Robespierre's rules of order

ROBESPIERRE'S written statement, propounding his reasons for joining our conversation club, seemed innocuous enough -- except for that last part. We had, I am afraid, naively passed over it at the interview -- `` . . . and, furthermore, I dedicate my energies to making the world safe from small talk. . . .'' We had applauded Robespierre's declaration, then; as who does not hope for the same thing? Once Robespierre was a member, his literal adherence to his averment became evident. You and I might say something to the general effect that there is too much small talk going the rounds, and let it go at that. Robespierre, to the contrary, was the archenemy of small talk. ``If the world collapses, '' Robespierre was fond of snarling, ``it will be from the weight of small talk.''

Even kings, presidents, and prime ministers, we counseled Robespierre, must, from time to time, lend themselves to the frivolity of small talk, for the general good of civilization as we know it. While our club is laboring for the diminution of small talk, we emphasized, many generations will come and go before the bane is exorcised from our planet. We explained that, like it or not, small talk was as yet the glue holding, as it were, polite society together. The goal of our club, we summarized, was to so increase meaningful conversation that small talk would fade away from lack of use.

For all his better qualities, Robespierre seemed unable, or unwilling, to grant mercy with justice concerning small talk. As the weeks, months, passed, his disdain of small talk grew.

On a dark and stormy election-of-officers night, when half the membership stayed home, and the other half worried about getting home, Robespierre was elected Exalted Imperial Host. Alas, the board of directors met in emergency session. Robespierre at the controls! Indeed so. Vogelweider, our secretary, reported sadly that there had been a quorum. It was all quite legal.

On the evening of the first party under Robespierre's supervision, members and their guests were arranged at his discretion. Small-talkers were seated at the group of tables near the clatter of the kitchen. Those who, in Robespierre's judgment, were ``significant-talkers'' were seated at another, fancier, group of tables with flowers and ornaments on them. As is the way with cursory judgments, mistakes were made. Small-talkers had been inadvertently sprinkled among significant-talkers, and vice versa.

Pandemonium! Robespierre, his radar tilting, strove to balance a terrible imbalance. Hoisting small-talkers from their seats at the significant-talkers' tables, Robespierre deposited them at the small-talkers' tables; hoisting significant-talkers from their seats at the small-talkers' tables, Robespierre deposited them at the significant-talkers' tables. And so on and so forth. It was very messy, with much spilling of food and drink.

There were fewer people at the second party for Robespierre to arrange and rearrange. Fewer still showed up for the third party. At the fourth and final party, you could count the patrons on the fingers of one hand. Robespierre's pathetic attempt to arrange and rearrange Mr. and Mrs. Wadwallow, and Mr. and Mrs. Dooley, at the significant-talkers' and small-talkers' tables almost landed Robespierre in a fight, and ended with them resigning from the club. Which, I hope, proved to Robespierre that an idea whose time has not come is really no idea at all.

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