Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The WASP Chronicles, Part Two

Wherein is contained an examination of the WASP and his life and living.

As we have begun to perceive, the WASP character is a series of conundrums born of seeming paradox. Example: The WASP is a materialist, yet he is largely indifferent to money itself. If a cynic, in the words of Oscar Wilde, is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, then the WASP is no cynic. He knows the price of many things--many of the finer things--yet the price to him is largely unimportant. If he wants it and can afford it, he will buy it. If not, he will wait until he has accumulated enough to do so. The WASP is not a miser. Money is significant only in that it can and should be spent. The WASP will, of course, "sock away" a certain amount in an IRA, planning for a retirement in which work no longer need impede the pleasureable aspects of the WASP existence (which are many), but for the most part, a WASP is not parsimonious. Indeed, he has very little sense of economy. That is for his accountant to determine, and the WASP trusts this professional fellow with an absolute faith that would rival the most devout Puritan's view of Divine Providence. (The WASP is only slightly more skeptical of his stock-broker--he will in fact read over the monthly reports on his portfolio, but only cursorily, and largely because the acquisition of funds without doing any work strikes him as slightly magical.)

There are, of course, certain exceptions to the WASP's monetary benightedness. For instance, the WASP tips with surgical precision. He can glance at a restaurant check and calculate, with the speed of a RAM-heavy hard-drive, the percentage owed to his server. (And this after a before-dinner cocktail, at least three glasses of wine, and an after-dinner brandy.) In tipping, WASPs are not cheap, but neither are they overly generous to their servers. A WASP expects competence--even brilliance--from service-people; he takes his own job seriously, and expects that they will, as a matter of course, treat theirs with a similar professionalism. Yet the WASP also recognizes that how he tips reflects as much on him as it does on the wait-person's efforts. A WASP does not want to appear stingy, and so he will, barring grotesque incompetence--say, setting a guest's hair on fire or breaking the cork in the wine bottle (equally grave sins) tip a minimum of 15 percent. But even magnificence--a waiter who manages to acquire entrees that are not only not on the menu, but contain a species of waterfowl that has been extinct since 1789--will merit only 20 percent. Heavy tippers 'have something to prove,' to the WASP's mind, and he does not wish to be identified with them.

But such niceties aside, a WASP is more concerned with spending money than in counting it. (Oddly enough, while he is happy to earn money, and plenty of it, he rarely chooses his profession on the basis of its remunerative qualities. But more of that later.)

A WASP does not believe in ostentation. Should you see a middle-aged man driving a flame-red Corvette convertable with chrome hubcaps, you are not looking at a WASP. WASPs believe in finery, not glamour. No other ethnic figure has as keen an appreciation for the subtle as much as the WASP. He dearly misses the days of the 1980s when both Mercedes and BMW were producing cars of dull visual design that nevertheless represented dependable and comfortable engineering to rival that of the finest Swiss watchmakers. Not for him the Jaguar--visually stunning, automotively treacherous. Now he must settle for the Lexus, a troubling breed of vehicle that, while reliable and pleasant, is still a bit too obviously "luxurious." A WASP does not believe in Luxury, he believes in Style. And to a WASP, Style means affording the best without appearing to do so.

The interior of the WASP home will bear this out. The true WASP home will be neatly appointed--the Latina maid has seen to that--but no single piece of furniture will catch the eye. Indeed, the decoration will be so much 'of a piece' that the home will appear not to have been decorated at all. The couches will simply be one with the coffee table, which will be indistinguishable with the rug--needless to say, it will be a rug--wall-to-wall carpeting does not exist in the WASP home--and the rug will simply 'go' with the curtains (they will be curtains, never drapes), and so on. The WASP home is an edifice to taste, which is to say it is practically invisible. The furniture will not be comfortable--no matter, since the WASP prizes the visual above the tactile in nearly all things--save perhaps in what the lower WASPs call the den, where, grudgingly, the television will be found. (The WASP simply doesn't know what to do about the television. It is invariably ugly and jarring in the WASP setting, and even the new plasma screens that hang like wall-art are so obviously expensive that, as with all such displays of capital-W Wealth, they simply cannot be permitted. Yet guests expect the television to be available, and the children clamor for it. The WASP usually solves this problem by placing the wretched apparatus in a cabinet with opaque doors, where, when not in use, it can be hidden away, the decorative equivalent of a dirty family secret.)

The art on the WASP walls will not contain recognizable 'originals'--WASPs dislike modern art, and genuine works of the Old Masters are ridiculously overpriced. (A WASP enjoys art, but even he is aware of his economic limitations when confronted with an object that will cost millions and will do little more than cover a few square feet of wall space.) There will, however, be a wealth of antique prints--portraits of obscure historical figures are most welcome, as are historical or mythological tableaus, provided they are not of the gaudy variety--black and white prints of sufficient age will usually solve this problem. Watercolors and landscapes, provided they are not of 'touristy' landmarks, are likewise acceptable. WASPs do not hang photographs; you will find no Ansel Adams on the WASP wall. Photographs are of family members only, or perhaps a favorite pet or two (the pet must be deceased before it is thus enshrined), and they are collected in unremarkable frames, clustered over the fireplace. Should you enter a home and see a painting of 'the family' in their Sunday best--you are not among WASPs. WASPs did allow such things when photography was still a blurry novelty, but they recognize that the function of the portrait is to show what a person looks like, and nowadays photographs do so better than oils. Paintings of the family, then, show an attempt to claim some kind of devotion to 'historically traditional manners'--a lamentable spectacle, revealing the ignorance of the owners. WASPs are not, in fact, utterly hide-bound. Times changes, and so do manners and standards. The WASP is far more adapatable than one would suspect, and those who do not adapt risk looking foolish, which a WASP will never do.

The pantry will be well-ordered, as will the refrigerator, which will probably be white, since the 'steel' variety strikes the WASP as a trifle too 'modernist'--it will most certain not have an ice-maker on its front panel. WASPs buy their ice; it is the only way to guarantee quality, and a WASP will not dilute his single-malt with frozen tap-water. It is unlikely that a cook is among the employees, and so the preparation of dinner--the only meal that WASPs take seriously when at home--will fall to the family. Here WASPs recognize a fundamental facet of human nature: some people can cook, some can't. Among WASPs, those who can, do. And the WASP is quite free of gender stereotypes on this subject. Since the best possible meal is the goal, a husband who can provide said meal is expected to do so if the wife cannot. Practicality is the watch-word of the WASP kitchen--everything is organized not because the WASP is anal-retentive and 'must have it so,' but because it simply makes more sense for the garlic press to be in the same place every time, and thus not require one to hunt for it.

The WASP bedroom is much like the other living quarters, neatly and unremarkably appointed. The bed will be double--single beds are for unmarried people, and the WASP has no qualms about intimacy between married couples behind closed doors. (The bedroom door will, however, have a lock on it, which will be used with military consistency in the likelihood of 'relations.' The WASP and sex will not be discussed here, except to say that, like so many other aspects of his existence, it is profoundly private.)

Bathrooms will be iconic bastions of hygeine. WASPs do prefer 'classical' fixtures, so porcelain and copper will be ever-present. There will be no whirl-pools, no fiberglass, no sliding doors on the shower, and the bath will have clawed feet. All will be blindingly white, and the cleanliness and order will be such that one would feel quite comfortable undergoing open-heart surgery in this environment.

Let us return downstairs.

The dining room will be used for dining, and only dining. It will be empty most of the time, the least-used room of the house. The table will be of some reliable wood--cherry, mahogany--and will pull apart in the center to accomodate leaves that will lengthen it to include as many as 14 to 16 guests. More than that is unnecessary, since the WASP does not know a larger number of people whom he values sufficiently to invite them into his home. The plates will be Blue Willow china, the settings will be silver, the glassware will be crystal, the candle sticks will be brass, the napkins will be linen. None of this will seem flashy or impressive, since the WASP will treat these appointments as a trivial matter of course.

The bar will contain only recognizable liquors. Stolichnaya or Absolut in the freezer--WASPs resist the attempts of the makers of Ketel One or Grey Goose to convince them that their products are in any way an improvement on the former two--Jack Daniels or Maker's Mark--Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire--WASPs will have tequila and triple sec for those strange guests who require margeritas--such guests will not be invited back--but those bottles will gather dust. Scotch will be single-malt, as previously mentioned, and generally the WASP will content himself with a brand that is comparatively rare, but not unknown--MacCallum, say. (The exception to this rule occurs when, for Christmas or New Year's, a WASP will be given a bottle of some truly exceptional scotch, which he will not drink except when the individual who gave it to him is over for dinner and drinks, and then only to share with his benefactor.) WASPs drink simply. Uncomplicated, traditional cocktails are much preferred. Martinis are generally served on the rocks, except when requested otherwise. Scotch is usually neat, but whiskey is usually mixed with soda. Gin-and-tonics are considered somewhat effeminate, but will be permissable on late afternoons in summer as a companion to hors d'oeuvres. Requests for exotic drinks, even ones that have become as commonplace at the Cosmopolitian and the Mojito, will be met with blank stares. (The hostess will attempt to find the necessary ingredients, but will eventually have to confess that she lacks cranberry juice or grenadine syrup.)

The WASP is not a beer drinker.

And it is indeed true that a WASP will not imbibe before noon. This is a rule so absolute that no WASP would ever think to question it, lest he betray a desire to do so, and thus confess himself to be a dipsomaniac. The sole exception to this rule is the champagne contained in the mimosa, which can be partaken of at Sunday brunch as early as 10:30. The WASP reasons that this exception is legitimate because, in the first place, he may well have taken Episcopal communion that morning, and thus has already broken the rule for the sake of his immortal soul, and besides, he will linger at brunch until well after noon, so that the cumulative effect of his drinking will carry him well into the 'saftey zone' of the p.m.

The wine cellar will be well-stocked. We need say no more about it, save that WASPs do not experiment with wines. They will find a reliable vineyard or twelve, and rely on them to replenish their constant demand. WASPs are particular in choosing their vintages, but they are not vulgar wine-snobs--they know perfectly well that California wines can be far superior to their French cousins, and see no sense in denying themselves a pleasure simply for an empty gesture towards 'continental' sophistication.

Sweeter liqueurs will be spare--you will search for Drambuie, Southern Comfort and Tia Maria in vain--the WASP has never heard of such potables, and wouldn't drink, much less purchase them, if he had. Schnapps of any variety will not be found. Grand Marnier is about as close as you'll come, and perhaps some Bailey's for the older children. (WASP children are taught to drink with care and precision, which is why none of them ever perish as a result of alcohol poisoning during their freshman year at college.) Brandies there will be, perhaps even a selection, but nothing ridiculous as Louis XIII--WASPs know when they're being rooked on a product, and that $1000+ is too much to spend on anything that exists solely to get one pleasantly drunk. It tastes good, but to have it is to, once again, show off, and many cheaper varieties taste just as good. The WASP is no fool, especially where liquor is concerned.

For this is the WASP's avocation in the evening--his life at home during the working week is structured around the consumption of the proper liquor at the proper time. A small drink to relax immediately upon return from the office, a larger one before dinner, wine during, and something appropriate afterwards. The Irish are unfairly tarnished as drunks, but in terms of liters consumed, it is quite likely that the WASP exceeds all other ethnicities in his boozing. That he does so without ever becoming visibly intoxicated is a mark of the strict control of behavior that is the mark of his character. But it also points to a need for an escape from the pressures of sobriety. A window, if you will, into the angst that dwells within the WASP soul. We will have to study more of his habits as we attempt to locate that soul and the darkness that plagues it.


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