Quiet Desperation

Do something by the book and don’t



Don’t smoke.

Don’t drink.

Don’t run with scissors, spit into the wind, or put your jeans in the freezer.

Someone who thinks I am officious sent me a book: “Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes and Improprieties More or Less Prevalent in Conduct and Speech.”

It’s a small thing, and looks like an instruction pamphlet for your coffee maker. It’s actually a reprint of the original, first published in England in 1880, when its price was one shilling.

In the absence of fatherhood, I have missed out, because my little book is filled with things I could have told the little brats not to do.

“Don’t play the accordion, the violin, the piano, or any musical instrument, to excess.”

Many of the don’ts sound like they were written for one of David Letterman’s Top Ten lists.

“Don’t multiply epithets and adjectives; don’t be too fond of superlatives. Moderate your transports.”

The table of contents includes don’ts “At Table,” “In Dress and Personal Habits,” “In the Drawing Room,” “In Public,” “In Speech,” “In General,” and one that I will save for later: “Affectionately addressed to Womankind.”

My favorite “Don’t” song is “Don’t” by Elvis. Coming in second is “Honey, Don’t” —originally sung by Carl Perkins. Near the top, are “Don’t Hang Up,” by the Orlons, and “Don’t Think Twice” by Bob Dylan.

If you plan to play “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult for me, you’d better bring a cowbell.

My least favorite “Don’t” songs are “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue?” by Crystal Gayle and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” by Petula Clark.

We know that “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” either.

Not only that, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” a flawed but brilliant neo-noir parody starring Steve Martin, is an apparel reminder, and so is “Don’t wear white after Labor Day.”

In 1922 in New York City, men who refused to heed an unwritten rule about not wearing straw hats after an unofficial date resulted in a riot.

Don’t laugh.

It lasted eight days.

“Don’t decorate your shirt-front with egg or coffee drippings, and don’t ornament your coat-lapels with grease spots.”

I’d like add a few things to the ones in the book.

Don’t wear perfume in an elevator.

Don’t wear a Baja hoodie. Ever.

Don’t try to explain the infield fly rule on the first date.

There are “don’ts” everywhere. Even a dry-cleaning bag comes with one.

But many of us are rebels, and we like to scoff at the law.

Someone who scoffs at the law is referred to (but not by me) as a “scofflaw,” a word that won a contest in 1924.

A Prohibitionist offered a prize for a new word to describe someone who was a lawless drinker.

The winning word combined “scoff” and “law.” Big wow.

OK, women.

“Don’t wear diamonds in the morning.” No, sir.

“Don’t supplement the charms of nature by use of the color-box.”

“Don’t indulge in confections or other sweets. It must be said that American women devour an immense deal of rubbish.”

“Don’t, on making a call, keep talking about your departure, preparing to go and not going.”

In other words: How can I miss you if you never go away?

And, please: Don’t you (forget about me).

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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