Lou Rowan


M

Ms. M loved her first name, despite its traditional protestant origin.

She loved its irreducibility, as she called it: her freedom from nicknames and diminutives based on it. Yes, she had been called reserved, supercilious, formal--and thus Miss Priss, Our Miss Manners, or just Manners--and by her enemies, Man.

When she and her partner “became pregnant” they kept it to themselves how that was effected. Her friends and acquaintances clucked, “Just like Our Miss Priss,” assigning her yet again to another century and debasing her social currency.

But M and her partner managed a foundation in the billions. They served on the boards of important endowments, and between them there was no cause in their state sanctioned by anything save sects wishing to rule the country’s crotches to which they did not contribute their expertise, their resources, and their presence.

Never did M or her partner ever aver or ever assume in any nuance of any assertion or repartee that their union, technically illegal in their state, effused any oddness.

They were hikers, and they walked or bicycled to work in all weathers. Their being with child did not manifest itself until the third month, when a slight alteration in M’s tastefully-plain clothing revealed that she was the “we” who carried their firstborn.

M and her partner inflicted social awkwardness: in their presence, gossip—the emollient, the lubricant the luxuriant fruits of society squeeze from and apply to themselves—was denied the visages of conversation They allowed themselves to ask, “How are you,” but if your suffering was not an infection or virus, a cellular rampage, a muscular or skeletal infraction, the death of a loved one, they would steer the conversation with polite subtlety to topics not limited to you—or them. They uttered the term “society” regularly, but by it they denoted the entire polis, and they breathed adamantine certainty that society’s consciousness and sensitivities were defined by the causes to which they contributed.

Further abrasive was their laughter. M’s partner’s ranged from a mule-like bellow to a chime-like giggle, and M ranged from a percussive cackle to a whinny fast as automatic gunfire. They covered their mouths and they excused themselves, but they could not prevent their joy from feeling, to the majority of what the press called society, a judgment.

Because M and her partner were present, conspicuously, at all significant social gatherings, you could discuss them only at small discrete affairs. A graduate of the finest ladies’ college here, now as a society reporter for the state’s finest liberal journal, estimated that M and partner were topics at 85% of private parties that mattered. And she confided to me what discomposed her circle the most profoundly, “They’re touchers! How can they be such touchers? Good god their hands are all over each other. Nothing naughty, but still. . . . And they’re just as bad with me, and everybody! They squeeze your arm, lean on your shoulder, slam you on the back—lord when she was orating on, oh please, ‘social conscience’ M put her hand right on an old lady’s sternum as she thanked her for her so-called ‘great heart.’ Jesus, there must have been 20 of us who expected her to honk the old buzzard’s wrinkled breast.”

The relationship between personality and genetics is mind-numbingly-complex. It is known that addictions run in families, but there is little research on inheritance and sexual proclivity, or on genetics and social eccentricity.

But I have discovered M’s secret. She is a lineal descendent of Lambert Strether. She suffers from none of Strether’s historian’s unwillingness to name the source of his fortune: the finest toilet valves ever invented, valves whose airtight patent holds to this day, protected by a growling pack of intellectual property lawyers M and her partner periodically sic upon boutique producers of the highest-end commodes.

M’s partner descends from Henry Ward Beecher, on the sinister side.

Given the origins of their and most other fortunes and fames, it has rarely occurred to M, whose given name is Charity, to take herself seriously --although she can understand and tolerate it when we do.