I live a quiet and contemplative life.

I like it that way.

I am not now nor have I ever been a Man of Action. I do not imagine myself as one, wish I were one, or suffer from the uncomfortable illusion that I could be one if only I could bring myself to spend more time lifting weights, chinning myself 100 times a day, and systematically jerking my abs to bad 80’s pop-rock. (Phil Collins? Please. Gag me with a table saw.) I will never leap over tall buildings in a single bound and I am content that it should be so.

It’s not that I have anything against the M of A. In point of fact, I count many M’s of A among my dearest acquaintances and have deliberately cultivated friendships with dozens of them, from boxers and skydivers to orchid hunters and marlin fishermen. I even once was buddies with the certified public accountant who did the Mob’s books, may he rest in peace.

No, it isn’t that I dislike them. It is simply that I know who I am and I am not one of them. I am a book collector, a fine wine appreciator, a student of history and literature, a chess enthusiast, and a trainspotter.

I am, in short, a Young Man of Leisure with exquisite tastes and a talent for living simply.

Fortunately, the trust fund I came into upon reaching my 21st birthday allows me – as long as I don’t get carried away – to indulge myself fairly liberally in this simplicity. Drown myself in it, you might say. I read 3-5 books a week, 7 newspapers a day, and have eggs Benedict for breakfast every Sunday. I make my own pasta, grow my own mushrooms – Shitaki, to be precise – in the closet behind my penny loafers, and pay a very grumpy woman to come in 3 times a week and clean whatever mess I’ve managed to make since her last visit while she yells at me in a combination of mangled English and what is either Silesian or Serbo-Croat to put my nail clippings somewhere she never has to see them (the result of some childhood trauma or other, I expect).

It may not seem like much of a life to you. Certainly it strikes my family as lacking in…something.

My parents think I lack ambition.

They’re right. I do.

My aunts think I lack intelligence.

Not true. A calumny, in fact. I am twice as intelligent as the average gym teacher and what more could you ask?

My uncles think I lack both tact and energy.

Personally, I don’t see how one non-schizoid personality could accommodate both since they cancel each other out.

My sister Ermintrude (or Rude Trude, as she’s known in the family due to an episode of flatulence when she was six that was epic in scope) thinks I lack grace, charm, and that indefinable something that separates Peter Pan from Apollo.

Well, there you’ve got me.

I have come to represent to them the Braithwaite family’s contribution to the general phenomenon known as “Wasp-Rot Syndrome”. I contribute nothing to my society or civilization as a whole. I do not toil, neither do I spin. Half the family thinks I should devote the rest of my life to Good Works so as to make up for the vicious rapacity of the Braithwaitian ancestry in piling up all that loot despite vigorous local protests. The other half thinks I should emulate our vicious ancestry and devote myself to enlarging the pile. To them, a life not involved with Grand Theft and the production of football stadiums full of implacable enemies is hardly worth the food needed to keep it alive.

I have a different view. I think I am living the life the rest of humanity would choose if it could and knew enough to. I do this for them, that they may live their fantasy vicariously through me.

See how unselfish I am?

Why, you may well ask, am I telling you all this?

Simple. So you’ll understand why I found my Aunt Harriet’s initial visit so disturbing despite its superficial innocence. The unexpected visits of relatives almost always mean that my peaceful life is about to be shattered by lunatic schemes intended to make me live up to my “family responsibilities”.

A lot of my time and energy is wasted dodging these plots. I wish they’d quit.