As soon as we did he took off, going from zero to something probably exceeding the speed limit in nine and a half milliseconds.

The next bus came along just a minute later and I probably got home at about the same time I would have if I’d stayed with Mr. McStops-A-Lot, but it was the principle of the matter. I sent a message to customer service and got a nice automated reply assuring me a human being would follow up within seven business days.

A month later when I got the same driver again I was reminded of the other reason I don’t bother with customer service.

A Matter Of Taste.

discoI once heard an art critic tell a bunch of art students, “Some mornings I want tomato juice and some mornings I want orange juice. If you give me orange juice on a morning when I want tomato juice I won’t like it. It doesn’t matter if it’s the best orange juice in the world. I still won’t like it.” He then went on to say that some of their works he was going to look at were going to be orange juice and that they should keep in mind that today was a tomato juice day.

My first thought was, “What an asshole.” But then I thought a little more about it and realized he was admitting that his judgment was fallible. He also admitted that his opinions were not objective and were sometimes shaped by factors that had nothing to do with what he was looking at.

I still think, what an asshole, but that’s tempered a little bit by understanding the deeper implications of what he said.

Years later I got asked to write art criticism for a little magazine—so little it folded after its second issue, but that’s another story. At the Sarratt Art Gallery there was an exhibit of paintings by Margo Kren. It was her “Snook’s Jazz” series, named after her husband and inspired by her visits to New Orleans. And that was about all I got from the exhibition catalogue. I missed the opening so I never got to talk to her.

At first I felt like I was being given tomato juice and let me say right now that I don’t like tomato juice. There is no morning, afternoon, or evening when I want tomato juice. And I started writing a review that was pretty critical, but since I was working on it during lunch breaks I only had a short time to look at the paintings and write so I kept going back. And a funny thing happened. I started looking more closely at the paintings and found depth and detail I’d missed earlier. The online versions don’t really capture the paintings, how large they are, or an interesting recurring motif: thick blobs of paint like candy dots.

The more I looked at her work the more I liked it and I ended up writing a really positive review of the paintings.

It’s an experience I’ve kept in mind ever since because it reminds me that my first impression may not be the right one. If I give something another look I just might develop a taste for it.

The One That Got Away.

speakerThere’s a story here. Really, I know there’s a story here somewhere if I could just find it. I’m almost certain I left the house with it this morning. I don’t remember taking it anywhere else where I might have left it although I’ve been carrying it around for a while. But I know I had it last night and, like I said, I’m pretty positive I had it with me this morning. Fairly sure at the very least. I’m convinced enough that I’d give myself pretty good odds if someone were to bet me that I had it.

I could start asking around but then I’d have to deal with some annoying and ridiculous questions and suggestions like:

Have you tried retracing your steps?

Yes, half a dozen times now. I even tried a couple of alternate routes because, you know, I don’t always go the same way every morning and while I believe I remember the way I came I wouldn’t absolutely swear that I didn’t take another path. I wasn’t fully awake and it was kind of foggy out which distracted me a little bit.

Where was the last place you had it?

If I knew that I’d know where to start looking jackass.

Is it in the place where you usually keep it?

I already told you I’ve been carrying it around with me. What do you think? That it’s somewhere on my body and I don’t realize it? Hey, that might actually work. Let me check. Nope, not anywhere here. I even did that trick where I hold up a mirror to a mirror and, wait, is that really what my head looks like from the back? Weird.

Have you tried hypnosis?

Does that even really work? Let’s just say that it did. Where am I going to find a hypnotist?

Remember: you always find something in the last place you look.

Oh, thanks a lot, this from the same jackass who asked “Where was the last place you had it?”

What does it look like?

Now that’s a good question. For starters it’s chock full of metaphors. Or similes. I always get those mixed up. I had an English teacher who told us we could always remember similes because they make things similar to each other. I asked how we could remember metaphors and she didn’t have an answer for that. The kid next to me said “Well, they’re meta for…” and then he mumbled that he’d get back to me with the rest of it. He never did. Who knows what “meta” is anyway? Maybe he was thinking about synecdoches.

What else can I say about what it looks like? It’s got a surprising twist near the end. That should help. I mean it’s pretty distinctive because it’s not something you’d see coming. It’s gripping, compelling, and impossible to turn away from which should make it really obvious because there should be a bunch of people gathered around staring at it, at least if I dropped it somewhere really public. If it’s in the bushes or something then I’m done for.

I could also say it’s about yay high, but who knows how high a yay is?

It’s got a strong, character-driven plot and an overarching theme. That should help. Really it should. I was using the theme as a handle.

That reminds me. I think I stopped somewhere to tie my shoe. I must have set it down when I did that but I don’t remember where I stopped. I’ve got these new shoes and I need to get some different laces for them because, really, I can’t walk ten feet without one of them getting untied.

The specific genre might help too but I’m kind of lost there because it’s really a stream of consciousness narrative based on an urban legend that was actually derived from a work of historical fiction. I think there was also some romance and a bit of mystery and since it was pretty recent it had to have something about vampires.

Also it’s covered in gravy.

Did You Notice This?

runnerThis may surprise some people who know me well but I can be incredibly unobtrusive. I can slip into places completely unnoticed, probably because I’m unusually average: average build, average looks, average height. Actually I seem to be slightly below average height because I look up to most people, but maybe that’s why I can sometimes sit in a group and everyone will forget I’m there until I speak up. Or sometimes they won’t even notice when I speak up. Apart from the time I wandered into the Cleveland Botanical Garden and had a really great time looking around even though it was still under construction (I was there in 2000, it didn’t open to the public until 2003) I’ve never really taken advantage of this skill, although it’s a power I’d only want to use for good, never evil. I wouldn’t rob a bank or anything like that, especially since I wouldn’t be able to resist making a joke about how so many financial transactions are virtual now that robbing banks is pointless now.

Police officer: Can you describe him?

Bank teller: Yes, he was average build, average looks, a little less than average height.

Police officer: And what did he do?

Bank teller: Well, he came in and said this was a robbery. He handed me a bag and told me to fill it with Bitcoin then he started laughing and ran out.

I probably shouldn’t be joking about that. Once when I was a kid a friend and I went to the bank with his mother and while we were waiting for her to take care of her finances I joked about writing “THIS IS A ROBBERY” on the back of one of the withdrawal slips and sticking it back in the stack and got a stern lecture from a security guard about how that was not even a little bit funny. I was kind of glad he noticed me, but that’s another story.

Anyway every once in a while I’ve gotten to the far side of the intersection where I catch the bus and seen the bus coming. And I’ve gotten there when it’s still safe to cross but the lights can change in an instance so I run to make sure I get to the stop. This might happen once or twice a month, but the weird thing is it’s always been the same driver. The only times I’ve ever seen her are when I’ve run to catch the bus—until recently.

The other day I made it to the stop early and this particular driver drove up. I got on and was swiping my card—even bus fares are electronic now—and she clapped and said, “Yay! You didn’t have to run!”

We both laughed and then I thought how weird it was that she remembered me. Some bus drivers have driven right by without even realizing I was there.

Sometimes I Wanna Be An Anarchist.

The word “anarchy” gets used a lot to describe riots and other chaotic events but that’s not really what it means. Technically it’s not what “chaos” means either, but that’s another story. “Anarchy” comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “without a leader”. It just means a system where everyone only looks out for themselves and there are no rules.

anarchy1I’m generally a fan of rules. Without them things tend to break down and a game of Sorry! can quickly turn into a game of Sorry I Ripped Up The Carpet And Stuffed It In Your Face Until You Bled! and while this can make the game more interesting in the short term in the long term it usually results in a parental figure taking it away.

anarchy2Anyway I do think it’s good to challenge the rules sometimes, to force ourselves to think about why we have rules in the first place, and whether the rules we’re following are still useful or if they’re just something we do out of habit. Graffiti is against the law but why? I can think of a lot of reasons, starting with I don’t want somebody spray painting stuff on my house, but are there exceptions? There’s graffiti carved into the pyramids and other ancient monuments that was done thousands of years ago so it’s become history itself. And what are the rules of graffiti? Mostly people think of graffiti as painted, and that’s reflected in one of the definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Words or images marked (illegally) in a public place, esp. using aerosol paint.” But that could include stickers, signs, posters…graffiti could be any kind of mark made in a public place. The problem with making the definition overly broad, though, is it then loses all meaning and spitting on the sidewalk becomes graffiti. I believe graffiti is an art form and I have a pretty broad interpretation of what art is, but there have got to be some standards and some rules or the whole thing would descend into anarchy.

Seen any graffiti? Send your pictures to You can be credited or remain anonymous. Whatever you want the rules to be.

Matriculating Down.

graduationIt’s graduation season which makes me think back on my high school graduation, or at least what I remember of it, which is almost nothing of the ceremony itself. It’s strange. I remember other peoples’ graduation ceremonies I’ve attended better than my own. Everything from the moment I stepped through the auditorium doors is a blank, maybe because it wasn’t that important to me. Finishing high school was important. The ceremony itself—the cap and gown, the tassel, walking across a stage to get a diploma when my name was called—wasn’t. In first through sixth grade my school had Field Day in late May, marking the beginning of the end of the school year. It was a day-long P.E., mostly races, which I hated because I was a lousy runner and always coming in last or close to it or even somewhere in the middle but nowhere near the winners just seemed to remind me of that. And there were tug-o-war competitions between classes which I kind of liked because they were my one chance to win something even if all we ever won was a lousy little ribbon: blue for first place, red for second, yellow for third. There was no ceremony of any kind. After the event a grownup just handed you your ribbon, and they weren’t always paying much attention so I got a couple of blue ribbons by saying, “Yeah, I just won the, uh, the six decibel caterwaul over there,” but that’s another story. And there was also at least one adult wandering around with a handful of green ribbons for participation. If you just showed up, if you weren’t sick that day, you got a green ribbon. And that’s what my high school diploma felt like: a green ribbon for just showing up.

What I do remember of the ceremony is getting to the arena downtown wearing my suit and tie, and getting there early enough that I wandered around the arena by myself for a while. I was there with my parents and I guess they were getting their seats while I was supposed to go downstairs and line up with my classmates, but all of my classmates were wandering around talking to each other and seeing if they could stick their arms far enough up into the machines to get a free Coke so I did that too. The school gym, which was normally used for pep rallies and basketball games and the Christmas talent show, wasn’t good enough for graduation ceremonies so the administrators rented the dilapidated downtown arena which was normally used for hockey games and wrestling events and a hideout for junkies. It’s since been demolished. When the time for the ceremony itself got close enough we all dutifully headed downstairs and were lined up. At some point we must have put on our caps and gowns. You’d think wearing a gown for two hours is something I’d remember but, no, still drawing a blank. I was placed somewhere in the middle, so I guess we were lined up by class ranking. I wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian or stentorian. I didn’t even have perfect attendance. I was exceptionally average.

I was standing next to Sally, a girl I knew so barely I was kind of surprised to learn we were both in the same grade, and for some reason they made us go in as pairs. As we stepped up to the doors Sally grabbed my hand and said, “Oh God, this is it. Please tell me it’s going to be all right.”

I hope I told her it was going to be all right but I have no memory of any of it because we stepped through the doors and my last thought was, Well, let’s get this shit over with. No, that’s not entirely true. I remember thinking, wow, for Sally this is really a big deal, and I envied her feeling that way. Intellectually I knew this was a big deal. We’d spent more than a third of our lives in school. There’d been a lot of changes along the way. Some kids moved away and as I’d gotten older and moved through different schools my circle of classmates had gotten bigger, some had dropped out, and a few hadn’t made it, but I was still graduating with a handful of kids I’d started kindergarten with were in that auditorium graduating with me. This was a special event. I just couldn’t feel the specialness of it.

It’s strange what we remember and what we don’t. I remember being outside the auditorium after everything was over, still wearing my cap and down, and laughing with a friend of mine. One of my teachers came over and told me I looked happier at that moment than she’d ever seen me. Without thinking I grinned and said, “I wonder why that is,” and then laughed even more because I felt like I’d unintentionally insulted her even though she was one of the best teachers I’d had. And then we left. It’s not surprising to me that I don’t remember the car ride home because riding in the car was something I did regularly, but I think even then I was aware that I could barely remember anything from the previous two hours.

When we got home some of my friends showed up and dragged me away to one of their houses. We spent the night watching movies and playing games and eating and being stupid and whatever else we did to have a good time. We consumed every food item in the house. Around 4:30 am we were mixing flour and generic brand soda and we all finally went home well after dawn, still strangely wide awake in spite of being up the entire night. It wasn’t that different from a lot of other weekend nights we’d spent together and yet I remember every minute of it.