Late, Loud and Unacceptably Dressed: My Unlikley Love Affair with Downton [California Seething]
Aaah, Downton Abbey and me. A love story no Netflix algorithm could have predicted. For one thing, I hate the rich. From Mitt Romney to Ritchie Rich and every Kardashian in between- they can all go fuck off and die and not leave me anything cause they’re bastards and don’t know me so I hate them. Oh, what’s that you say? I’m not being fair? Oh, I’m, sorry, I didn’t know income inequality was supposed to be FAIR. Tell you what, when they stop squatting on the world’s wealth like a bunch of plutocratic pigeons on a nest of golden eggs, while the rest of us scramble to lick their droppings off cars for a taste of the good life then I’ll stop fantasizing about throwing rocks in their plush, padded nests and poisoning their gluten free bird seed (I also hate birds, btw, so this is a particularly satisfying metaphor. Tee-hee-hee. Dead birds. Tee-hee-hee.) Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying I’m poor or anything. I’m not a “have” or a “have not”- I’m a “have some” which is a far cry from being a “have enough change on my dresser for subway rides and Ramen til payday” which was me when I lived in New York. Although, because I now “have car” and “have house” and “have 80 year old electrical work in the house which was wired by drunk hobos half-blinded by bathtub gin”, it never feels like I quite “have enough” so I envy and resent those lucky enough to “have more”. At least I “have job” and don’t “have kids”- otherwise I’d “have debt”, but at least I’d “have someone to mooch off of when I’m old” cause I sure as shit won’t “have Social Security” or “have pension”.
And then there’s the British aristocracy. Wow, could I not give a crap about them. Seriously- if I rank the things I don’t give a crap about on a scale of 1 to “Golf”, the British aristocracy comes in right between Adam Levine’s chances of winning The Voice this year and women’s college basketball (I’m so glad I don’t have to watch that crap. I feel bad for Obama, though, for having to act like he cares about it. Thank god I don’t have any daughters (or a nation) to inspire. Happy International Women’s month, though! #lovemeimnotamisogynist) And why should I care about the thin-lipped, bloodless Uber-Goys of the British aristocracy, anyways?(“Goy”, as you may recall, is Yiddish for “Cracker”.) There’s nothing more Goyisha than the British aristocracy, with possible exception of popcorn shrimp, NASCAR and therapy dogs. (Goyisha is Yiddish for “Gaijin” which is Japanese for “White people are dumb-asses.”) Actually, forget what I said about Therapy Dogs. That’s an irritating special-need which is inconvenient to others, and there’s nothing more Jewish than that, except for maybe a therapy dog with a peanut allergy. Anyhow, as far as the British aristocracy are concerned, Jews are loud, boisterous, ostentatious boors with their own language, culture and practices and the only reason they didn’t get rid of us is that we were just too damn useful to them, like Mexican money lenders. Still, our historic usefulness doesn’t stop the British from being anti-Semitic and harshly critical of Israel’s imperialist, colonialist subjugation of the poor native Palestinian population. I won’t insult you by pointing out the irony of that.
The worst part of the British aristocracy, though, isn’t that they’re rich (‘cause most of them aren’t that rich these days) or that they’re anti Semitic (‘cause fuck the Jews. I’m not so sure about us either.). It’s that they’re boring. Particularly the Royal Family, which, let’s face it, is pretty much all that’s left of the aristocracy now that the other aristocrats have sold off their titles on eBay. Sure, the Royal Family used to be pretty bad ass back in the day, but, like Kathleen Turner’s career, it’s all been downhill since the War of the Roses. I mean, what is the point of having a monarchy if they’re not going to have the common decency to murder each other or scream “my kingdom for a horse” or lock up inconvenient Catholic relatives in the Tower? (Which is actually a great solution for anyone with inconvenient Catholic relatives in town. They even serve fish on Fridays during lent! Well, Fishy McBites, but, you know, it is a prison.) The whole point of a Royal Family is to provide entertainment and distraction for the masses and, honestly, the batch we’ve got in there now is pretty fuckin’ lame. Hell, the most entertaining member of the Royal Family last year was Richard III and he’s been dead since 1485 and he’s still not as skinny as Kate. To be fair, Princess Di did what she could to keep things entertaining when she was around but, as we all know, she died tragically in a car accident several years after she should have been beheaded by Charles, if he had any real Crown Jewels. Henry the VIII would be rolling in his enormous grave. Don’t get me wrong, it is great to see that the Queen is taking such a progressive stance on gay rights and women’s rights. Certainly a refreshing change of pace from the standard position of British aristocrats that a woman’s place is by her husband’s side and a homosexual’s place is at prep school. She clearly understands that times and values have changed and that without women and gays no one would give a shit about the Royal Family, much like the Democratic Party. Seriously, show me a straight man who watched the Royal Wedding and I’ll show you a straight man who’s in the closet, or in the doghouse.
And, besides, I’ve never been a fan of the Merchant Ivory Sad Butler movies or any of that late 19th/early 20th Century, British Romance Pride and Whatever, cruel banter on the moors, moony-eyed, gaze across the room, stiff upper lip, he loves her but has a dark secret, she loves him but is too proud to admit it, missed opportunities, misunderstandings, marry the wrong man out of a misguided sense of duty, crazy ex-wife locked up in the attic, dying of tuberculosis never saying how you feel weepy bullshit. It’s like getting all of the stressful and annoying stuff about love but none of the really good stuff, like going to Trader Joe’s together on a Saturday morning for high fiber cereal and soy creamer, or sitting on the couch drinking gin and watching Archer. You know, the little stuff that makes life worth living.
So, there’s no good reason Downton Abbey and I should have fallen in love. Downton is a place of elegance and decorum and those are the two words least associated with me right behind “athletic”, “soft spoken” and “gosh-darn it all to H-E-Double-Hockey -Sticks”. It’s a world where “changing for dinner” doesn’t mean “putting on sweatpants”, where “his lordship” isn’t just a sarcastic term for a fussy baby (“I suppose his LORDSHIP doesn’t like mashed peas. Would his LORDSHIP prefer strained carrots?”) and where “pudding” DOESN’T ACTUALLY MEAN PUDDING. Seriously- BEWARE! They may offer you pudding- but they’re gonna give you cake or funky popover things or, if you’re super-lucky, congealed pig blood. YUM! No wonder we threw them out of America. As Samuel Adams said in 1773: “Oh my god- what is this crap? I asked for pudding! Seriously, dude, is this pig blood? What the fuck is wrong with you people?? I ask for Jello and you give me a remake of Carrie!! Bill Cosby’s slave ancestors must be rolling in their graves. I got to get the taste of that out of my mouth. Can somebody please get me a beer? WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHAT KIND?? Never mind the beer, get me some TEA and take me to the Harbor. It’s PARTY time, bitchez!! Give Me Boston Lager© or Give me Death! I’d also take a Winter Lager© or a Harvest Pumpkin Ale©, if they’re in season. Delicious!” And, that, according to the Sam Adams page on Wikipedia, is how the American Revolution started and how I started doing product placement on California Seething (pay me, motherfuckers). The Founding Fathers made it very clear to the English that there would be No Taxation without Pudding Representation, and that colonialism, imperialism and oppression had simply NO PLACE in New World. I won’t insult you by pointing out the irony of that. By the way, remember when “Tea Party” was something we could be proud of? Good times. #sighiusedtolikeamerica
But despite my class hatred, Anglophobia, circumcised penis and vulgarity, I found some common ground with Downton and, just like Matthew, found myself falling in love with the damn place. Why, you ask? Well…
Transcript of a conversation between my wife and I while watching Downton Abbey:
My Wife: Oh my god, these people are ridiculous.
Me: I know, right – it’s like they can’t do anything without their servants. Be a little self reliant for once in your useless lives.
My wife: Yeah.
My Wife: Are the cleaners coming this week?
Me: Yeah, I’ve got them coming on Friday when the gardener is here.
I won’t insult you by pointing out the irony.
It’s not just at home, though. When I was in my early 20’s I was the most gol-darn useful, support staff person that ever lived. I would pride myself on all the things I could do before lunch: order labels, build a database, design a flyer, code a website, print the flyer, un-jam the copier, print the flyer, do a mail-merge with the database, print labels, un-jam the copier, print labels, label envelopes, stuff envelopes, upload the flyer to the website and (natch) order lunch (hey- I think this is my first ever use of (natch), I’m a big boy writer now! Ipso facto- here I come!) I could handle anything that was thrown my way and I would scoff and roll my eyes at the useless managers whose eyes would twitch uncontrollably at the mere mention of the words “database”, who’s idea of graphic design started and ended with Comic Sans MS and who never seemed to actually do anything all day except come up with stuff for me to do. I was indispensable!
Then….I entered management and immediately contacted DMS (Dumb Manager Syndrome). I am now utterly incapable of doing anything myself. I haven’t done a mail merge in years- I’m not even sure I know how they work in Windows Whatever the Hell Year I’m Using These Days and Why The Hell Do They Have to Keep Changing It? #xpthug4life. When the copier jams, I stare at the screen, open all the flaps, and just stand there staring at it hoping that one of my staff will save me if I just look pathetic enough. If they don’t, I call IT and yell at them even though I’m the one that forgot to take out the staples before I put the pages in the feeder. I knew I shouldn’t have made my own copies! That sense of satisfaction I used to feel at how capable I was- gone, replaced by a sense of dread that my much more intelligent and useful staff members will abandon me to my own devices and my world will crumble around me. And it’s a totally justifiable fear. The other day, I actually let the Stage Door Attendant leave before me. When he asked, condescendingly, if I’d be ok, I said “Oh, I think I can shut off my own office lights” and chuckled as I let him go. I don’t mind telling you that I wet myself when I had to leave.Thank god those lights are fluorescent or it would have cost me a fortune to leave on all night. It’s like with every step upward on the organizational ladder, I take a step backwards in my emotional development, til I’m just an infant in an office screaming for my milk bottle, waiting for HR to change my diaper and IT to wipe my ass.
And you know what- I don’t care! It’s great! Let someone else get a feeling of satisfaction out of being useful. After all, Lord Grantham doesn’t worry about dressing himself or pouring his own wine making his own “pudding” (DON’T BE FOOLED- IT’S BLOOOOOOOOOD!) He knows that’s not his role. His role is to provide employment and make other people feel useful and productive- and so it is with me. My job, as a DMS patient, is to hire people to do all the actual work and provide them with an opportunity to roll their eyes at what an idiot I am and make them feel useful and valuable and capable. I’m not being lazy, I’m giving something back to the world that has given me so much and also being lazy.
A word of advice though, to the support staffers of the world, you know how you think you’re indispensable? You’re not. I can’t tell you how many people have said “boy, when I’m gone they’re really gonna be screwed”. Guess what? They weren’t. Six months after you leave, no one will remember who you were and someone else will be “indispensable.” So- watch it with the condescension and the eye-rolling and maybe some day, you’ll be as useless as Lord Grantham and me.
I am a Valet
The other day, I was standing outside the theatre before an event when a prominent board member approached me. He greeted me with great enthusiasm. “Just the man I was looking for” he said. I felt very important for a moment. I mean, clearly, I’m a very important person if a prominent board member is seeking me out. Perhaps he wanted to get my opinions on the theatre’s long term strategic plan or seek my insights for an upcoming capital campaign. Then he said “I’m going to another show later tonight and forgot to print out my tickets. Can you print them for me?”
“Yes sir” I said
“Of course I can.”
“Happy to do it”
“Thanks” he said as he forwarded me the email with the tickets and walked away “You’re indispensable.”
And then I forwarded them on to my Stage Door Attendant to print on the color printer. I don’t know how to use that thing.
I am a Big, Sappy, Girl
By the time we started watching Downton Abbey, the first three seasons were already over. We had heard that a whole bunch of HORRIBLE stuff happens to the most likeable characters and that something really, extra, super special HORRIBLE happens to someone particularly likeable at the end of the third season- though, through some miracle, we had avoided finding out exactly what happened to any of them. Perhaps this is why, once we started watching, we couldn’t stop ourselves until we had consumed the entire series in three huge weekend gulps. And, much like Europe during the Great War, we lived our lives in a cloud of impending doom and uncertainty, paralyzed by fear, wanting so badly to enjoy the fleeting happiness the show offered but unable to trust it because we knew that disaster awaited us around every turn of the plot. Cora is pregnant- she’s going to miscarry! Matthew and William returned safely from the war- they won’t be so lucky next time! Mr. Bates and Anna finally get married-and now he’s going to prison for murder! Hurray Sybill’s baby’s alive- booo, she’s going to die! Mary and Matthew are getting married- no they’re not- yes they are- no they’re not- yes they are- no they’re not- look they did now everything’s going to be fine!- just you wait…And the further we got into the series, the more nervous and emotional we became until by the final episode, we were a pair of quivering blobs of pudding (the real kind- DON’T BE FOOLED!), shaking in terror like a manager confronted by a mail merge, riveted by every development, holding our collective breath, waiting for the extra, super–specials HORRIBLE THING that was about to happen. They’re going to Scotland- THE TRAIN’S GONNA EXPLODE! Lord Grantham’s going hunting- THE GUN’S GOING TO MISFIRE! Edith’s editor boyfriend is visiting- HIS CRAZY WIFE’S GONNA JUMP OUT OF THE CLOSET AND HACK EVERYBODY TO PIECES WITH AN AXE!
Of course, most of the suspense in this final episode surrounded Mary, because if there’s one thing that Downton Abbey had taught us it’s that all pregnancies end in disaster. Would she miscarry in Scotland? Die in childbirth on the train? Give birth to a healthy child only to have her brain explode five minutes later (THAT’s why you should NEVER eat fish if you’re pregnant )? WHAT WAS THIS HORRIBLE THING WE WERE WAITING FOR???????
Well, as anyone who watches the show will know, they, of course, dragged it out as long as they possibly could and then, just as it seemed like everything was gonna be fine, like everyone was gonna be happy, like maybe there was a giant conspiracy in the world and absolutely nothing terrible would happen and it was all just a giant joke that every single person on Facebook was playing on me BOOM! SPOILER ALERT!! Matthew was gone, I was a mess, and Downton Abbey became the longest, most well acted and most prestigious Drivers Ed road safety film ever made. Seriously- Blood on the Asphalt’s got NOTHING on Downton. If you don’t buckle up after watching that final episode- well, you have no heart (or maybe too much confidence in your airbags).
Look, I have no illusions about Downton and me. I know that we’re not well suited for each other- after all, I’m too loud, too sloppy, too cynical for such a classy and elegant show and it won’t ever work out between the two of us. But I’ve also learned something else about it. I know that underneath the starched evening shirts, corsets and perfectly pressed liveries beats the hot blooded heart of a soap opera and that, at it’s core, Downton is just a tele-novela that’s on PBS instead of Univision. And melodrama, well that’s something that everyone can relate to, Aristocrats, Valets, and even middle class American Jews with ripped sweatpants and food on their shirts. Hell, even Tom the revolutionary learned to feel at home in Downton, and I won’t insult you by pointing out the irony of that.
Now, I could really go for a beer. I wonder if there’s any of that Sam Adams Alpine Spring © left in the fridge? Don’t judge me! I’m not an aristocrat. I’ve got to cash in any way I can.
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