Our word for today is babe, as in I got you, babe. It might seem to you an innocent enough word, but that's because you weren't at the fancy-schmancy restaurant with us the other night.
There are four couples, all old friends, and we are making conversation over designer appetizers when one of the guys says to his wife, "Would you please pass the salt, babe?"
What you expect to happen is just what does happen.
(We pause for dramatic effect.)
She passes the salt.
Then, another woman turns to -- actually, on -- her husband, who is sitting across the table, and all hell breaks loose. Here's the transcript, available on tape for only $15.95:
Her: You never call me babe.
Him: (Smiles, as if hit by a stun gun.)
Her: He calls her babe because he loves her. It's a pet name. You think a pet name is Spot. Or Rover. You never call me anything.
Him: Uh . . .
Her: If you loved me, you'd call me babe.
Him: Uh . . .
Her: You can't even say it, can you? You can't even say the word. Babe. Babe. Babe.
At this point, strangers are looking on in either delight or horror. And although I think we'd all agree that there are few things more fun than seeing a friend humiliated, particularly if it's in public, you have to also feel a little sorry for the poor slob. I mean, what can he do now? If he doesn't give in and say "babe," he's got problems at home. If he gives in, he's a weenie.
(This, I understand, is a guy thing, the not-giving-in part. It's from the double-D dare days of your youth, when, on a dare, you will try to stop an uncoming car with your teeth. This explains why people would rather double-date with Regis and Kathie Lee than walk within 100 yards of a 16-year-old boy. It also explains your particular teen's car-insurance rates.)
Finally, the restaurant problem gets solved. The man gives in and calls his wife, "Babe . . . Ruth." And everyone laughs.
What is surprising, though, is that in this day and age a woman would want to be called babe. It is oh-so politically incorrect. It took me awhile to learn that calling a woman "babe" or "dear" was exactly the same thing as advocating nuclear holocaust. I had to go to training school, and you'd be surprised how few electric shocks it took to turn me completely around. I couldn't even sing the words: "It ain't me, babe." No, no, no.
But now, I have this sense that there is some significant backsliding.
I saw a fashion story in the paper the other day about how visible skin is now in. Slit skirts are apparently big.
There are people who actually watch the TV show "Studs," which is basically dedicated to the proposition that young women in low-cut dresses will, for the chance to be on television, allow themselves to be mauled on blind dates. It's "The Dating Game" as Bob Guccione might have envisioned it.
I know a previously enlightened woman who faithfully listens to the ravings of Howard Stern.
What's going on?
Maybe, in this year of the woman, we've landed splat in the days of post-feminism, when Ms. magazine could become Babe magazine.
Consider Madonna, who calls herself a feminist. She "writes" a book in which she extols the virtues of being tied up and, I guess, whipped. She's from the boy-toy school of feminism, which is not exactly the Betty Friedan wing.
Put Madonna in that restaurant, and the correct thing to say would be: Please pass the salt, Madonna, you slut.
As terms of endearment go, babe is fairly neutral. There was a time when a certain hip group called everyone -- male or female -- baby or, my favorite, Jack. The people that bother me are the ones who call each other snookums, or sweetie-pie, and they do it in public. I'd rather be called lunkhead.
If you want a pet name, make it interesting. Like Moondoggie. You call someone Moondoggie and that person has to know you care.
Do you think Bill and Hillary Clinton have pet names for each other?
As it turns out, they do. And I've managed to uncover them. According to my sources, Hillary calls Bill "Thunder thighs" and he calls her "ma'am." I don't know what that means, but it should settle the issue.