Greta and I went to a dinner party with neighbors recently and the conversation got a little loud and bawdy. A fun crowd of people. As we walked home down Conner Street, I recalled my favorite dinner party story.
It was the famous incident between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor. The two sat side by side at a dinner party and throughout the evening Churchill was his usual self – told off-color jokes and used coarse language. Finally, an indignant Lady Astor spouted, “Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison you.” To which Churchill replied, “And Lady, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
I love Churchill.
Sometimes in life, we’re stuck beside both kinds of people at public affairs – sometimes the Lady Astors of the world, and sometimes the Churchills.
A few years back, when channel surfing at night, I’d sometimes stop for a moment at the Howard Stern show. It was video of his radio show, which is absolute trash. I’d watch a minute or two, much the way a rubber-necker ogles a car accident – you don’t really want to be a part of it, but a voyeuristic peek won’t hurt, right?
The premise is this: Stern invites a well-endowed young woman – model, actress, minor celebrity, whatever – to come on the show. He quizzes her about her love life – but not in an intelligent way, instead, the way a drunken frat boy on spring break might chat up a call girl on a street corner. The whole point is to get the guest to take her clothes off. In other words, the Howard Stern show is the intellectual equivalent of a teenage boy’s sex fantasy, with a good sound stage. I don’t know which is more pathetic, the aging host who still thinks this is the height of comedy, or the guest who thinks if she undresses it will further her acting/modeling career.
And just so you know, I wasn’t waiting for the payoff, because this was basic cable. All you saw was a woman with scrambled mega-pixels over her chest.
I recall once channel surfing from Stern and immediately finding myself in an alternate world of idiots: Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. I’d gone from a pompous egomaniac to a delusional egomaniac. Pat was blathering on, comparing liberals to Nazis and insisting that if Disney didn’t turn away from its gay-friendly policies, God would send a hurricane to destroy Orlando (I’m not making this up).
On the 700 Club Pat Robertson pretends to read the news while spinning each story in such a way as to canonize the Christian-conservative point of view while vilifying any point of view that might have been considered progressive at any point during the past century.
In short hand – guns are always good, homosexuals are always bad, reinstating prayer in school would solve most of America’s problems, poor women will keep having babies if you keep paying them welfare, and September 11th was proof that America is so sinful, God couldn’t be bothered to protect us.
For me, the involuntary vomiting reflex is triggered as quickly by Robertson as it is by Stern.
But, there was talk of a dinner party at the beginning of this ramble.
Let’s say you’re in purgatory - stuck at a dinner party - they’re seating people - Pat Robertson is on one end of the long banquet table and Howard Stern at the other. The seats in the middle are taken by the intelligent and reasonable people you would prefer to sit with. But, you must sit at one end or the other. Which end would you choose?
In truth, there’s a little of both men in me. There’s a part of me that like’s to cut loose and speak my mind in a crowd of friends. I’ve offended my fair share of people with bawdy conversation and rude jokes. There’s a childish side of me that likes to shock people (especially the Pat Robertson kind of people).
There’s also a part of me - the parent and former-teacher side that discouraged teenagers from pre-marital sex, alcohol and drugs. As a high school teacher I frowned at 16+ years of bathroom and sex humor, not because it was my job, but because often it’s simply not funny, just childish. Howard Stern is proof that the dimmer the brain, the older you get before you stop laughing at that stuff.
But I have to admit, at the dinner party, I would sit next to Stern. That’s where the most interesting conversation would take place. And this propensity to choose the rude over the prude is apparently rubbing off on my children.
Tuesday night, working on this column, I looked up from my laptop and told my kids the story of Winston Churchill and Lady Astor, to which, my 14 year old daughter, Sally, replied, “Did you say, ‘Lady Ass-turd?’”
I hung my head in despair a moment, and then laughed really, really hard.