Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is permissible? & Little Blue Book #556

I’ve seen a lot of human/canine interactions and many unexpected things on the aqueduct: fucking bunnies, a proposal (Marry Me Joel) a drug dealer’s pit bull, a porn star’s mother, a lost and possibly rabid skunk, a very short man with a metal detector, families not speaking to each other, terror and longing. But I have never before seen a butterfly net.
Today I saw a man with a net. And I couldn’t help myself. I asked him what it was for? I didn’t think it was necessarily for butterflies because it feels (to me) early for butterflies and also because I am under the impression that butterfly collecting has gone the way of stamp collecting (lamentable). Though in the case of butterflies, this is not because of email but because Science values experimental biology more than classification these days.
He said he was out to catch butterflies.
I said, Are there any this early?
And he said, Yes, the cabbage whites. [Pieris rapae; nonnative in North America, considered a pest on cabbages]
I stopped there.

I wanted to ask why he wanted to catch cabbage whites and what he planned to do with them, and if he had an existing collection of dead butterflies pinned to heavy pieces of paper and shedding their dusty flecks of color.
But I didn’t, unsure of what is permissible. How much is it permissible to ask a stranger questions that may or may not turn out to be personal?
I was troubled enough to consult Emily Post’s Blue Book of Social Usage and other volumes of Etiquette. As many of you know - and have had occasion to consult - I have several of these, including Miss Manners, Charlotte Ford, Manners for Millions & Society Small Talk , in the downstairs powder room.
Though happy to address such important issues as eating artichokes, afternoon tea, chaperons, chambermaids, forks (8 index entries), uniforms for servants, eating squab and jelly, Emily says nothing at all about nosy questions, or impertinent questions, or rude questions or when a perfectly reasonable question is nosy, rude or impertinent, and when it is not.
Which, frankly, is the kind of help I could use.

And I was wrong about it being early, at least it’s not early for Cabbage Whites, it is never early for Cabbage Whites.

And what am I to make of the hidden makeshift room about 20 yards from my short cut down from Draper park to the aqueduct. Someone, or some ones, have laid out a square floor, about 12’ x 12’ of interlocking green plastic, and on top of it at one end is a red molded plastic picnic table and seats, and on the opposite end are two tires placed symmetrically. In fact seen from above the tires could look like eyes and the red picnic table like a mouth (not smiling though, grim, serious) on a green face. No nose though.

Not that this has anything to do with a butterfly net on the aqueduct, but since I brought up etiquette, I would like to share a tidbit I just read in Hints on Etiquette (Little Blue Book #556) by Esther Floyd, who was a vegetarian but most avowedly not a naturist: “Without food we die. Without clothes we were better dead.”
She also has harsh words to say about “little finger crookers”.


Rebecca Rice said...

I love this post--the lost, rabid skunk, the drug dealer's pit bull, Emily Post's Blue Book of Social Usage (I once had a button as a teenager which said, "Emily Post Spits in the Shower!")

Henry James once said that a writer is one "on whom nothing is lost." Nothing is lost on you, and your readers are ever so grateful!

Diggitt said...

Believe it or not -- and I know you will -- my dad collected butterflies from childhood. And yes, he had a net. He had several nets. Long and short handled, some with canvas around the frame. Hand-made and -- yes! -- store-bought.

When the McLaughlin family put out a cookbook, its cover was nice drawing of Grandmother and the ten brothers and sisters. Of course, my dad was behind the group, looking away, with binoculars around his neck and a net in mid-air.