Mr. Manners

Comedy, they say, is the weak taking on the powerful. Enlightenment, the Infiltrator says, is attending an etiquette class for business executives.

"Present yourself with confidence and authority in any business or social situation!" the Web site says, showing pictures of people in business clothes eating expensive dinners, laughing, and looking self-assured. But who are these manners purveyors to tell me it's a world of have and have-nots, where etiquette rules magically unlock a world of success, but only for the well-to-do.

The bastards!

I decide to attend their $245, five-hour class on the etiquette of dining, handshaking, eye contacting, and power lunching in the guise of Chas Lemon. On the online enrollment form, I say that Chas works as "An Eccentric Millionaire,"further explaining that Chas is signing up because his "bitch said to get some manners!" To get into character, I don't bathe or shave for two days and wear a black Oakland Raiders cap. Yes, that's the approach: The world is Chas' oyster; he just happens to have been using the wrong motherfucking fork all this time.

The class is held in a posh Geary Street hotel at which I arrive, purposely, 45 minutes late. In a small, ornate, private dining room, five of the most uptight people I've ever encountered sit rigidly at a large oak table. As I enter, the uptight five look at me as if I'd just made a bad smell. An immaculately groomed woman named Cheryl is lecturing on the proper use of the soup spoon.

"Is this where that manners thing is being held?" I grunt, picking at my arm. My five classmates -- two men and three women -- appear to be middle-aged, corporate executives; all are adorned in business clothes. This is the most adult function I've ever attended. You can almost feel the clenched buttocks. I have a sudden desire to loudly fart, to just let one rip. I restrain myself.

"You must be Chas," says Cheryl, a tiny woman (so tiny, I have an urge to lift her) who is wearing a finely tailored business suit and who is perhaps the politest person on Earth. Her manners prowess is so great it was once displayed on Good Morning America.

"What's up," I mumble, wiping my hand before shaking hers. Cheryl makes her way clear across the room to greet me, utilizing both strong eye contact and a firm -- but not too firm -- handshake. I assume this is the proper way to greet tardy people at an etiquette class.

"I was just sharing a little trick on how to remember your place settings. BMW -- 'bread,' 'meal,' 'water,'" Cheryl says.

"Cool!" I say.

I'm directed to a chair marked by a "Chas Lemon" placard. In front of it is a place setting that includes about 20 different spoons and forks and 30 or so glasses. We're to be taught how to use the spoons and forks during a three-course meal, utilizing our newfound manners. With the proper tact for one who teaches an etiquette class, Cheryl asks, "Chas, would you mind taking off your hat?"

I smile and nod. "Oh, sure, no problem," I say. Leaving the hat on, I slouch in my chair and take vigorous notes on soup spoon usage.

"Here's one way to remember it," says Cheryl. "'Like a little boat out to sea, I eat my soup away from me.'"

"Now Cheryl," inquires the businesswoman, who looks like she dreams of one day putting heads on the corporate chopping block and who sits to the right of me. "With the soup bowl, the spoon goes in the bowl, but with a soup plate, it goes on the side, correct?"

To answer her question, Cheryl shows us a series of slides, circa 1989, that depict unhappy, well-dressed people using the wrong table manners, while happy, well-dressed people employ proper manners. The gist: One will be miserable if one has bad manners.

"The plate is not a rowboat," Cheryl adds. "A knife and fork should never be placed like a pair of oars in a rowboat."

Cheryl goes on to show us wrong ways to hold a knife and fork, including "the pitchfork" and the dreaded, elbows-out "cello."

"Now Cheryl," interrupts the businesswoman with the heads-chopping cravings, "when it comes to bread, is it OK to break off a piece?"

The petite instructor pooh-poohs the notion, saying the thumb should be used to dig out a small chunk. (Why putting your thumb in food is better than breaking a piece off is not made clear.) Remember, Cheryl says, to take the entire pat when you're buttering the bread. Put any leftover butter on the side of the bread plate. And, of course, you need to fold up the foil that held the butter pat. Never put it on the tablecloth!

"Cheryl, back to the bread for a moment. When passing it, does it go to the left or right?"

Oh my God, I think suddenly: There's four more hours of this crap to go. I raise my hand.

"Now, what do you do if your host makes loud racist comments?" I ask.

Cheryl ponders. Then she suggests politely excusing yourself from the dinner.

Finally, it's time for the food.

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