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Virtue and Advice 

Advice I give plenty to my craven neighbor, Prentiss Loveday, a man who suffers more than most from the American matriarchal system. Once, while staying home with a severe case of nervous exhaustion, I watched him take out the trash four times.

"My wife has an acute sense of smell," he weakly explained.

I advised him to rub some pepper under her nose, but I doubt if he followed up on it. His wife was a square-shouldered lass with thick wrists and the good cheer of a badger.

So even though Prentiss always eagerly sought my advice when his bride was demonstrably absent, he was always answering all my suggestions with a whiny "Well, yeah, but ... ."

So I had to put my foot down on his bowed neck. "Look, I just give advice. I don't defend it," I snapped. (I am hard on the henpecked.) Then I told him from now on, I would only offer written advice so as to avoid his pitiful protestations.

Prentiss reluctantly agreed and the next time his wife wasn't looking, he slipped me a six-pack of Dixie and a note asking me to advise him on excuses to avoid the following: a) walking the dog; b) taking his mother-in-law on a family vacation to Gatlinburg; c) going to church.

The Loveday dog was one of those breeds with a bad press, so I won't add to it. I'll just give its initials: Lhasa Apso. I used its neverending yapping to motivate me while I authored a compendium of advice to the love-lashed. It read thusly:

Problem A: 1. Spray water in the dog's eye and announce she must be allergic to the Japanese magnolia trees in the neighborhood. 2. Comment that she must be in heat -- nobody really knows what these symptoms are anyhow -- and you'd hate to walk a dog her size past the Baldwins' mastiff in that condition. 3. Look in the classifieds and note that there's a Rottweiler missing in your neighborhood. 4. Hide the dog's leash. Failing that, smear catnip or itching powder all over it. While the Lhasa thrashes around, observe that it's probably better for her to stay home until a psychiatrist can be found. 5. Hide the dog. Attics are good, washing machines are better.

Problem B: 1. Maintain that six serial killers have just escaped from Brushy Mountain prison in Tennessee and police have called off the search "because they're afraid." 2. Discuss the adventurous qualities of hitchhiking to and from vacation. Drag out your old Army pup tent and wonder aloud if it'll house all three of you. 3. Announce you've begun smoking those excellent cigars smuggled in from Albania, and hope it won't spoil the 1,443 miles. 4. While you are up that way, you want to swing by Al Gore's family farm and help him re-count the re-count of those votes from Broward County. 5. You then want to swing over to Dollywood in Pigeon Fork to settle a bet with a guy at work who firmly believes Dolly has "hot" tattooed over one and "cold" tattooed over the other.

Problem C: 1. You're staying home because you've been hearing voices in the garden and think they might be angelic. You want to stick around and see if God has a special mission for you. 2. You're trying to teach the cockatiel the lyrics to "Joy to the World" so she can sing it by the time your pastor comes over for Christmas dinner. 3. The Caldwells' daughter always takes the pew in front of you and causes you to have non-religious thoughts. 4. You don't have enough money for both of you to go. 5. The Saints are on the radio and if enough people don't listen to Buddy D's pre-game show, then Tom Benson has threatened to replace him with Dr. Laura.

I carefully folded up all this well-considered advice, slipped it in a fresh envelope and licked the flap. I went outside and saw Mr. Loveday on a lounge chair nibbling at some leftover dan-dan noodles. I waved the envelope at him and winked. Feeling sage ...

Just as his thumb and forefinger closed on the envelope's edge, the spousal voice floated across the yard as warm and friendly as an alligator pool. "Prennn-tisss! What's that? Bring it here! Bring it here!"

His face started to come apart under the terror that smote his ears. His eyes flashed a thousand prayers at me. What's to do? What's to do?

"My advice," I said softly, "is to run like unpeeled hell."

click to enlarge "Advice: the smallest current coin." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary -  - "We may give advice, but we do not inspire conduct." -- LaRochefoucauld, Reflections
  • "Advice: the smallest current coin." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

    "We may give advice, but we do not inspire conduct." -- LaRochefoucauld, Reflections


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