“First a nasty word…Then a dirty story…Then an invitation…”
Off-Color is a short story by Adela Rogers St. Johns that was published in the November, 1952, issue of Good Housekeeping. In the story, Harriet becomes troubled by her guests’ behavior during a party she is co-hostessing with her roommate, Liza, in their fashionable Manhattan apartment. She is beginning to realize that people she and Liza care about are starting to avoid them while the people they continue to socialize with are no longer on their best behavior. Several of the men have brought women who are not their wives to the party while Harriet and Liza’s housekeeper quit because things in the apartment “have changed.”
After a big, blow-up fight between the roommates, they come to the realization that their “friends” weren’t really their friends. When they had moved to the big city, they didn’t want to seem provencial so they went with the flow when they were disrespected. After a while, they became immune to it until things came to a head at the party.
The story ends with the roommates promising that they will behave with dignity and self-respect so that they can develop friendships with people who respect them, too.
This short story is a cautionary tale and my first reaction was that it is an example of the pressure to conform to a certain set of post-war middle-class standards. But those standards weren’t explicitly outlined in the story. On further reflection, I realized that Adela Rogers St. Johns–a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter–is telling us that if we are dissatisfied with how people treat us, we need to look in the mirror. We don’t need to be prudes but we convey to others how we want to be treated by the way we groom ourselves, speak, and act. And, equally important, how we react when people are disrespectful towards us.
If we want to be treated with respect and dignity, we have to make sure we are, indeed, behaving with respect and dignity. After all, the old saying of “Birds of a feather, flock together” is true.
Remember: If you’re unhappy with how people are interacting with you, take a good, long, objective look at yourself in the mirror to see if other people’s behavior is simply a reflection of you. It isn’t always, but if it is, then it is time to start treating yourself how you’d like others to treat you–with dignity and self-respect.