Ever wondered where the cryptically insulting word "trollop" (meaning prostitute,slovenly woman, slattern, wanton) comes from? Well, I'd say probably Cincinnati. Because Cincinnatians were the folks whom Frances Trollope, mother of prolific English novelist Anthony Trollope, visited in the mid-19th century, for what reason I can't remember. A proper Victorian writer of refinement and frequent bathing, Frances found Ohioans' dirty backwoods habit of spitting, speaking with their mouths full of food, and unyielding "litigiousness" marks of our hopelessly uncivilized civilization. These charges she broadcast to the world in Domestic Manners of the Americans. For their part, Cincinnatians were so outraged by her book, which became something of a bestseller in Europe, that they began using her name as a term of abuse. "Why, you're nothing but a trollop!" wasn't a statement that anyone in a skirt, or her husband, could afford to shrug off!
Say what you will of her evaluation of us Americans, I think you've got to admit she hit the nail on the head with "litigiousness." In America, everyone's suing everyone else. We're sue-happy. We were that way before Frances came to call in 1832, and we're that way at the beginning of the 21st century. Lawyers are a little like death and taxes, a necessary part of life. Heard any good "lawyer jokes" lately? What do they call a busload of lawyers who drive over a cliff and down into an arroyo?
A few years ago, I heard of a lawsuit that made me, whose father was a lawyer all his working life, laugh out loud. Despite the law that every cellophane-wrapped pack of cigarettes has to show a clearly worded warning against the possible dangers of smoking (Can you imagine how the corporate lawyers, sitting around a conference table and chewing sticks of Dentine or gumming an unwrapped cigar, must have kicked and screamed and clawed over that one?), some no-doubt badly coughing / hacking, nicotine-stained fingered, three-packs-of-Camels-daily booby hired a lawyer to help him sue, I think it was R.J. Reynolds, for the damage he'd suffered from using their product. That this jerk, "litigious" as hell, could even consider filing such a suit, made me imagine his twin brother, also a booby, who might have bought a Colt revolver and a box of cartridges, loaded the chamber, put the barrel firmly against his temple, then pulled the trigger, having already posted a letter to the Colt Company informing them that they were to be sued for selling a product capable of doing great harm to the human body, to say nothing of the sofa on which the shooter sat while blowing his brains out.
You've got to laugh at the guy who tries to sue a cigarette company for his own stupidity. What do you think, however, when the guy's lawyer wins the case and the willful, coughing jerk goes home to his smoke-filled house with a check for millions? Harry Golden's best-selling "Only in America," listed the blessings you can find nowhere else on earth. Too bad Harry didn't live to witness the mind-boggling stuff that might've brought his book up to date. Well, there's always "Ripley's Believe it or Not," I guess.
This noon, having lunch with Ginny in Shooter's restaurant, I happened to see on their big-screen TV a news story about a controversy regarding our paper currency. It seems that, after a couple of centuries of printing the money we're all familiar with, some public-spirited, and probably densely-lawyered, organization has decided the U.S. government is discriminating against the blind (or, excuse me, the "seeing impaired" or "unsighted," whatever the jargon of the day happens to be). How so? you ask. Well, because there's now no way for such a person to tell the denominations of the bills he/she holds in his/her wallet. To say nothing of the government that has issued such bills. What's an unsighted soul to do?
How, in fact, does a blind person know that his/her employer hasn't paid him/her with unmarked bill-sized pieces of utterly useless cloth paper? Oh, 'tis a puzzlement!
Bring in the lawyers!
Funny! Unless I'm mistaken, every time a bevy of pricey lawyers in dark suits assembles around a polished wooden conference table to do battle with an arrogant and indifferent corporation that's long ignored the material needs and emotional well-being of its employees, the result is always the same: the public gets to pay a good bit more for exactly the same product. Maybe, in these days of looming economic hardship, we should all learn to bite the bullet, "hunker down," (a term reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's last days), instead of getting all lathered up because, for example, in my own case, America's highway signage isn't printed in ancient Anglo-Saxon, the only language with which I'm completely familiar. I don't want to drive up prices by demonstrating before Congress. I want to learn how to live more frugally, to use no more than my own fair share of the Planet's bounty (my God, what a cutting back that'll mean), to practice self-denial, with which few middle-class Americans are familiar.
I don't want planet Earth to die on my watch. Hey, I've got a daughter's future to think of!!