Remember the Ladies Indeed!


I found this cartoon in a satirical book about old-time etiquette. I’ll hunt down my copy and put the link up here as soon as I can put my hand on it again.

In case you can’t quite read the text here, it says “No lady should stand or linger in the halls of a hotel, but pass through them quietly, never stopping alone for a moment.”

What it’s suggesting is that a woman who does choose to sit or stand as she waits in the hotel lobby is soliciting; is, in other words, ready and eager to offer herself to any man with the cash.

Do you get that that’s what the advice is suggesting, you young women lucky enough to inhabit a far different world? Or, wait, is our modern world so different really? “Remember the ladies” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John when he had left their working farm in Braintree to help build the new American government at the Continental Congress. Maybe America’s problem all this time has been that we remembered the ladies too much. Remembered them as ‘the fairer sex’, ‘the sacred vessels’, the delicate creatures with finer sensibilities that suited them. Some might say that even now in many corners of the American landscape women are still seen as inhabiting a category. Rather than being regarded as a freestanding human being with her own plans and goals, a woman can still be seen as a prop, a cardboard cut-out, a life-size breathing “bracelet” on the arm of some… man.

The summer I was 20 in my work at the Massachusetts State House, I was introduced to man in his 60s who promptly asked me to lunch to talk about a two-week work opportunity.  Baby lamb that I was, I went to the lunch, at Anthony’s Pier 4, a landmark eatery looking out on Boston harbor. He was a heavyset Tweedle-Dum kind of a guy with a cigar and a waddle, somebody’s kindly grandfather as I saw him, a good man eager to empower the young. The day of the lunch I wore flats and a sleeveless boat-necked, knee-length linen dress in an effort to look like Jacqueline Kennedy though in truth, as old photos now show g me, I looked more like a highly unworldly version of  Anna Nicole Smith, only without the makeup.  Because I didn’t really know what makeup was. My body looked like her body is what I’m saying, though it never occurred to me that that’s why, when we walked into the restaurant a number of equally old Tweedle-Dees, also with cigars, hooted their hellos to my host.

He walked me over and introduced me to them all before we sat down to the lunch, during which he offered me this wonderful opportunity: to be his companion at a two-week-long conference at the Cape. He told me what my salary would be. So much money! I could get a real jump on repaying those student loans I was racking up!

That night I told the boy I had just become engaged about my great opportunity. “Are you out of your mind?” he said on hearing and I believe this was the first time he asked me this question, though five decades into our life together I can tell you it was far from the last.

The point is, he saw what this old guy with the cigar was really proposing. The guy was assuming he could get me at the very least to stand by his side and act as if we were together. Me, the former Terry Sheehy who was mere months past believing that kissing for more than five minutes was a mortal sin that would land you in Hell.

I have smartened up since those days of course. I have learned all about the guys who even when you’re over 50 will follow you out of the Post Office or the coffee shop or the supermarket because they say they could tell by your smile that you’re really into them and why didn’t we go someplace where we could talk.

Really into them, jeesh. Where do these guys get the nails to say a thing like that?

What I am really into is hotel lobbies. In fact, I love them. In a hotel lobby you’re out in the stream of humanity and yet you are safe. Your little bed is an elevator ride away and the man behind the desk might as well be Hector Elizondo for how nice he is to you.

So rush through a lobby or fail to smile because of the construction some guy might put on those things? Fat chance I say, fat the hell chance. 🙂



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