August 5th, 2020

Laughing At Life

The 'right way'?

Gina Barreca

By Gina Barreca The Hartford Courant/(TNS)

Published Dec. 9, 2019

The 'right way'?
As the holidays approach, you'll be hearing those familiar little words that make the season special: "Gimme that. You're doing it wrong."

There are, of course, variations on how this sentiment, universal and ubiquitous as it is, may be expressed.

Someone might offer a twinkling smile and chirp "Please allow me to help you!" Or perhaps, in dulcet tones and with a humble demeanor ask, "Have you tried doing it this way?"

But it really all comes down to "Let me show you how it's done."

The most basic, essential and shared human impulse is to stop people from doing things when they're not doing them as you know they should be done.

Under this aegis fall all manner of actions: How to remove stains from linen tablecloths (seltzer, vinegar, hacksaw); How to stop squirrels from nibbling your deck (cayenne paper, ammonia, Glock 42); How to cook turkey, potatoes and kale (slowly, in salted water, not at all).

This happened to me over Thanksgiving, which this year I was fortunate enough to celebrate with some of my oldest and best friends. These people are my chosen family. We've known each other for more than 30 years, have traveled together, spent holidays together and mourned the deaths of our parents together. We have no secrets.

There is nothing we cannot discuss with civility, humor and collective understanding.

Except, that is, for how to load a dishwasher.

Three decades of friendship almost went down the garbage disposal over whether or not ceramic coffee cups can be placed in the bottom row of a dishwasher.

They were not glass; we all know glasses need to go on top. And these were not huge cups that would stop in a dramatic fashion the flow of water upward thereby impeding the cleaning. These were small cups — tiny, really — that fit neatly into the gaps between the bowls and the plates.

You'd have thought I was putting somebody's pet hedgehog into the sani-wash cycle as I was loading the machine.

It took a while and even a few tears, but we got over it. We got over it by hand washing the damned cups.

Everybody knows that everybody else is a lousy driver and everybody also knows how to make that driver better instantly. Swearing is involved.

Everybody has one particular grammatical error that drives them crazy. But it's interesting to learn how wildly that error differs. I would take a Sharpie and change every sign in every supermarket that says "12 Items or Less" and correct it so that it reads "12 Items or Fewer" because "fewer" applies to things that can be counted rather than measured. "I weigh less than I did 10 years ago because I ate fewer donuts" is grammatically correct (while being, in my case, untrue).

My husband and I share one special grammatical wince. As if we were attending "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," we will shout at any screen — even during the most tragic and tense cinematic moments — if a character announces, "That man is sentenced to be hung." Nope. The poor condemned soul is sentenced to be hanged.

We all know the right way to hang toilet paper; it should pull from the top down. But the TP Memo, shockingly enough, hasn't reached all outposts or outhouses, despite the fact that the December 1891 patent for a toilet paper roll actually depicts how the paper should be placed. Is it surprising that I have more than one friend who actually changes the way toilet paper is hung (yes, unlike victims of violence, toilet tissue can be hung) in the homes of others?

There are right ways to start a note — any note. The wrong way is to start with "Hey." It's bad hygiene and poor etiquette; it's like speaking with your mouth full.

I don't believe the trivial should become sacred or that the merely exasperating should be criminalized, but instead that we should be pleasant when we can. I'll admit that I have tawdry table manners and, yes, that I often speak with my mouth full. I am open to correction when it's offered with good cheer and a loving heart.

That's the only right way to do it.


Gina Barreca
The Hartford Courant

Gina Barreca is a columnist for The Hartford Courant.