Etiquette. Just look at the word. It looks innocent and could mean prudent, but this word controls every aspect of our lives. Think about it. Everything we do in our lives revolves around a set of unwritten rules which we choose to call etiquette.

I can understand a certain etiquette for eating, and of course golfing and some chivalrous respect for women, but sometimes in life the boundaries of etiquette need crossing. For example, we all know that the most comfortable place to keep your feet while watching television is right there on the coffee table. You'd never indulge in such a luxury in someone else's living room.

It's one of those things that we don't discuss openly with one another. We simply don't want to think, much less accept, the fact that other people treat their coffee tables the same way we do.

Seriously, I don't think a date would appreciate coming back to my pad knowing that earlier in the day I had my feet up on the table with dog crap on my shoes, as we settle into the couch together eating chocolate pudding. So we just call it etiquette and pretend it never happens.

I think it'd be much easier to call it a foot table. Then everyone could stop this big charade about where people should keep their feet and where they'd be most comfortable. Besides, who drinks that much coffee that they need to designate a whole table to coffee alone? Anyway, how did coffee get so powerful in the hierarchy of furniture? You don't need an end table, and some of us don't have a dining table, but you can bet we've all got a coffee table. I don't even drink coffee. Maybe I should invest in a decaf table. I just don't get it!

Talk about your unwritten rules: there is no worse time that etiquette is present than over Christmas. Every Christmas there's someone I feel obligated to buy a gift for, or at least get a card for, because they have a card in my mailbox on Dec. 1. I don't find it ironic at all that these are the same people whose calls I don't return and therefore force me to be a hostage in my own apartment by screening my calls.

Call it guilt perhaps, for the sake of the holidays to clear my own conscience, but someone will argue that it is proper etiquette to reciprocate a holiday greeting. This year, somehow, I got suckered into buying that line to prove once again, my heart is sometimes bigger than my brain. I hadn't yet received that unwanted greeting, so here was my opportunity to clear my conscience by getting my card to their house first.

My mind worked like a criminal's, deciding to deliver my greeting under the cover of night. I wore my unfaded Levi's, a black turtleneck and my dark baseball cap, brim forward to conceal my face. I parked "Gunsmoke," the getaway car, outside the complex as I scaled the security wall while mouthing the "Mission Impossible" theme with my every move.

Dink-a-dink-a-dink-dink. "What an impossible mission," I thought. The lights were out, no car in the driveway and the mail slot in plain sight. I sprinted toward the slot like lovers longing for each other on a deserted beach while an orchestra played in the background. I picked up the flap and inserted my card.

I turned and walked away when second thought told me to make sure it fell past the wallboards and into the basket. Without hesitation I reached back into the flap to push my card even further. I wedged my arm in until I heard it fall.

The conclusion for what goes up is irrelevant to what goes in must come out. So there I was dressed like the criminal of etiquette that I am, freezing on the pavement in the dark with my arm stuck in a wall.

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