Building Blocks (Proper Etiquette)

‘Proper’ etiquette is at the hands of the doer, and judged by the observer.  Let’s think about how we have displayed ‘proper’ etiquette, and, thus, how our characters have.

In 1968, while attending a national college gathering in New York City, a friend and I were ready to order lunch at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  At the time, be it stage, screen, magazines, etc., the Waldorf, was at the height of ‘sophistication’.   As we waited to order our food, I noticed a cockroach crawl out from behind the flower vase and start walking across the table.  I looked at my friend, my friend looked at me…what was the proper etiquette?  I was 21, which is far too old to jump up from the table and yell ‘there’s a cockroach’ to alert the staff.  Thus, I did what a real gentleman would do; not to smash the bug and mess up the tablecloth, I simply used an upside down ashtray to entrap the bug.  For some reason food was now history, and no staff member would stop by our table.  As we left the restaurant without ordering, I quietly mentioned to the maître d’ that an “unwanted visitor” was at our table.

On a hot summer day, twenty-four-year-old Steve was in Rome, at the Vatican City, talking to a small group of international male tourists of my age.  Two 19-20 year old girls approached us, and asked if we could assist them.  Not properly dressed to enter the Vatican, they asked if we would form a barrier; so they could change clothes between us and a wall.  Exercising proper etiquette we said yes; and, facing towards the Vatican, we became a dressing room screen.  When I told my friends back home about this experience, the women laughed, “good manners”; while the guys, “why didn’t you look!”

Proper etiquette also involves when not to laugh 🙂  One afternoon at the family pet specialty supply store, teenage Steve was crouched down behind a glass showcase doing some restocking.  I noticed that an elderly lady customer had approached the showcase, and was looking at me through the glass.  Seeing that she had caught my attention, “Young man, do you have balls?”  My ‘take a second to put the world in perspective’ etiquette thankfully overtook any instantaneous comic response.  However, my Mom, who was a few feet away, had overheard, and politely responded for me, “I hope he does.”  Of course, exercising business etiquette, my Mom quickly turned away to hide her silent laughter.  I took advantage of the break in eye-to-eye contact to regather my ‘composure’, and said “yes ma’am” to the customer; and I stood and pointed to the showcase that displayed dog toys.

How have you displayed ‘proper’ etiquette?

Think about your ‘building blocks’; we can not write without them.


Building Blocks (Mishaps do happen!)

Unfortunately mishaps do happen; however, as our characters grow older, their mishap realism can become lost in antiquity.  Realistically, brief conversations between age groups may not be as comprehendible as we want them to be.  Let’s think about what has happened in our lives, and think about how quickly different generations can visualize the incident.

For example, when I was asked by a ten year old how I got a scar on my lower arm, I replied that I scraped my arm on a sharp rabbit ear.  “Rabbit’s ears are not sharp!”  “It’s slang for a TV antenna.”  “What’s a TV antenna?”

What are some ‘common’ mishaps that could baffle our older or younger generation readers?

Our kitchen trash compactor ate my watch!:  With curbside compost and recycling pickup becoming available in more and more communities, the trash compactor is becoming history.

I spilled water/soda/beer/wine on my floppy disk!:  The first floppy disks were developed in the late 1960s.  Today, computers were rarely manufactured with installed floppy disk drives.

I can’t call her; the dang party-line is tying up the phone!:  Party line (multiparty line, shared service line, party wire) is a local loop telephone circuit that is shared by multiple telephone service subscribers.  Party line systems were widely used to provide telephone service, starting with the first commercial switchboards in 1878.  A majority of Bell System subscribers in the mid-20th century in the United States and Canada were serviced by party lines.  One of the last manual telephone exchanges with party lines was in Australia, and was closed down in 1986.

He tripped over the milk bottle the milkman left in front of the door.:  Yes, in some places milkmen/women do still deliver milk to residences.  However, younger readers think of grocery stores, Walmarts, and WaWa type retailers.  In the early-1950s, a wonderful innovation helped my family to keep the delivered milk from spoiling; an insulated box on the back porch.

She was late because she forgot to wind her wristwatch.:  Since 1923,  when John Harwood, a watch repairer from Bolton, England, introduced the first commercial self-winding watch, hand cranking one’s wristwatch has become a rarity today.

Think about your ‘building blocks’; we can not write without them.


Building Blocks (Déjà vu)

As humans, once in a while we have déjà vu occurrences that jog our memory.  While these occurrences may give rise to our writing thoughts, think about how the characters in your stories will react to a déjà vu occurrence.

It had been quite a while since I had taken the Metro into Washington D.C.  Just parking at the station brought back memories.  However, a déjà vu occurrence is not just ‘I parked here before’; but a strong sensation about a ‘life altering’ event that has been experienced in the past.  My déjà vu occurrence happened when the Metro stopped in Alexandria.

I grew up ‘residing’, then working in the family retail store in Baltimore, Md.  These were the days long before computer ordering; and even those things called cell phones.  Representatives from specialty suppliers traveled the East Coast, and would periodically come to our store; products would be mailed to us.  Every two weeks the salesman for a major wholesaler in Alexandria would stop in our store to take orders; to be delivered by truck a week later. What a fantastic job it would be to become a traveling salesman!  When I got to see the Alexandria warehouse/office in the late 1959, it reinforced my professional aspirations, and I asked for a job.  Darn, they did not hire 12 year olds as traveling salesman.  However, by the time I was 18, other career pursuits had overtaken that career goal.

Fast forward to the early-1990s.  I had transferred civilian jobs within the Defense Department, and began working in Alexandria.  Soon I would discover that the multi-story building I now worked in had been constructed on the very spot the supplier’s warehouse/office had once stood.  It was déjà vu on that day in the early-1990s…and déjà vu a few days ago when the Metro stopped across from the building.

While I continued my Metro ride in the ‘today’, my mind was focused on past events.  How can déjà vu affect the actions of the characters in our stories?  Would the expressed current attitude or plans of a character suddenly change?


When you are dealing with something that is uncomfortable,

your mind subconsciously retreats to a time in your past

that was comfortable.  Memories are the only truly personal

thing we have in this life; with time, so much more vivid

they become.

I was walking along the streets heading for a meeting, briefcase in one hand, and the other gripping closed the collar of my business dress coat.

Wool dress coats may be warm, but they require scarves, and I had failed to grab mine as I left the office.  It was a high quality scarf that had been given to me as a gift years before.  The quality bespoke of the woman who gave it to me.  Just looking at it brought back hints of memories I had long ago stored in the back recesses of my mind.  A closed chapter, journey complete; but journeys are never forgotten.

Through a Stranger’s Eyes, © Steven S. Walsky, 2005.


Think about your ‘building blocks’; we can not write without them.