IT was the best of tubs, it was the worst of tubs.
Let me explain. On a recent summer getaway in a rented cabin, my friends and I shared a hot tub time machine adventure that whisked us back, not to our wacky teenaged hijinks of the 1970s, but to a couple of memories that were as sour as old pickles.
You may not have seen the movie Hot Tub Time Machine. It isn’t good -- don’t bother. But we loved the concept, so on our last night at the cabin we decided to soak ourselves in reminiscences while the chlorinated bubbles swirled around us.
Unfortunately, we found ourselves focusing on a couple of negative recollections.
Our friends were simmering about an incident last summer. Giancarlo had been asked by some longtime pals to emcee their son’s wedding. He’s a popular host at this sort of event. Though the bride and groom were virtual strangers to him, Giancarlo couldn’t figure out a way to turn down the request. So he did what he usually does – met with the young man and woman, got them to provide background information about themselves, their lives and their interests, and interviewed their friends and family members.
Giancarlo’s wife Carlotta was there, and she says he did a great job at the wedding reception. But the newlyweds did not thank him – not once. They made no special point of acknowledging, privately or publicly, the effort that he’d made or the good work he’d done. A year later, there has been no grateful note, bouquet of flowers or bottle of wine. Nor had they offered the slightest “gracias” for their hundred-dollar gift.
Giancarlo and Carlotta are some kinda ticked, and I don’t blame them.
People have funny ideas about thank-you notes these days. The custom of writing them has been slowly eroding for eons; at this point, many couples just send a wedding snapshot and a vague “thanks for the gift,” as if they can’t even be bothered to remember what it was. That really isn’t enough of a reaction to such a present, or to a major service a friend or relative has rendered. Don’t believe me? Ask Miss Manners.
At any rate, Giancarlo and Carlotta worked the hot tub up to the boiling point with their anecdote, which nudged my conscience backward into a disturbing memory of my own.
When I got married, I was pretty diligent regarding thank-you notes. As was the custom then, I sent a handwritten card to each gift-giver, talking about the present and how we would use it. Stanley may have written a few, as well. I believe we did this for every gift – except one. And here is my terrible confession: I did not send the thank-you card because I didn’t like the present.
But so what if I didn’t like it! The point was not the gift, but the thought. It was incredibly, unforgivably rude of me. Worse yet, the person who gave us the present – someone we had only met once and never saw again -- probably made it with her own hands.
Here’s the thing. I just could not bring myself to write the kind of sincere note I had sent everybody else. The item was a shallow, pizza-shaped wicker basket, on which this woman had glued some brownish dried flowers and a patterned ribbon. Rather than feeling the genuine gratitude that any gift should inspire, and writing the note posthaste, I agonized over my options. Could I, for example, get away with buying her a commercial thank-you card, then just signing it, something I had frowned on for everybody else? I let the matter slide -- for 28 years.
My half hour in the hot tub time machine, however, set me cringing anew. Obviously, there was only one way to rectify this shameful faux pas. I began composing my thank-you note immediately.
Dear Rhonda (or is it Rhoda?),
You are probably surprised to hear from me after all this time. How is your craft-making going?
After that, I couldn’t think of what to write, so I came up with a few alternatives.
A. I have finally reached the “R” section of my wedding thank-you notes and wanted to let you know how often we’ve looked at your present and thought of you over the past three decades. You really shouldn’t have! But you did! So thanks! By the way, did you ever move on to paper tole? No need for samples. Sincerely ....
B. The reason I haven’t written to you about your truly stunning wedding present is that I’ve been in a coma since the day after our nuptials. You might have gotten wind of that if it hadn’t been a fiercely private coma. Just before falling into it, I asked Stanley not to mention it to anyone, and if people asked him about me, to just say “She’s out of town.” He didn’t breathe a word, not even to the two children we apparently had while I was “down under,” as I call it. I woke up today and, naturally, the first thing I wanted to do was write you this thank-you note. I don’t know what we would have done without your basket of dried flowers. That brown and blue ribbon was a lifesaver. All the best …
C. I’ve been meaning to write to you for many years to thank you for your handmade wedding present. I’ve been living in Sweden, however, under an assumed name, and have had to keep my whereabouts a secret. I’ve been working as a computer hacker under the alias Lisbeth Salander, investigating all kinds of pervy crimes with a journalist friend/lover called Mikael Blomkvist (Stanley’s okay with it). Social awkwardness is one of my ruses, so I’ve been surly, rude, belligerent and bisexual, rarely showering or eating anything besides Billys Pan Pizzas. Writing thank-you notes would totally have blown my cover. Suffice it to say, I’ve used your dried flower basket for a number of things, including as a Frisbee to decapitate several thugs who looked quite surprised at the moment of truth. It’s really come in handy. Please destroy this thank-you note as soon as you’ve read it, and forget everything I’ve told you. Otherwise, I will have to have you pulled apart by Swedish wolfhounds. Cheers…
I can’t wait to choose one of the alternatives above, mail my note and have my guilt relieved. I only need to figure out Rhonda/Rhoda’s last name, so I can track down her address.