In the summer of 2001, I was a trip leader for TrekAmerica and bought a book from the Mt. Rushmore gift shop: George Washington's Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.
I bought books about the U.S. so as to appear smarter to the foreigners I drove around the country in a 15-passenger van. Invariably they'd pipe up from the back seat with questions like, "Jess? What's the difference between bison and buffalo?" and I'd have to feign distraction until I found a field guide and could casually bring up the topic again.
"Sorry, Sae-Jun, what did you ask me the other day? Oh right!
Bison is a taxonomic genus containing six species within the subfamily Bovinae. It's also known as the American Buffalo, although it's only distantly related to the Water Buffalo or African Buffalo.
Yeah, I just remembered I needed to tell you that."
George Washington's book was different. I bought it because it was funny and seemed like a good party favor, though all it did was sit politely on my shelf for several years. This week I used my TrekAmerica backpack and was surprised to find the book inside.
I happened to be at the airport when I found it, standing in a long line at the US Airways counter, and decided to pass time by scrutinizing the civility of people in the terminal.
George Washington (1732-1799) subscribed to the morals and manners of an 18th century Virginia gentleman, something I cannot say of 21st century civilians of Columbus, Ohio. At the age of 14, George wrote down 110 rules that he practiced until the day he died from a throat infection. It wasn't long before I observed something which would have given George a fright.
In particular, fright #52: In apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature; rather than to procure admiration, keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to times and places.
I myself - no great model of propriety - was unnerved when a woman in line bent over to fish something out of her suitcase. Her jeans slid down six inches and her booty emerged in equal proportion. This was no peeping thong as there was zero evidence of underwear at all. The vast crack of butt and its fleshy hollow presented itself with bare indifference.
I flicked my eyes away self-consciously as if I'd just caught myself staring at a severe physical deformity, though there was nothing wrong with the stranger's ass EXCEPT THAT IT WAS IN MY FACE. When I thought it safe, I looked back but the butt was still catching wind. And the lady was still unaffected. She may have been "keeping to the fashion of her equals," but the lowriders could not accommodate her nature.
When she finally stood, she cocked one hip to the side and persisted in exposing her rear, which now bore a more squinched, rather than elongated, appearance. I felt myself turning schoolmarmy and had the urge to straighten an imaginary pince-nez and exclaim "Mon Dieu!" I'm pretty sure that our Founding Father would have a couple tut-tuts to add as well.