When I was young, there was a strip in the Sunday funnies called “Prince Valiant.” Although he seemed to have a girl’s pageboy haircut, he was quite the macho hero — always running around the medieval world, killing monsters and villains with his Singing Sword and rescuing beautiful maidens in distress.
What no one — not even Prince Valiant’s creator — seemed to know was that he had an older, calmer brother, who appeared in times of extreme crisis. His name was Prince Valium.
Prince Valium arrives at a wedding. He stops by the caterer’s tiny office, to check in. “How’s everything going, Brenda?”
“Oh, Prince Valium, I’m so worried! What if the bride doesn’t like the flower arrangements? I tried to get her favorite peonies, but they’re out of season, so I told the florist lilies would be okay… but I never actually checked back with the bride; what if she doesn’t want them? And would you say this is a rose-colored tablecloth or more of a salmon? The bride’s mother specifically said she hates salmon, but I can’t tell the difference under artificial light!”
Brenda breaks down and sobs onto the last clean tablecloth in reach.
“There, there, Brenda,” says Prince Valium, “don’t you worry. All you can do is your best, that’s all anyone can ask.”
“If you believe that, you obviously haven’t met the bride’s mother! Or her father either, for that matter!” said Brenda, sobbing even harder.
“Now Brenda, look at me,” says the Prince. “You are an extremely talented girl, and you’re doing an amazing job against impossible odds. Look at all you’ve accomplished! Everything’s beautiful, and I am sure that as soon as people start arriving, and see what you’ve done here, they’ll calm down and have a lovely time. It’s all going to be just fine.”
Brenda’s sobs slow to a final sniffle before she dries her eyes on the tablecloth and stands up. “If you say so, Prince. Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right! I’m an expert!”
“In that case, I’d better get ready.”
“Atta girl!” Valium turns and retrieves his weapon — the Babbling Blade — from the coat-check booth and moves on to his next assignment.
We are outside a college dormitory in late August. Minivans and SUVs are lined up at the back entrance, unloading boxes and duffel bags which the football and soccer team members then carry upstairs. One car, however, has parked a little bit away from the proceedings, and the air inside the vehicle is tense.
“You are insane!” the teenage daughter is yelling, in a voice that holds no affection. “Why must you come up and meet my roommates? Nobody else’s parents are doing that. You don’t trust me!”
The girl’s father yells back. “Of course we trust you!” Her mother adds, “It’s just that new roommates are important, and we’d like to meet them. Is that so hard to understand?”
“It’s not hard. It’s impossible!” the girl screams, and opens the door of the parked car to run away.
Just then, a man with a funny haircut knocks on the windshield. “May I help you?”
“Who are you?” shrieks the Mom. “And what are your plans for that sword?” asks the Dad, eyeing it warily.
“Please ignore that, it’s just part of the costume. I thought I’d offer some perspective,” says the man, who of course is Prince Valium. “Separations are always difficult, I think.”
“You mean, for them?” asks the daughter, pointing to her folks. “I just know they’ll embarrass me horribly!”
“Of course they will — it’s their job! But it’ll help you make friends with everyone else, whose parents all embarrassed them, too.”
“I never thought of it that way,” says the daughter, slightly calmer.
“As for your parents,” the Prince continues, “Go easy on them, wouldja? They’re just terrified they’ll turn out to have failed you, somehow.”
“And you’re going to say we haven’t, after all?” says the father, hope dawning in his voice.
“Of course you have! You’re only human, and raising kids is an impossible job! But it’s okay, she’ll be surrounded by people with completely different blind spots, and they’ll all cancel out.”
“It’s a miracle, I’m almost calm now,” murmurs Mom.
“Now be good to each other, because I must be off,” says Prince Valium.
“Where to, some world disaster?”
“No, something much worse. It’s my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and Mrs. Valium forgot to get our good clothes out of the dry cleaner’s. Wish me luck!”