The Institute of Amicable Deference has no words for at least one unsettling incident


January 21, 2007|By JANET GILBERT

If her majesty, the queen of England, stopped by, I would greet her with amicable deference. I treat most people I meet for the first time with amicable deference, including the carpet-cleaning technician who came to an appointment at my home recently.

I think this is the first time her majesty has shared a paragraph with a carpet-cleaning technician.

But by juxtaposing these two individuals from strikingly different backgrounds, I am making the point that it does not matter if you come from a strikingly different background once you enter Janet's World. You will be treated with amicable deference.

This is because Janet received early and perhaps even relentless training from her parents, who pretty much wrote the curriculum for the Institute of Amicable Deference. No cookies before dinner. No whining. You will not get your way with a tantrum.

Yes, there will be many outraged letters about the following statement: Children are like dogs, and they need to be trained to conduct themselves appropriately in public. I know this because I now have a dog, and I have found that the methods from the Institute of Amicable Deference appear to be working better than the ones from Training Your New Puppy. No treats before dinner. No begging. You will not get your way by throwing a fit.

But our dog, Moose -- while almost a graduate of the Institute of Amicable Deference -- did experience some early difficulty differentiating between the backyard, for example, and every piece of carpeting in our home. Once this situation was remedied, it was time to call in the carpet-cleaning experts.

The technician appeared, at first impression, to be a fellow graduate of the institute. He was courteous and businesslike. But there was something vaguely unnerving about him -- something that seemed as if he was working strenuously to harness an impulse of some sort. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. One problem with the Institute of Amicable Deference is that it demands that we remain polite and professional, even if we sense something is amiss. So I went about my business while the carpet-cleaning technician went about his -- though he definitely made me tense, something my particular breed of dog (cupcake with legs) instantly perceived, causing him to confuse the foyer rug with the front yard one last time.

When the technician was finished, I asked if I could purchase one of the cans of cleaner his company sells. He went out to his truck to get one.

I was writing my check when he returned. I looked up and asked: "Is it safe around pets?"

Before I could finish signing my name, he whipped the aerosol can up to his mouth, squirted in a generous amount of the cleaning foam, swallowed it, licked his lips and beamed.

"Wow!" I said.

He seemed to want to hear more, but I couldn't think of a thing to say. I did my best Ellen DeGeneres: "Well, I am just ... truly ... that was spectacular. ... I just have nothing to say to that!"

"Most people don't," he said, proudly.

"Well, it's got to be safe around pets, if you can eat it!" I said.

"Yes, ma'am," he said, grinning.

I was out of small talk. I was trying to think of the Institute of Amicable Deference's polite phrase for "Get out of my house this instant!"

My family laughed callously at my telling of this unsettling incident, unconcerned that a side-effect of ingesting spot remover could be finding me in the trunk of a car in a distant state. This prompted my daughter to take out the bottle and review its label's warnings, which include: "Keep out of reach of children, avoid contact, flush with water."

"I guess I should have offered him a drink," I said. "But I'm afraid he would have asked for a squirt of Cascade."

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