'Sleeping rough' in the present, finding comfort the past

A table in the formal dining room at Brucemore is set in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A table in the formal dining room at Brucemore is set in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

I don’t have a cellular telephone, I don’t tweet, I know nothing of Facebook, my television watching relies solely upon an antenna in the attic, and I had no idea how to use the little fork and knife that mocked me from their perpendicular place above my plate at a recent wedding dinner. Never did use them, which means I likely broke all manner of etiquette silliness. The Childcraft books I devoured a thousand years ago didn’t cover what I later learned were dessert forks and butter knives.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, just before the salad arrived I turned to the woman on my right and asked her where one might find a napkin, and she pointed to the perfectly coifed cloth napkins folded into the water glasses. Oops. I suppose this means my boorishness will prevent Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from inviting me to their nuptials in Windsor in May.

I’ve been to Windsor. It’s a lovely village, like something right out of Masterpiece Theatre, but don’t let facades full you. Right now the local council is trying to figure out what to do with the very visible beggars on the streets during the big wedding weekend. The leader of the Windsor Tory Council was quoted as saying beggars could present the town in a “sadly unfavourable light.” He also tweeted that rough sleepers (in the UK homeless people are referred to as people sleeping rough) “had made a commercial life choice preying on residents and tourists.”

Uh, OK, homelessness is a choice. Pardon me while I go check to see what century we’re in. Once again the elite are disgusted by the precariat and some are willing to say so publicly. Rationalism seems to be sliding away. One might rightfully be appalled by the fundamental wrongness of defining human beings by social class and, I suppose, on some level we all do it. It’s not just the Brits in Windsor who see themselves as more equal than others.

A rural farm town near here some years ago installed benches on its main street through its downtown. It seemed a pretty good idea until the wrong sorts of people began occupying the benches, putting the town in the aforementioned “sadly unfavourable light.” To my knowledge no local council member in buffed wingtips had the temerity to say anything out loud, but it was clear the wrong kind of people were showing their dirty faces in public. How dare they? The benches went away.

Clearly I’m an outlier when it comes to the world we see trotting past us every moment, every day. I live in a time long gone. My watch is a gorgeous 1957 Bulova, one I must set and wind. I’ve never used a credit card to purchase groceries or gasoline. The last video game I played was one called Pong, about forty years ago, and I wasn’t very good at it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Handel’s spectacular “Esther: The Lord Our Enemy Has Slain” is on the radio in the kitchen and I need to wash a few dishes. No dishwasher, other than the old guy who lives here, the one who doesn’t know from dessert forks and butter knives.

• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County



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