I have pretty big feet (size 9), but my mouth is apparently more than adequately large enough to accommodate them.
I’ve set a precedent in this department.
I don’t do the kind of thing where I accidentally ask a non-pregnant woman when she’s due. I know better than that. My particular brand of foot-in-mouth disease has to do with inadvertently spewing double entendres and not identifying the potential for the 2nd entendre until it’s too late.
Some previous examples:
I have a friend named Renee who will be the first to tell you that she can’t hold a note to save her life. She gets this from her Dad, whom we used to force to sing computer karaoke versions of songs like “Camp Town Races” and “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” in his thick, Indian accent. Now, admittedly, this wasn’t fair. He’d never even heard these songs before—so he had nary a tune in mind to imitate—but even if he had, I promise he wouldn’t have been able to emulate them, and later we still would have giggled into our pillows while we listened to the surreptitiously obtained audio tape of his dying-frog-like musical stylings.
Well, anyway, Renee is like that, too.
But there is one song, one song she can somehow manage to sing and sound like a human: "Amazing Grace." If you asked her about this, she’d probably say it was divine intervention…God will arm you with whatever it takes to get you to sing His praises.
One night years ago, we were driving in her car, and she wanted to sing. So, naturally, we had to sing "Amazing Grace," which we did, and I was surprised at how well it went. There were times when we—quite accidentally—fell into harmonies. I mentioned this afterward.
“That sounded really good,” I said. “Especially me.”
Renee is, above all her other good qualities, polite and humble, so she was rather shocked by my expressed, over-the-top conceit.
“Gosh,” she said, “that’s pretty egotistical of you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, honestly clueless.
“Sounded pretty good, especially me?”
“Ha ha ha! Ohmigod!” was my response. “No, that’s not what I meant! I meant that note, when we sang, “that saved a wretch like me”…the “me” sounded really nice with our harmonies.”
I was happy the thing was cleared up, but I will never be able to erase from my mind the retroactive, 10-second-long embarrassment I felt at the idea of my being such a braggart. That’s 10 seconds during which my best friend at the time thought I was no longer the person she thought I was, but, instead, somebody who would say (and mean) something like, “That sounded really good, especially me.”
I want that 10 seconds back.
About 6 years ago, I was living with my friend, Nicole, in Flagstaff, Arizona. We were fixin’ to travel to the south of Mexico, where we would volunteer as human rights observers. I’d sold my car and planned to use the money to live in Mexico (as had my friend Kelsi) and was working part-time to make extra money. Nicole didn’t have a car to sell, so she had to work much more than we did. And jobs in a college town like Flagstaff are very hard to come by.
She took a job as a chambermaid (Don’t you just love that word? It sounds so naughty). It was good work (which is to say it was work, period), except for the fact that she spent hours and hours alone everyday with nothing but her cleaning supplies and her walkman, which played a steady stream of Tori Amos, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, and Fiona Apple. See, Nicole had just ended a relationship with her first boyfriend, and she now had more than enough time during which to drown herself in mood music and to think about the relationship upside-down and inside-out and any other way it could possibly be thought about. This was not a good thing.
But I digress.
In the evenings, Nicole would come home, melt into a chair, and tell me about her day. Then we’d move onto girl talk, laugh and be silly for a while, then call Kelsi and take off in the 1972, magenta VW bug that was our one remaining vehicle to share, and find something fun to do.
In the midst of one of these pre-adventure conversations, Nicole came out with this one:
“Oh hey, I meant to tell you, I found my first condom today.”
I went immediately to a place you never want to go to in reference to your friend, and my response was, “Eww, you SAVED it?!”
She looked at me like you’d look at a person who just mentioned he’d had his eyeball pierced (on purpose).
Then she realized what I’d thought she meant, and she pictured me, picturing her, poring over little trinkets, ticket stubs, photos, letters, and other special mementos in a little secret box and coming across—in the midst of it all—the first condom she’d ever used, all crusty and stinky and memorable-like.
The scary thing is that’s exactly what I’d pictured, but I’d gone a little further, imagining her picking it up, rubbing it oh-so-lightly against her cheek, and thinking fond, sexy thoughts about her ex.
When I realized what she’d really meant (that she found a used condom in a hotel room she was cleaning that day), and she realized what I meant, we peed our pants (or, I should say, we thought it was kind of funny).
Now that I think about it, that was more a foot-in-mouth moment for Nicole than for me. Or maybe it was one, each: ‘How could Kisa think that?!,’ she wondered.
‘How could I think that?!’ I wondered, in turn.
And we each had 10 seconds of life we wished we could just say “erase, erase” to, and start over again.
All of this was meant to be background information. Jeez I’m longwinded these days.
Which brings me to these days…two days ago, to be exact.
I’d been working backup on a register for a little while, when an older man shuffled up to my station and set a magazine and book on the counter.
The magazine caught my eye—the most recent issue of Esquire. Donald Trump is on the cover with a bunch of huge, bling-blingie, hip-hop-style gold chains around his neck.
I picked up the items to ring them up, then made a rather lame attempt at small talk:
“That’s an interesting cover,” I said.
When the man didn’t respond, I looked up at him for a moment and smiled. He was staring at me with a slight scowl.
‘Best drop the small talk,’ I thought.
I asked the obligatory questions, “Do you have a Barnes & Noble Membership? No? Have you heard about the program? Would you like your receipt in the bag?”
He grunted his responses in my general direction and I began to wonder, ‘What gives?’
I wondered until I picked up his items to put them in the bag. It was then I noticed the cover of his book.
It was some kind of erotica, and the slightly smoky cover featured a ripped-stomached young man with an orgasmic look on his clean-cut face, as he was in the throes of an oral sexual act with (I’m assuming, based on the look of the back of the person’s head) another young man.
So, on the shopping list that day: The latest issue of Esquire, and a little gay erotica. Which (of course) not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Except I flashed back to the beginning of the transaction and my innocent little, “now that’s an interesting cover.”
And the silence, then the scowl, then the grunting…it all began to make all-too-perfect sense.
How to salvage this moment? This misunderstanding?
My weak effort: “You know, that picture of Donald Trump…I never saw him with necklaces like that before,” I offered, a tiny question mark hovering at the end.
What was that supposed to mean? I mean, really. Like when I mentioned the interesting nature of the cover, I meant that I just hadn’t seen Donald Trump in necklaces quite like that before? Which—come to think of it—is what I meant. But is that even worthy of comment? How many types of necklaces had I seen Donald Trump photographed wearing? Or how many pictures had I seen of Donald Trump at all? What’s more, who gives a damn?
The man looked at me with a face that said, “uh…yeah.”
That, I learned, is just one of the things wrong with making small talk. From now on, I’m working through transactions in silence…speak only when spoken to, and then, only if what’s spoken is interesting enough to warrant a response. This includes questions.
I’m kidding, of course.
Suffering from foot-in-mouth disease does make life a bit more interesting. But here’s the thing: In considering the 10 second’s worth of misunderstanding, I always cringe, even years later, at the thought of being so grossly mis-taken. And what really horrifies me is the thought that I’ve been misunderstood in similar ways countless other times, of which I never did become aware. How many other people are out there thinking I’m an egotistical perv and a homophobe to boot?
Very disturbing, and, yes, a little funny.
I’m teetering out here on this limb. Tell me this happens to you, too.