When a little TV wisdom comes in handy
By Maria Johnson
Like many people coping with COVID restrictions, I’ve been watching more TV — especially series with episodes that you can stream back-to-back-to-oh-look-it’s-next-month-already — on platforms such as Netflix, Prime Video and HBO.
My husband and I have snickered our way through The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; been thoroughly freaked out by the all-too-timely The Plot Against America; cast a suspicious eye on just about every character in the detective show Endeavour (“Did you see the way that passerby pedaled his bicycle? Wasn’t it just a little too quickly?”); and been mesmerized by The Queen’s Gambit, in which the hauntingly beautiful actress Anya Taylor-Joy plays an addicted genius. The show has sparked renewed interest in the game of chess (see last month’s O.Henry magazine). It also has prompted armies of tippling women to look deep into their souls and ask themselves the hardest question: “Should I be wearing my hair in bangs like she does?”
I was so enchanted by the show that when my younger son offered to teach me to play chess during a recent visit, I agreed. He explained the rules. I knew that I needed to make a clever opening move. So I did.
I put my hand on a piece, stared at my son, and said with all the gravity I could muster, “Is this the piece that can hop like a bunny?”
He gave a barely perceptible nod.
I moved my piece to a square, held it there, looked at him intensely, and lifted one eyebrow.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” he asked.
In this fashion, I touched all of the pieces and moved them to every conceivable spot — not unlike a primitive computer pondering all the possibilities — until he finally said, “OK, whatever, that’s a good move.”
I’m happy to report that this worked great. The game was close — long, but close — and he won only by moving a pawn to my back row, at which point the pawn became a queen who could do whatever the hell she wanted.
Which brings me to another show we’ve been watching, The Crown, which is about Britain’s royal family and the issues they confront — or, more accurately, don’t confront — in their personal and political lives.
Before I watched this show, I never knew much about the royals other than what I read in an occasional email digest from Quora, a question-and-answer website that deals in a fair amount of palace intrigue.
For example, a reader will ask a question like “What’s Prince Harry really like?” and a plumber from Gloucester will answer with great authority because a union buddy of his once fixed a loo in Kensington Palace, two floors away from Harry’s apartment.
That was good enough for me — until I started watching The Crown. Since then, I’ve been diving into royal history, customs and etiquette, just in case the queen and I ever meet up.
It could happen. Let’s say I’m in London, and I’m walking around Hyde Park, which is right next to Buckingham Palace and is slap full of dogs running loose. Maybe I notice a corgi that looks lost and more than a little irritated with other dogs sniffing its butt. I check its collar, hoping to see the owner’s contact information, and — whaddya know — there’s a tag that says “QE II, B. Palace.” So I call the number, and this little voice says, “Yesss?”
And I’m like, “Um, yeah, I found your dog, and I’m pretty sure I saved its life, so . . . ”
She tells me to come right over. When I hand over the dog, the queen is overcome with emotion. “Thankew,” she says. You know how she runs those words together.
And I’m like, “No problemo, Your Majesty.”
I know from watching the show that I’m supposed to call her “Your Majesty” on first reference and “ma’am” from then on.
Also, I curtsy to her, which goes against my grain, but in my head I think of it as a tiny reverse lunge.
So I do a quick set of tiny reverse lunges, just to prove my good intentions and general fitness, and I wait. Unless the queen makes the first move, you never touch her. This won’t be easy. I’m a toucher. If she doesn’t offer me her hand to shake or fist bump, I’ll probably just give her a thumbs up, and say something like, “Cool purse. Ma’am.” If it’s the middle of the afternoon, she’ll probably invite me in for tea to show her gratitude.
Again, from studying up, I know that no one eats until the queen eats, and if the queen stops eating, you stop eating. I know I can handle the first part, waiting for her to start, but if they’re serving something delicious, like macarons — which are basically MoonPies — or little pimiento cheese sandwiches with the crusts cut off . . . I can’t make any promises.
But I’ll definitely let her lead the conversation. When she makes a point, I’ll agree by saying, “One would think so.” This is a very royal way of talking — saying “one” instead of “I.”
Given a chance to speak, I would try to find common ground, probably by talking about dogs because dog people love to talk about their pups. I might say something like, “One is curious, ma’am: Has Her Majesty’s dogs ever pulled her underwear out of the royal laundry basket?”
She could find this kind of familiarity refreshing.
Or she could use the royal accessory that I envy the most, the bye-bye button, a buzzer that summons her assistants to whisk away visitors when she’s heard enough.
Either way, I would be instantly qualified to answer a question on Quora. OH
Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at