Posts Tagged ‘preppy’

There, Their, They’re…


Why is this so hard, people!?


I mean really!


But use them properly… and I just melt!



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For those who have not yet had the pleasure, William Hamilton is a brilliant cartoonist. His works are most often found in The New Yorker magazine. He is also a lawyer and a playwright.  Few people capture the privileged preppy world as well as he.

(Post ‘Official Preppy Handbook’?… or maybe some downward social mobility?)

William Hamilton [1], in a very real way, got me through law school and my bar exams in terms of social interaction. He remains to this day my steadfast companion when I attend virtually any (non-Jewish) social functions, especially of a professional nature.

(The whole ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ aspect is an ongoing theme)

Hamilton’s cartoons shed light on what is, to most of us, a very closed segment of society. It is a world populated by preppies, high-society types, Park Avenue wives and daughters, corporate big wigs, business executives, high-end lawyers, and members of exclusive yacht clubs and country clubs.

(It’s when you overhear people actually talking like this that you ‘get’ Hamilton)

I was introduced to Hamilton the way most of his admirers were… through his New Yorker cartoons. I was still working in the theatre in those days, so many of the nuances of his humour went over my head. I experienced a similar situation later on when I began to follow Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoons. It was only when I worked in a government agency where the office was set up in a standard ‘cube farm’ plan (i.e. many cubicles set up throughout the office space in a manner remeniscent of a petting zoo) that I truly ‘got’ his humour.

(Always a bit awkward in certain situations, I particularly enjoy the party cartoons)

Similarly, while I enjoyed Hamilton’s characters and situations  and admired his wit and gift for language, it wasn’t until I was put into a position where I had regular contact with a lot of preppies that I fully appreciated his work.

Other settings for Hamilton’s works include gentlemen’s clubs, office board rooms, cocktail parties, the insides of chauffeured limosines… anywhere where his people can let their sparkling dialogue glitter all the more.

(I often say this in court, regarding sentencing someone to ‘community service’)

Over the years, many Hamiltonianisms have crept into my conversation. I can’t help it. Sometimes I am in one situation or another, I open my mouth and out comes one of Hamilton’s snippets of dialogue line right out of the pages of The New Yorker magazine.

Here is a recent example…

I didn’t plan it. It just slipped out. It was tucked away in some ivy league corner of my brain and, at the right moment, sallied forth and presented itself. And, all credit to Mr. Hamilton, it got a positive response from those within earshot.

Here’s another one…

(Of course, the listener has to be old enough to get the reference)

Many of Hamilton’s best pieces revolve around introductions at parties, functions and get-togethers.

For those who’ve found Hamilton’s cartoons amusing, I highly recommend going over to The New Yorker magazine’s The Cartoon Bank and enjoying as much as you can stand.

Until then, I will leave you with some of my favourite Hamilton quips…

Of course you’re going to be depressed if you keep comparing yourself with successful people.

Old is when your daughter announces she’s seeing a younger man.

Someday, you may thank me for breaking what was becoming, in this family, a vicious cycle of inheritance.

You know, when I get over my thing for bad boys, Chip, you’re going to be one of the first to know.

I’ll see if he’s emotionally available.

She’s a Rolex. He’s a Timex.

Oh, God. Here comes the global-village idiot.

Boys, boys. You’re getting loud and no one gives a damn how big your salaries used to be.

I tried a slice of pizza yesterday, and frankly I don’t get it.

Frankly, what’s killing me about this marriage is realizing how entirely preventable it was.

Thank you, Mr. Hamilton, for making my life a better, wittier place.


[1] Along with Lisa Birnbach, author of The Official Preppy Handbook and True Prep, and English writer P.G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves & Wooster novels and many other humourous books. After my call to the bar, screenwriter and director Whit Stilman rounded out my ‘social advisory committee.’ Without them, I would be lost.

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British campaign furniture!

(British Campaign Furniture)

During the Georgian and Victorian periods (1714-1901), campaign furniture allowed military officers and gentlemen in the field to enjoy a similar standard of living as at home in Britain. They invested large amounts of money to enjoy a high degree of comfort, and this was enhanced by furniture made to quickly fold or pack down for ease of transport. Specially designed pieces of campaign, or knockdown, furniture included, chests, writing desks, bookcases, games tables, chairs, beds, sofa-beds, washstands, and, in some cases, bidets or toilets.

(Brass reinforced corners to protect from being banged around during transit)

Travel in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries was slow and rugged, and campaign furniture was designed specifically to be folded and packed into manageable loads that could be quickly and easily stowed in the close quarters of a ship or for being carried by porters and animals on overland trips in foreign lands.

(Fold down for ease in transport – note how handles fold flush with the sides)

My first introduction to this marvelous style was when I was strolling through The Bombay Company many years ago. During those days, they had a series of coffee tables, secretariats, side tables and various other products made in the British campaign style. I remember being taken with the look almost immediately. The clean lines, the natural wood, the brass fittings… all spoke to me of a time when the practicalities of life in the field did not mean giving up the niceties of life! In fact, the harder the cross-country ordeal, the more of a need to be reminded of England and what exactly one was fighting for out in the wilds. It is precisely when one is put in primitive conditions that one should cling all the more strongly to one’s civilized manner and style of life.

Campaign furniture, for me, evokes a by-gone era when the British Empire was in its ascendency… when Britannia Ruled the Waves and the Raj was in full swing. The romantic image (as opposed to the harsh reality) is what appeals to me.

(All the luxuries of home!)

Sadly, when I was finally in a position to be able to purchase some decent (reproduction) furniture, the Bombay Company no longer carried items in the British Campaign style. Alas.

(Writing desk, complete with book compartments, papers, pens, inkwells, etc.)

One day, I will have a little room or area of my apartment or house which I will furnish and set out in the British Campaign motif. It is, to my mind, a very masculine style… perfect for a ‘man cave’ or even a ‘man corner.’

I can hardly wait!

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Untrammelled malevolence.

What a great expression!

The one and only time I heard this little word gem was in the 1990 film Metropolitan by Whit Stillman. [1]

(Poster for the 1990 Whit Stillman film ‘Metropolitan’)

In it, the character Nick Smith is bemoaning the upcoming visit with his father and his new wife. She invited him over to spend some of the Xmas holidays with them and Nick is suspicious of her motives.

“I’m about to go upstate to the domain of a stepmother of untrammelled malevolence, very possibly to be killed… and I get this!” ‘This’ being what Nick calls ‘whining criticism’ of his behaviour.

(Nick Smith: “Those surrealists were just a bunch of social climbers”)

To give you a taste of some of the ‘whining criticism’ levelled his way…

Jane:   You’re completely impossible and out of control with some sort of a drug problem and a fixation on what you consider Rick Von Sloneker’s wickedness [2]. You’re a snob, a sexist, totally obnoxious and tiresome, and lately you’ve gotten just weird. Why should we believe anything you say?

Nick:  I am not tiresome. [3]

As I believe I have mentioned in a previous article, I went to a very preppy law school. I finished writing my Bar Admission Exams and was called to the Bar the year Metropolitan was released. Many of the movie’s characters reminded me of the preppies with whom I studied.

I wasn’t allowed into their inner circle (no surprises there). They wouldn’t have exactly considered me PLU. Besides, to a large extent, I was the ‘token ethnic’ at school. [4] Hardly a welcome addition to their social group.

(Nick [to Tom]: “There’s something a tiny bit arrogant about people going around feeling sorry for other people they consider ‘less fortunate’… Has it ever occurred to you that you are the less fortunate?”)

Nick Smith is the person I wish I was when I was at law school. Suave, preppy, sophisticated, clever, good-looking, witty, cynical, charming, well-mannered, well-spoken and a member in good standing of the urban haute bourgeoisie. In other words, the kind of person I’d never met before going to law school.

While I myself am not a person of untrammelled malevolence, I’d like to be the kind of guy who can use the expression ‘untrammelled malevolence’ in conversation without coming across as Zero Mostel at a debutante ball.

(The exact opposite of what I would look like in top hat, white tie and tails)

 Luckily, I was never foolhardy enough to try to pass myself off as one of the UC. The entire enterprise would have been doomed from the start. Like the narrators say in those wildlife programs, “Sadly, there could be but one outcome.”

So a tip of the top hat and a clink of the champagne glass to Nick Smith, a young man of untrammelled malevolence when it comes to the titled aristocracy! [5]


[1] I highly recommend you read Sam Juliano’s ‘Wonders in the Dark‘ WordPress blog article on Metropolitan.

[2] Re Rick’s fixation: “Rick Von Slonecker is tall, rich, good-looking, stupid, dishonest, conceited, a bully, liar, drunk and thief, an egomaniac, and probably psychotic. In short, highly attractive to women.”

[3] To see the scene in context, click here.

[4] To give you an idea of just how preppy my law school was, I… an Italian Jew… was the token ethnic (two birds with one stone!) In a student body of 450, there was one black guy… and he was the preppiest of the bunch! 🙂

[5] A party at Sally Fowler’s apartment:

Nick: The titled aristocracy are the scum of the earth. What really makes me furious is the idea of a whole class of people, mostly Europeans, all looking down on me.

Sally: You always say ‘titled’ aristocrats. What about ‘untitled’ aristocrats?

Nick: Well, I couldn’t very well despise them, could I? That would be self-hatred, which is unhealthy.

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Oy, I’m on shpilkes! [1]

I just found out that Whit Stillman, the man behind Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco, has a new movie which premiers this coming Tuesday (September 13, 2011) at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Visa Screening Room at 6:00 pm.

(Damsels in Distress – cast)

I will post the synopsis directly as I read it this morning on TheDailyBeast.com

Queen bee Violet Wister (Greta Gerwig), uptight Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and sexpot Heather (Carrie MacLemore) set out to revolutionize life at their East Coast liberal arts college in Whit Stillman’s comedy Damsels in Distress. The beautiful trio welcomes transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) into their group, which aims to help suicidal students via musical dance numbers. Song and dance aside, the girls become romantically entangled with a series of men, including smooth-talking Charlie (Adam Brody), who threaten their friendship and mental stability. Stillman’s (Last Days of Disco) first movie in 13 years is slated to close the Venice Film Festival on Saturday before heading to Toronto. Though Gerwig admitted she initially struggled with the heavy and dry-witted dialogue, she told Collider.com, “I started saying very Whit Stillmany things as I was making it which I think was really annoying to my roommates.”

I am SO excited!

(Violet Wister, played by Greta Gerwig)

I cannot tell you how much I loved Stillman’s Metropolitan and what a profound effect it had on me. Along with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, it is a movie I watch about three or four times a year.

Here is a Damsels in Distress teaser trailer from Toronto Life!


[1] Shpilkes (SHPILL-kiss). Yiddish [שפּילקעס] for ‘pins’, as in ‘pins and needles.’ Nervous energy usually from  anticipation.

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Many years ago, when I attended a rather preppy law school, there was a charming young lady with an undecipherable and equally unpronounceable surname.

It seemed to consisted of the letter “E” followed by a dozen or so consonants.

To save ourselves time and possibly a sprained tongue, as well as to uphold the preppy tradition of giving nicknames to our friends, we bestowed upon her the sobriquet ‘Eye Chart’… because that is what we were reminded of whenever we saw or tried to say her name.

(Yeah, that’s pretty much how we imagined it)

You see, up until that point, the most complicated names we had to deal with were either Italian [1] or some of the more polysyllabic German or Jewish names. The key advantage with those names is, I believe, that English has a linguistic connection to German, Yiddish (English and Yiddish are basically Germanic in form and structure) and also many Romance languages (either directly from Latin or, more commonly, via Old French). [2]

As far as we could tell, English bore no relation to whatever nation or culture conjured up our dear friend’s moniker.  We were convinced it was some advanced and sadistic form of Czecho-Slovak-Serbo-Croat-Albano-Bulgarian-Roma-Gypsy child abuse. Letters which had no business being together were lined up in a seemingly unending stream… CSZCHMGWXBDTSKVFJLPR… etc. I mean, it just went on and on. It was horrible. But she was so charming and lovely and sweet, we were prepared to overlook difficulties in nomenclature. So… Eye Chart she was dubbed. Eye Chart she remained.

I encountered a similar situation several years later when I represented a young Tamil boy from the Jaffna Penninsula in Sri Lanka. My interpreter was a most excellent gentleman. He and I shared a love for the works of P.G. Wodehouse. An extremely witty and highly entertaining man, he tickled me to death every time he’d interrupt and correct the government-appointed interpreter during proceedings.  I think the Refugee Tribunal granted the application and admitted my young client into Canada just to avoid the incessant bickering between the interpreters!

His surname, if I have it correctly, was Saravanalanganingham. I’ve heard of Sri Lankan surnames that are even longer.

Names like ‘Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas’ and ‘Hewapathirana’ge Nimal Devendra Karunaratne’.

Good Lord. Even Spanish names don’t come close to that! Honestly. Eye Chart’s handle would be a snap compared to names like that! There should be a mandatory warning label for people with asthma before they attempt to read these out. Our western mouths can only handle so much! Ten letters, tops! [3]

Which is why I am imploring our federal members of parliament to pass a “Sanity in Surnames Act” or some other type of legislation.

We must take a firm stance on this issue, people! Multicultural mollycoddling will not save us. How many more innocent Canadian mangia cakes must be rushed to the hospital with bruised lips, their tongues hopelessly tied in knots? The time to act is now!

(If the Name Don’t Fit… You Must Change It!)

Stop the Madness! Stop the Vowelless Horror!


[1] The nice thing about most Italian names is that, regardless of length, they are pronounced pretty much the way they are spelled and have an acceptable CTV (consonant-to-vowel) ratio.

[2] Later on, Polish and Ukrainian names added to the mix. We invariably called them either Stosh or Nick.

[3] Luckily, my own surname comes in under the wire at 9 letters, with an acceptable 6-3 CTV ratio.

[4] Some English words, like ‘rhythm’, technically have no vowels but in such cases, the letter “Y” represents a vowel sound so, for the purposes of this essay, we will treat “Y” as a vowel substitute or quasi-vowel.

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