Of oddities and bad etiquette

Some years back, we took our two sons on a trip to the East Coast – a whirlwind tour of baseball parks, museums, and local tourist attractions. Because we lived in the same state as the Speaker of the House at the time, and because my former husband was a newspaper editor, we had backstage-pass access to all the major monuments in Washington, D.C. 

We also had tickets to an historic joint session of the US Congress, in which King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin formally ended the 46-year state of war between Jordan and Israel. Naturally, this required formal daytime attire, very tight security and, of course, exemplary behavior. As I laid out my sons’ clothes for the day, I warned them pleaded with them to mind their manners.

 

After all the political hoopla ended, we ate lunch in the Congressional Dining Hall. We’d been invited by Heather Foley, wife of the Speaker and passionate politician in her own right. My sons immediately disregarded my whispered lecture about leaning their elbows on the white linen tablecloths, and they entertained themselves by ordering cheeseburgers (not on the menu) and endless soda refills from the formally attired, somewhat peeved waiters. After behaving well for several hours that morning, they were headed into meltdown mode. 

Nearly a dozen other dignitaries at the table talked quietly among themselves — until Ms. Foley asked my younger son the wrong question. 

“What have you most enjoyed about your trip?” 

My son got a wicked smile on his face, and I knew we were headed for trouble. 

Did he mention seeing the National Cathedral the day before? Did he recall watching back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards? Did he talk about the special tour we took at the White House, or rowing a canoe through Central Park? Nope, he let loose with an uncensored description – while we were eating, mind you – of the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Stomach-shaped hairballs and the history of STDs, plus bone fragments from Abraham Lincoln’s skull. A mummified male torso, and pictures of corpses that were decimated by weapons of war. An encephalitic leg, conjoined twins, and a one-eyed fetus, all floating in formaldehyde.

 

I slunk down in my seat, completely mortified. I regretted the moment I laid eyes on the Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C., which called the exhibit “unsettling and bizarre, perfect for boys 12 and under.” Great, I’d thought at the time, it’ll be a nice trade-off (a buyoff, if you will) for allowing them the opportunity forcing them to see some of the things in which I was more interested. Clearly, I’d made a mistake.

 

By this time, everyone at the table was riveted to my eleven-year-old’s ghastly and unrestrained parade of the horribles. Naturally, he ate up the attention, and his descriptions for these medical oddities grew increasingly vivid. I tried to shush him, but I couldn’t; he’d found the limelight, and he wasn’t about to let go. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Foley struggled to hold on to her smile (and likely, her lunch). “My goodness,” she said, when my son finally finished, “in all my years at the Capitol, I’ve never heard of that place.” I muttered an embarrassed apology, and she graciously demurred. The rest of our vacation was unremarkable, in comparison to that particular day. 

This morning, I read that President Bush is headed up to Capitol Hill, to eat lunch with members of his party. I imagine they’ll sit in that same Congressional Dining Hall. I’d like to connect the dots between our luncheon and now, but perhaps better manners should prevail.

76 Comments

        • The thing about nurses is, we reeeally have to watch it. We can sit around and discuss the most atrocious things over dinner and it doesn’t bother us in the least. Other people, however, have been known mto get up and leave the table. My own husband included, lol. I think this is why most nurses choose other nurses as their closest friends. Of course when you’re also a writer, it’s kind of like leading a double life: “Okay, nurses over here…writers over there…” Other than my dear friend though, all my writer friends seem to be only online. Hopefully that will change.

        • The thing about nurses is, we reeeally have to watch it. We can sit around and discuss the most atrocious things over dinner and it doesn’t bother us in the least. Other people, however, have been known mto get up and leave the table. My own husband included, lol. I think this is why most nurses choose other nurses as their closest friends. Of course when you’re also a writer, it’s kind of like leading a double life: “Okay, nurses over here…writers over there…” Other than my dear friend though, all my writer friends seem to be only online. Hopefully that will change.

  1. Oh, this made me laugh. I know exactly what you mean about trying in vain to shush a kid who has a gleeful grip on their five minutes of fame! :-O

    Sounds like a wonderful trip though.

  2. This is great! I bet people were thrilled to have a reprieve from the stuffy, predictable conversation. I know how hard that is to be the mom in those situations, though. (Not that I’ve ever been invited to dine in the Congressional Dining Hall – still checking the mail for my invite).

    I would love to read how you connect the dots between that day and today. Poop on better manners.

    • I’m guessing the conversation gave them lots to talk about later that afternoon. You’re right, though: it certainly was a reprieve from the norm, in all senses of that word.

      I believe you can draw the lines between the dots just as well as I can, Tracy. 🙂

  3. As the stepmom of two boys 10, and almost 7 who think bathroom humor is insanely funny, I can almost sit down in that chair and feel your pain! Great story!

  4. As the stepmom of two boys 10, and almost 7 who think bathroom humor is insanely funny, I can almost sit down in that chair and feel your pain! Great story!

  5. As a 28-yr-old female, I must admit that that stuff fascinates me, too, in a ghoulish, morbid way. Of course, I never would have brought it up if I happened to be eating in the Congressional Dining Hall…

    But don’t feel too embarrassed. He is 11, after all. I’m sure the others there completely understood.

    /trying to withold my own wicked smile

    • I’m the same way…I love to see that stuff, but I’m not about rehashing my visit over lunch. In a formal dining room. With famous, powerful people.

      In retrospect, I’m smiling, too. Even then, and although I was embarrassed, I had to hold down the corners of my mouth.

    • I’m the same way…I love to see that stuff, but I’m not about rehashing my visit over lunch. In a formal dining room. With famous, powerful people.

      In retrospect, I’m smiling, too. Even then, and although I was embarrassed, I had to hold down the corners of my mouth.

  6. Lol! I wish I’d known that…when I forced my son (same age) back there in 2004, I might have gotten him to more historical sites if we’d had the same deal!

    • It’s hard to keep kids interested in the kinds of things we want them to remember. Mine will ALWAYS remember that museum, but when it comes to the Jefferson Memorial and the Smithsonian, not so much.

  7. Lol! I wish I’d known that…when I forced my son (same age) back there in 2004, I might have gotten him to more historical sites if we’d had the same deal!

  8. Better manners indeed! Yes, let’s NOT go there – today.

    I loved this. I’ve sat through lunches similar with my own children and they — the memory of such — are priceless!

    These are for the second part of Melodye’s memoirs.

  9. Priceless. Out of the mouths of babes, eh? lol… That story is just too funny. Good thing he didn’t have a digital camera. Or at least, one with him. I think that might have cleared the table rather quickly.

    I so envy your backstage pass to Washington! That’s very awesome. I’m dying to tour DC.

    This morning, I read that President Bush is headed up to Capitol Hill, to eat lunch with members of his party.

    You don’t suppose there will be pretzels on the menu do you? Nahhhh… probably just some wishful thinking.

    • We had an amazing trip, and I’ll always look back fondly on that visit, including (and I admit it, especially) that lunch. No pictures necessary for some memories, right? They’re forever etched in your heart and mind.

      All kinds of possibilities for connecting those dots, eh? I figured you’d have fun with the parallels.

      • No pictures necessary for some memories, right? They’re forever etched in your heart and mind.

        Exactly. Very well said. I don’t need my pictures to recall everything about my time in Venice…

        I really am simply amazed by how many wonderful stories you have to share… Thank you for sharing them!

    • We had an amazing trip, and I’ll always look back fondly on that visit, including (and I admit it, especially) that lunch. No pictures necessary for some memories, right? They’re forever etched in your heart and mind.

      All kinds of possibilities for connecting those dots, eh? I figured you’d have fun with the parallels.

  10. What a great image….I love it.
    Working with an international group of people at the university, it’s surprising what’s considered polite conversation from culture to culture – and the conversations we have during one of our lab parties. So many *cringe* moments. 😉

  11. While you were eating! Hoorah for him. If I ever hear of you apologizing for rivoting conversations like that again, I don’t know what I’m going to do. 🙂

  12. While you were eating! Hoorah for him. If I ever hear of you apologizing for rivoting conversations like that again, I don’t know what I’m going to do. 🙂

  13. Ha ha ha! Just catching up on LJ and this made me giggle. My boys would LOVE that place, too. (And I read your other entry about visiting your former home. Wow! So neat you found that message and the tub!)

    • Definitely consider it as a possible side show — er, side trip, should you ever visit Washington, D.C.

      Pretty cool about the tub and the carved message. Powerful stuff. Thanks for sharing my trips down memory lane. 🙂

  14. Oh, Melodye!

    I can imagine how mortified you must have been–but if you put all those feelings of mortification aside, that is hilarious! Kids, uh? *grin* I’m willing to bet that there was never a dull moment in your house when your kids were growing up. 😉

  15. Anonymous

    This cracks me up. I don’t know how I missed it the first time.

    Honestly, I thought the story was going in the direction of Ms.
    Foley wanting to visit that museum! Heh heh. Maybe she did afterwards. You never know.

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