I’m no bumpkin

President Nixon didn't think much of fellow Californian and Republican icon Ronald Reagan, calling him "strange" and not "pleasant to be around," newly released White House tapes show.
Associated Press, Dec. 10, 2003

Hello, friends. It's the Ghost of Dick Nixon here. You know, at this busy, crazy time of year, I'm constantly accosted by people who want to know how they should behave in some social setting or other.

"Hey, Dick," they call out. Sometimes that's all they say, but frequently there's more. Like: "What do I do about So-and-so's party? Do I go, even though I can't stand her? Do I get a gift for Uncle Herbie's kid? And how can I keep a straight face when, for the 17th year in a row, I have to convince Mother that I actually like nut log?"

If these concerns mirror your own, then, boy, have you come to the right place. Nobody knows more about acceptable conduct than Richard Milhous Nixon. My life-of-the-party reputation has long preceded me — a pedigree built on social graces that were considered awesome even among the fun-loving Quakers of Yorba Linda, Ca.

Follow my example, and you'll be at the top of everyone's popularity list. Ignore it, and God only knows what will happen. Your friends may turn on you. They might start saying you're "strange" and not "pleasant to be around." And then what will you be able to do to salvage your tarnished legacy? Diddlysquat.

Here are answers to some of the questions I'm most commonly asked as the holiday approaches:

What if there's a party I don't want to go to?

Go anyway. Nobody likes a party pooper. When faced with an invitation to a soiree you'd rather avoid, it's tempting to dwell on all the things you'd rather be doing at Christmastime — like bombing Hanoi. But you should make it a point to honor any and all invitations you receive, even if some of the households you'll end up visiting are known havens for pinkos, peaceniks and pansies. It's better to wade into uncertain waters and find yourself surrounded by enemies than to knuckle under to crippling self-doubts. Plus, there might be eggnog.

Should I RSVP?

Always. And if it's too late to answer via mail, an 18-1/2-minute audiotape is fine. Your secretary will be happy to deliver it.

How bad is it to arrive early?

Terrible, terrible faux pas. If the invite says the party is to start at 8 p.m., you don't dare show up one minute before. Your hosts already have plenty to do to prepare for your arrival, without the added burden of trying to entertain you while they do it. They may be hanging mistletoe, cueing up party music or rifling through your illegally obtained psychiatric records. In any case, steer clear of surprise drop-ins.

I'd like to make a good impression, but I don't want to come off like a blowhard. Do you have any suggestions for successful party conversation?

As I told David Frost in hour 47 of our chat, you should never get on the wrong side of a room's patience. Keep the conversation off yourself and on subjects that are likely to be of interest to everybody — like the decline in public morality or what's eating those smart-mouthed eggheads at the Jew York Times.

This year, I'm the one throwing the party. But I can't remember which way the silverware is supposed to be placed.

The forks go to your left — salad fork on the outside, dinner fork on the inside. The spoon is to your immediate right. The knife goes in your breast pocket, in case you're captured by the feds and need to psych them out with a self-inflicted wound to the Achilles tendon. (Liddy taught me that one.) And if you run short on place settings, and have to grab some extra plates from the cupboard, just say that you're opening up the dining room to the new China. Get it?

Sons of bitches.

What about office etiquette? Is it appropriate to give gifts to the people I work with?

Within limits. Many companies maintain a "Secret Santa" system, and that's a fine idea on paper. The trouble is that every workplace known to man has its share of weasels, and most of them can't keep a secret worth a damn. Any interoffice gift program needs to be closely monitored by the powers-that-be, with proper procedures carefully spelled out and stiff punishments levied on leakers. And if they've got the stones to plead their case to the girls in the steno pool, then let the bastards twist slowly in the wind.

How about my boss? Can I give him a gift, too?

Certainly. Oh, the chronic naysayers may complain of a lapse in ethics. But creative brown-nosing is as American as apple pie. You think Ike would ever have added me to the ticket if I hadn't spent a couple of Christmases plying him with Seagram's? In these economically touchy times, however, it's best to stick to a reasonably priced trinket that absolutely no one could construe as compromising — like a frisky dog named Checkers or a respectable Republican cloth coat.

Year in and year out, I do everything in my power to make Christmas enjoyable for me and everyone I care about. But I always fall into the same old cycle of disappointment and depression. How can I break the pattern?

Like most things in life, Christmas isn't a popularity contest. You try and you try to build a holiday you can be proud of, but your efforts are bound to be undermined by friends and family members whose vision doesn't approach your own.

Even if the experience ends in your profound humiliation, what's important is that you reserve the high ground. Hold your tongue and keep up a happy face until Dec. 26. Then drive to the nearest mall and march yourself to the center of Santa's Workshop. Tell anyone who'll listen that this is the last Christmas you're going to provide for their ungrateful asses; come next December, they won't have you to kick around anymore. Then turn and stride defiantly toward the exits, stopping only to flash the victory sign to the poor slob pulling Friday-morning counter duty at Wilson's Leather.

If that doesn't make you feel better, fire some people.

Steve Schneider writes for the Orlando Weekly, where this feature first appeared. Send comments to [email protected]
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