At 3 in the afternoon of March 8, 2013, a somewhat rowdy lowlife male in his early 30s named Henry stands in front of a downtown ‘club’ in Montpelier, Vermont, smoking a non-filtered Camel and harassing various women as they walk by.
Henry: “Hey, babie, wanna have a beer with me!?”
The women do not make eye contact and proceed on their ways, shaking their heads.
Henry: “Fuckin’ bitches. Man, I only wannna…” THUNK!! Henry is struck in the head by a Steel Hankie.
“Hey, what the fuckin’ Hell…”
“Language please,” says PolitenessMan, walking towards Henry.
“Who the fuck are you, man!” howls Henry. And howls even louder when yet another Steel Hankie strikes him in the chest.
“Jesus, man! That hurts!”
“It is meant to hurt, Henry. It is the Steel Hankie of Politeness, and I, sir, am PolitenessMan.”
“Hey, how’s come you know my name, buddy?” asks Henry, somewhat bewildered.
“Henry, I am PolitenessMan, and it my business to know the names of all manner of people who need lessons in good manners,” PolitenessMan explains. “Do you know what day today is, Henry?”
“Well…yeah. It’s Friday. So what…PolitenessMan, you said?”
“Yes. And today, Henry, this fine Friday all over the World, it is International Women’s Day. A day we celebrate, and pay our respects to all women for their struggles to fight and overcome oppressions, their glorious achievements in the arts and sciences, their work to relieve mankind’s suffering, and their nurturing of generations to come. Do you have a mother, Henry?”
“Well, yeah, PolitenessMan. She lives over ta Hardwick. So today is something like Mother’s Day?”
“Much more than that, Henry,” answers PolitenessMan. “Today, International Women’s Day, is the day all men must treat all women with honor, deference, and, above all good manners. Yelling Hey Babie, Henry, is taboo on this day. It would be like yelling FIRE at the 4th of July Parade.”
“…er, yeah, sorry. Gee, PolitenessMan, I didn’t know about this International Women’s Day stuff. I guess you must think I’m a dork.”
“Not a word I would use, Henry” PolitenessMan replies. “But I think all those ladies you were trying to impress probably will use that word in their descriptive lexicon of their encounters with you today.”
“Shi…I mean, gosh, PolitenessMan. I feel like a real dink now. Is there anything I can do with myself to make women not think I’m a dip?”
“Do you have a job, Henry?” asks PolitenessMan.
“Well…I do a little of this and that.”
“This and that is something that ladies avoid, Henry. Have you tried applying to the State? I just had a long politically correct talk over cognac with Governor Shumlin last night. He said he plans to hire a new assistant press secretary.”
“Hey, I could do that, PolitenessMan. I’ve even got all these computer skills. I’m on chat-rooms all the time.”
“Well then,” says PolitenessMan. “That settles that. But with your new job, there are other things you need to do, Henry.”
“Tell me, PolitenessMan. I want to learn how to be a gentleman, like you.”
“All right, Henry. And PolitenessMan points to a woman getting ready to cross the street towards them. “You see this attractive lady approaching, Henry? I want you to smile ever so slightly at her and say: ‘Happy International Women’s Day, Ma’m.’ And be sincere.”
“Okay.” And Henry does it, and, lo and behold, the woman smiles back and thanks him.
“Wow, PolitenessMan! What a rush! This being a gentleman on International Women’s Day is better than Thunder Road! What else do I need to do?”
“Well, Henry, I take it you drink from time to time, socially?”
“Well yeah. You know, a Bud and a shot of Jack.”
“No, no, no, no, Henry. You must refine your comportment. Starting with your drinking habits. As I said, the Governor and I got some things settled over cognac last night. Not once did I have to use my Steel Hankie on him. So, Henry, from now on, you will drink only cognac and single malt scotches. And martinis, Henry. With a twist of lemon. Or also with an olive that you can offer to the lady in the seat adjacent to you in your favorite cocktail lounge.”
“That’s this place right here,” says Henry. “And I can get all that stuff here. I seen this old dude with a cane drinking that stuff.”
“Ah, that would be my associate, Peter. You know, he was once a rude ruffian like yourself, Henry?”
“No kiddin’, PolitenessMan? So there’s hope for me, huh?”
“Of course, Henry. And along with your new classy State job and your classy cocktails, I highly recommend a new wardrobe. The jeans and leather biker boots will have to go anyway, once you’re working for Governor Shumlin. I would say, after a shave and haircut, you might head up to the Mall for some dress slacks and shirts, some sport coats and ties, and some dress shoes, perhaps a pair for this summer, with tassels. And perhaps, an ascot or two, and a fedora and a beret. That will go well with your new classy name.”
“My new name, PolitenessMan?”
“Not really new, Henry. Just the pronunciation. Can you say Hen…ri?
“Oh yeah! Like the French guy. Right, PolitenessMan?”
“Exactly,” says PolitenessMan, who is beaming now at Henry’s…excuse me, Hen…ri‘s new demeanor. “Also, one more thing, Henri.”
“What’s that, PolitenessMan?”
“Can you have that tattoo removed? DETOX THE VEGANS is in bad taste. As so many ladies have now adopted healthy foods and are making our entire society healthier by example.”
“You got it, PolitenessMan. Gee, I’m sure glad I was out here having a cigarette when you came by. I feel like a whole new dude.”
“And that’s another thing, Henri,” says PolitenessMan, pointing at Henri’s cigarette. “Cigarettes, Henri. They are…how shall I say it?…gauche. I think you’d look really good sporting a pipe in all your new attire and outlook.”
“But, PolitenessMan, that dude with the cane, Peter, he smokes butts.”
“Ah. Henri,” PolitenessMan sighs, “Peter still walks, or limps, I should say, to some different drums. He hears voices too, and talks out loud to himself. Still some bad habits there.”
“Yeah, PolitenessMan. I wouldn’t talk out loud to myself. Why…a Lady might take offense.”
“I believe, as Henry Higgins put it, you’ve got it, Henri!”
“Okay, PolitenessMan, I’m gonna head out to the barber shop now. And then go to the Mall. And tomorrow, I’ll make an appointment with Governor Shumlin. I feel like a new man!”
“And remember, Henri, when you see the Governor, do use my name as a reference. He owes me a few favors from 2010. With a nose like that, I had quite a task that Fall. I hope he took my advice about International Women’s Day.”
“What was that, PolitenessMan?”
“Just that, Henri, he should invite a coalition of Vermont women to redo the budget. It would be in good taste and good manners on this day that he acknowledge, like all of us males, his failings. And let women fix things. You see, we’re really quite lucky being men, Henri.”
“Quite,” says Henri.
“I’ll let you go now, sir. Enjoy your new life, Henri.”
“Thanks, PolitenessMan. Boy, after I get all these chores done today and tomorrow, I’m gonna have me a couple of those cognacs and practice being polite to women in the bar here. I can’t wait to use my new manners. See ya, PolitenessMan.”
And Henri walks off.
PolitenessMan then turns to address us all:
“On this day, International Women’s Day, we should all be thankful that women exist. They give us good manners, good clothes, good food and drink, and a healthy attitude about decorum and the finer things in life. Remember, without women, there would be no reason for any of us men to wear hats. For whom would we have to tip them to? And with that, Ladies, on this, your day, I tip my hat to all of you. And hope no more Steel Hankies will rain on your day. Adieu.”