I resolve to be less of a snob.
I was born a snob, or was trained to be a snob by my nanny, who was a snob on behalf of me until I was old enough to handle the task for myself.
From my nanny I learned to demand cloth diapers. If a substitute nanny approached me with a disposable diaper – even a biodegradable, breathable diaper with ultra-leak guards, I would throw a screaming fit. I required cloth, and not just any cloth: only 1,000-thread-count cotton would do. But not cashmere. Being a true snob requires a sense of proportion.
I learned the patterns and inflections of superior, snobbish speech at St. Bartholomew’s Prep. I learned the art of the faint sneer at St. Gabbel’s University. I learned to project an attitude of ostentatious, obscene, condescendatious consumption whilst on Wall Street. Then I was drawn to Washington, D.C., to strut before this superpower nation’s “lawmakers.”
For example, I was at Xenophon on K St., staring down at a plate of braised Wagyu Zabuton.
“This is caramelized, charred, and crisp around squared edges?” I said to the hovering waiter in disbelief. “This is buttery inside? Has your chef gone mad or is he simply a moron?”
I let them try again and then left in a dudgeon, having consumed only my butternut squash-and-goat cheese salad and an extremely indifferent bottle of Pinot Noir.
Later that night, at an informal party at the Zorogastan embassy, I was confronted with the sort of cute young thing that Washington is positively crawling with. I asked her what she did. She told me that she was a radiology clerk at Northwest Hospital. I stepped back and asked her if she was sick more often than average because of all the germs circulating in the hospital air. I needn’t have stepped back, as she turned and walked away from me.
It was on Friday of that week that I was summoned to the White House.
I was ushered into the Oval Office. The President jumped up and came around his desk to me, and shook my hand.
“Good afternoon, Mr. President,” I said. “Who does your suits?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“There’s nothing wrong with it,” I said. “I just think that as the leader of the Free World, you could do a little better in the shoulders and the vent detailing.”
He shook that off and ordered me to Africa on a mission to the Zamibian Homeless Program in the capital city of Bellioboro.
“We want to support that program and promote it as a model for active philanthropic democratic action in developing countries,” he told me. “We need a spokesman of impeccable character and experience. You’re the man.”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” I said. “I’ll do my best.”
I got off the airplane in Zamibia and emerged into an equatorial heat that was moist, steamy, and enveloping. Perspiration sprang to the surface of my skin, but having nowhere to go in the humid air, it merely soaked into my undershirt and boxers and calf-length wool socks, thence into my $300 Oxford shirt with hem gussets and triple topstitching on its exterior seams, a bit of thread intentionally left untrimmed on the sides… but never mind that. My suit coat and trousers became sodden. My hair was plastered to my head, making a mockery of my executive haircut, created exclusively for me by Lorenzo DeVinch… but forget about that.
A crowd of African onlookers laughed at the sight. I was abashed.
The U.S. diplomatic staff that had met me and were now driving me over dirt roads through acres of ramshackle tin, plywood, and cardboard hovels to the Homeless headquarters advised me to “go native.” As soon as we arrived, I was hustled into a small medical examination room in the Homeless clinic, where I changed into what was described to me as “bush gear.”
From there I was taken on a tour of the facility. The residents were without exception monstrously ill. I learned that yaws, dengue fever, malaria, sleeping sickness, leprosy, and diarrhea were endemic. Fortunately, there were no cases of Ebola currently active.
“My Lord,” I said. “Why am I here? What can I do? I’m no doctor, or philanthropist, or government civil servant. I’m no more than an extremely above-average citizen.”
“You represent the President,” said the diplomat at my elbow. “You are to observe the program here and then return to America and speak out about the need for private and public support for the homeless and ill of Zamibia.”
After that, I was forced to endure three days of exposure to the Earth’s most desperate and needy human beings. I was to see scenes of indescribable misery. Unlike my suit, now balled up in a plastic bag, still soaked and reeking with my sweat, my “bush outfit” was dampened with my tears.
After this “season in Hell,” I was put back on the airplane and sent home. As I flew back, I dwelt upon my responsibilities. I had been called to this service because of my incredibly high standards in life.
Obviously, that was where my mistake lay. I needed to lower my profile. Snobbery could only lead to more grief.
On the spot, I vowed to eat flank steak once a month. To lease a car that plugs into the wall. To speak with a Texas accent, like George W. Bush. To be considerate to ill-dressed people who went to public school.
I may fail. I pray that I will not, but I may. Just in case, I’m keeping my “bush outfit.”