Between flights recently at Newark Airport, I discovered the rest rooms were under repair and was directed down a flight of stairs to a makeshift convenience trailer near a gate. When I faced two doors, one marked “Men” and the other marked “Gentlemen,” I came to a full halt. George Bernard Shaw gave us Man and Superman. Only New Jersey could give us “Men and Gentlemen.”
This was an existential decision. I’d read that the late George Plimpton, editor of The Paris Review, was “the last gentleman,” but I didn’t consider that definitive. I am totally onboard with the mandate that abandoning rigid sexual roles is essential, and that everyone has the right to gender self-identification. But this was something new. Or very, very old. As I mulled this over, five or six guys paused, then strode into the “Men’s Room.” Did they pass “Gentlemen” by because it had been rendered irrelevant somehow, or even poisonous? Did they think gentlemen were like the milquetoast Daniel Day-Lewis character in A Room With A View? “Gentlemen” have done some starkly ungentlemanly things, not only in Western Civilization but from the beginning of time. It was ‘gentlemen’ who sullied the notion of a Gentleman’s Agreement. The one gentleman in the movie who refuses to fall into line was played by Gregory Peck. Who doesn’t want to be Gregory Peck, who crafted his own definition of the term? But this was more a case of personal values. If it’s in vogue just now not to be a gentleman, did I want to be a part of that? I wondered further, if we have no gentlemen, can there be no ladies?
I admit, practical reality prodded me toward making a direct decision. I thought, do I like a world where family planning clinics are bombed (not by gentlemen) and women are called bitches (not by gentlemen)? On the other hand, did I want to throw my lot in with a bunch of kooks who’d done their best to ruin the world with perfect creases in their pants? You don’t have to wear worsted wool slacks in favor of blue jeans. Clothes don’t necessarily make the gentleman. It’s not who we believe we are, necessarily, but what we want to strive for that shapes us. As we head into a new year, we have to hope for a better world instead of settling for ways to celebrate degradation. We should never confuse strength with rudeness or even boorishness, and we shouldn’t confuse kindness with weakness. With Portland Magazine, I want our stories to be piercingly clear and beautiful, afraid of nothing, and graceful. Our readers deserve the highest ethics in journalism, and everywhere else. The decision of who I wanted to be was getting easier for me.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think you know which door I chose. I just hope many more of my decisions in 2016 are this positive. I’ll have the quiche, please.