The Madness: The Ancient Art of Refusal

Declining an invitation with grace is a skill every man should hone. But saying “No” can be difficult. We asked our pals Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi how they drop the 2-letter bomb.

The Madness: The Ancient Art of Refusal
Declining an invitation with grace is a skill every man should hone. But saying “No” can be difficult. We asked our pals Peter Bonventre and John Jannuzzi how they drop the 2-letter bomb.

Peter Bonventre

“No is a word, too.” I once heard a veteran TV writer utter that line in a phone conversation with a network honcho who’d been sitting on the writer’s sitcom treatment for a couple of months. The writer simply wanted a definitive answer, some honesty and clarity so he could move on to another network.

I get it. It’s hard to say no to a person who’s hoping to hear yes. Like a buddy who hits you up for a loan, or an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend who wants to get back together again. But in defense of saying no, there are few words in the English language that are more precise and accurate. (And, yes, when a woman says no, she really means it!) Saying no saves time. Saying no saves you many hours, maybe even many days or months of anxiety.

Which doesn’t mean you have to be a dick about it. Being a gentleman is about being considerate of other’s feelings. Just about the only rule I know regarding the etiquette of saying no is this: Use common sense. And sometimes that compels you to flat-out lie: “I wish I could be there for the opening of your photography exhibit, but we’re taking my father-in-law out to dinner for his birthday.” I guess you could tell the truth: “I’ll take a pass. Your photos bore the hell out of me.” But what’s the point? A gentleman should be adept at letting people down gently, and leaving them with their dignity intact.

Thankfully, technology in its many forms—from texting to e-vites – has made it easier to say no, giving you more time to fabricate a viable excuse than if you were cold-called. Now that I think about it, I’ve got to give proper mention to a guy who made his rep saying no to your face. Once upon a time, Frank Ribando was the maître d’ who guarded the back room at P. J. Clarke’s up on Third Avenue in Manhattan. Ribando always made sure that several tables remained unoccupied in case he needed them for the likes of a Frank Sinatra, Jackie Kennedy, or Joe Namath who’d often show up unannounced for late-night cocktails and the joint’s celebrated hamburgers. As a result, over many, many years, he turned away hundreds, maybe thousands of ordinary citizens. And so, Frank Ribando became known far and wide as…Frankie No.

John Jannuzzi

“I like that you say ‘No’ to a lot,” joked a friend of mine, who, like many of my friends, understands that I do as I please almost all the time – which I suppose qualifies me as a professional in such matters. Some time ago, I made the decision that if ever in a situation not to my liking, I would either exit or end that particular situation. No became my best friend, or rather, “No, thank you,” or “No, I’m fine.” A world full of no is a world full of your own possibilities.

I once was grabbing a late night drink with some colleagues at a former gig. From behind me, a woman’s hand went up my back, over my shoulder and down my chest. I remember thinking, “So, this really does happen in New York!” Unfortunately, when I turned around, I wouldn’t say I recoiled in horror, but there weren’t sparks flying from the arm and the body attached to the advance. We chatted for a few minutes before I receded into my colleagues. Sometimes, the best way to say no is to remain polite, but not overly friendly.

Now, onto drugs! Never been into them. Mostly because I’ve scared myself into thinking that I will be the person that ODs and I can’t trust the New York Post’s judgement in printing a good photo of me. So, whenever I’m offered them, which is quite often (I work in media), I reply with a, “Nah, I’m good, thanks.” Be wary of any company who persists, here.

Larger engagements can be tricky. One of my best friends is getting married, in a far away land (Minnesota) over a sacred three-day span (Memorial Day Weekend) and frankly, I don’t want to go. Of course, many will see my opting out as an insult, but I like to think this friend and I have enough history to not let the friendship go south over an RSVP. I’ve actually had a friend stop speaking to me because I refused to attend a $250-a-plate dinner they were throwing. In tricky cases like this you can either tell the truth: “That is more than therapy, who do you think you are?” or tell a white lie: “I’m so sorry! I can’t make it that night, have fun, let’s catch up soon!” If you’re peppered with questions as to why, just remember the old adage that a gentleman may always say no, but he needn’t give a reason. (As to Facebook invites, well, they warrant no response whatsoever.)