Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lessons I've learned, Part 8

I should never, ever be allowed to speak.

It would be difficult to convey to you how many times I have opened my big, dumb mouth and said something so retarded, so mortifying, that I lay awake the next several nights wishing for my own death. I'd blog about them so you could get your jollies laughing at my stupidity, but the internet isn't big enough to hold them all. However, one particularly unfortunate boo-boo was so traumatizing to me that it's never far from my mind, in spite of the years that have passed since it occurred. Every once in a while I notice it feels like there's something in my throat, and eventually I realize it's my foot, where it's still permanently lodged after this one particularly heinous faux pas.

I live in Texas, but still have some family and friends in my hometown in Missouri, so I go back from time to time. On one particular visit, I was in the lone drugstore of that incredibly tiny town when a man who looked to be in his seventies spotted me and was very excited to see me. He was so sweet, so kind and so enthusiastic, it was as if seeing me had made his day.

You'd have to understand my hometown; it is very, very small. I can hear some of you now--"I come from a small town, too!" No, you don't. Not like this. There were 38 kids in my senior class in high school. There is one street light in town, and it's on the main street, a flashing yellow. Everyone knows everyone. This is the kind of town where, when a car shows up in town with out-of-state plates, it's news. "Who is that? The car has Idaho plates." " I think it's Kitty's cousin." No, you're wrong--I think Bob has a sister from Idaho, though, it could be her." Etcetera. There's a little old lady in town who has a police scanner in her home, which she sits by all day long, enraptured, as if she's watching TV. The moment anyone gets stopped or arrested, she's on the phone to anyone and everyone she knows to report the news. She actually gossips about what she sees in other peoples' shopping carts at the grocery store, as in, "I guess Jackie's husband is making some good money now, I saw her buying steaks." Growing up, I used to hate the total lack of privacy that comes from small town life. I probably only went to the doctor once a year or less, but still, if I called the only clinic in town to make a doctor's appointment, the office worker who answered the phone would say, "Can I help you?" and I'd say, "I'd like to make an appointment," and she'd say, "Oh, hi, Karla." And this was before our town got caller ID.

There were only a handful of businesses in town--one grocery store, two gas stations, one hardware store, one florist, etc. My mom happened to own one of the two restaurants in town, which made her high profile, as in, everyone knew her. And by extension, it seemed like everyone knew me, even though I didn't necessarily know all of them. I was probably introduced to them all at some point, but forgot lots of names, partly because I was a kid, and partly because I was (and still am) fairly self-absorbed. This is why it came as no surprise to me that this very kind elderly man knew me and knew all about me, while I could not, for the life of me, guess who in hell he might be.

This happens to me a lot when I'm back for a visit, and usually I can play it off because the exchanges are fairly short. Someone will call out, "Hi Karla!" and I will answer as if I know them. We will exchange the briefest of pleasantries, and both be on our way, with the other person naturally assuming I knew exactly who they were. I hoped to be able to pull off the same scam with this man, because the alternative--letting him know I didn't remember him--was out of the question. He was just so glad to see me--how could I tell him that I didn't even remember him? So I played along, hoping his identity would come to me at some point. The thing that haunts me even now is that he gave me an out--he actually said to me at the start of the conversation, "You probably don't remember me, do you?" And God help me, he was just so sweet and cheerful that I didn't have the heart to say no, so I said, "Yeah, of course I do!"

I'm actually a pretty skillful bullshitter, so I thought I could pull this off. Plus, I know that the key to getting away with any kind of lie is to keep the exchange brief, try to make your escape before being caught. With this man, however, it was not so easy to extricate myself from the situation. He wanted details about my life, and asked me very specific questions. "How's your mom? I know her health hasn't been so great lately." "I hear you moved to Texas--what part? Do you like it there?" "What brings you to town? How long are you here for?" This went on and on. This guy was clearly retired, and seemed to be someone who perhaps didn't have a lot to do in his day-to-day life--why else would he be so thrilled to see me, someone who he probably hadn't seen in 10 years? I wanted to turn the conversation back toward him before I blew my cover--plus, it would have been incredibly rude to answer all his questions about me and never ask one about him. So I took the first opportunity to ask, "So what have you been up to?" As he opened his mouth to answer, I was wracking my brain--who IS this guy? I was desperately hoping to mine his responses for clues. Here's the sad saga of how it went down:

Me: So what have you been up to?
Him: Oh, well, not too much...you heard about my wife.
Me: (Nodding solemnly) Yeah, I did.
Him: Yeah, so I'm living by myself now, which is hard.

At this point I was thinking, Ah-ha! His wife left him! This gives me a clue. But he kind of had that hangdog attitude about it, like he'd been dumped by her, so in an effort to put a more positive spin on it, I brightened and said:

Me: Hey, you're back on the market!
Him: Well...I don't know if I'd put it that way...(trails off)

Suddenly, total recall hit me like a bucket of cold water. I knew exactly who this guy was: It was Mr. J, the father of a kid I went to school with, and longtime patron of my mom's restaurant. His wife died about a year before; I remembered my mom mentioning it to me.

Holy.

Shit.

Did I just tell a man whose wife died that he's back on the fucking market??!

Can't...breathe....Foot jammed in mouth just past the knee....

I don't remember what happened after that. I have no idea how the conversation ended, or if I was in any way able to recover from that. (Is that possible!?) It's like I blacked out from the mortifying horror I felt. The next thing I remember is practically racing across the street to meet up with Brian, who had been in the grocery store picking up some food. I breathlessly recapped the scene, gushing miserably about what a goddamn idiot I was.

Now, any responsible person would have agreed with me that I was, indeed, a goddamn idiot, or at the very least, that I had stuck my foot in my mouth. (If only I had stuck in in there sooner, before I got a chance to speak.) But my husband loves me a little too much for total honesty, and can't stand to see me in such a fervor. He actually tried to convince me that it wasn't that big a deal, that Mr. J. probably hadn't noticed, etc. In spite of my protests and retelling of the story to be SURE he understood exactly how thoughtless and stupid I had actually been, he stuck to his reassurances that I had behaved in a perfectly acceptable manner. You've got to love a man who will flat-out lie to try make you feel better.

I have to tell you, this story still horrifies me to this day. I managed to surpass even my own expectations of exactly how stupid I'm capable of being. I learned a very important lesson that day: I should never, ever speak unless I'm reading from a script that someone else wrote.

37 comments:

Kristina said...

If it makes you feel any better, he was technically back...on the market. I love you even if you are a cold, careless idiot! (Of course I am kidding)

Alecia said...

I grew up miles out in the middle of nowhere. Sandwiched between a high school with 30 kids, and a high school with 400 kids. Thank god, our house was in bound for the 400 kid high school by about 50 feet. I got to go to the school with 400 kids...where both of my parents were teachers. Fun!

stretch td said...

thats nothing. I've said so much worse. You were just trying to cheer him up ... tease him a little. It had been a year already.

Dawnie said...

Oh my goodness. On one hand, I'm totally feeling your pain on this, because it's something I would do. On the other, I've been having a horrible day and this is cracking me up. So, um, thanks for munching on that foot of yours, because it brightened my day?

NA said...

Comming from a VERY LARGE extended family, I know what it like to have people come up to you and start some conversation all while your wracking your brain trying to figure out their name. But to tell a guy who's wife just died he's back on the market... tisk tisk tisk. lol. If he's as old as you say, wouldn't his wife dying be your 1st guess??

Oh and how are those 2 goals working out??

Little Light said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. Yours is hilarious. Very, very funny. I'll keep reading.

NA said...

You can't help but keep reading.. she sucks you right in with these tales ;)

miss kendra said...

i have said WAY worse than that. your guilt is totally understandable, but i told my boss the other day (who is a very wellknown individual, very rich, very proper) that some food product was like crack.

crack.

the woman could buy my street, and i said crack.

CommonWombat said...

a) to say that I found this story hysterical would be a little silly, since I find just about all of your blog hysterical. Still... HYSTERICAL.

b) You said The internet isn't big enough to hold all your tales of foot-in-mouthery. Suuuuuure it is. Come on, give it a try. I for one could listen to you make an ass of yourself all day.

c) I was waiting for a college class to start, and noticed that a girl I was kind of friends with was studying, but holding her book WAAAY close to her face. Demonstrating my amazing ability to speak without thinking, I said "Jesus, Nina, if you hold that book any closer to your face, you'll get paper cuts on your eyeballs." (Can you see where this is going?) She replied, "Excuse me for being fucking visually impaired!" Yeah. See, you're not the only dipshit with a big mouth. Not by a long shot.

nita said...

33 in my class. resort town, but samesame. sam, the butcher, has only one hand. lost it yeaaaars ago in a butchering type accident. me, finally surfacing for a sandwich about 6 months after opening my salon:

some guy: hey nita! how's business?

me: (standing at the counter in front of one handed sam) I'm busier than a one armed paper hanger....

let's get guns and we can shoot each other simultaneously...

Anonymous said...

I really don't think that was so absolutely terrible, Karla. Really. The old guy probably thought you were thinking about his situation as a positive thing, and considering your youthful perspective, you were seeing his loss as an opportunity to open a new chapter in his life. (If he was thinking that's what you were thinking if he didn't know you were bullshitting.)

Maybe I'm being naive. Just another line of thinking on it. And I certainly can say all this so easily when I wasn't the one standing there tellin' the old goat to go out and get his horn wet. ;-)

So...I'll share my foot-in-mouth story. I had a French teacher in high school who was from Lyon. Real French, and real snotty all Frenchie-like. I grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country. She married a man who had a real Pennsylvania Dutchie name: Stoltzfus. We had to call her "Madame Stoltzfus" in class. What a contradiction in a name. After I graduated high school, I had a summer job in a big-box toy retailer. I ran into her shopping there one day, looking for Barbies for her spoiled daughters. I'd heard she had married again, having divorced Mr. Dutchie Stoltzfus several years before. So here comes my foot in my mouth. I was excited to see her and catch up, and breathlessly asked her what her new married name was. She'd married a "non-Dutchie" at this point: his name was Parra. Without thinking, I exclaimed, "Oh, that's WAY better than Stoltzfus!!"

- Sally

Maja said...

Oh, that's not so bad...

;)

I know the small town feeling... I lived in a town of 3000 in northern Iceland and everyone knew who my grandmother was, and therefore, who I was. You just always feel like you're being watched...

maja said...

My best friend's mother picked me up one day for an outing. I was 14. She was late - as usual. She said, "Sorry I'm late!" And I (unthinking) said, "Oh, that's okay, my mom says you'll be late to your own funeral."

That was more than 30 years ago and I STILL cringe when I think of it.

PS - How come two of us are maja and how weird is it that we're both commenters on your blog?!

Miladysa said...

Try not too beat yourself up too much about it Karla - after all, he approaches you in the street, starts chatting with you as if he knows you intimately, asking personal questions about your family, flirting with you so soon after his wife dies?! :)

Badger said...

Oh mah Gawd, I do stuff like this ALL THE TIME. And while I'm saying whatever horrifying thing it is I'm saying, I absolutely KNOW it's horrifying, and yet I can't stop saying it. I really should never leave the house.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Well heck, it COULD have been true. So lighten up on yourself. Or not. If you weren't making mistakes, how could we possibly find reason to laugh at you?

Isn't it nice to be good for something?

TinaPoPo said...

Oh, this is so, so funny.

And technically, he is back on the market...right?

Margo of Mystery and Mayhem said...

Ooh, I thought "back on the market" was playing the glad game, like in Pollyanna....

RitMeyer said...

I don't think people would recognize me without my foot in my mouth.

My husband is from a small town in Missouri, 350 people small. It's called Center, the center of what is my question. We play a game as to how many minutes, yes minutes, it takes for someone to walk over after we pull up. We think they then put it in the newspaper. "Local boy brings big city wife to town and she asks where the Starbucks is and we told her that we only accept US dollars"

ianmack said...

ouch. i just had a thought though. if you learned sign language, could you technically "put your foot in your mouth" anymore? maybe it would be, "put your fingers in your shoe" or something.

undercover celebrity said...

I'm definitely California's resident foot-in-mouth specialist. It's nice to know I have a Texan counterpart -- you take all the middle states, ok? I've got CA covered :)

Gerbera Daisy said...

The guy probably didn't think of it as a foot in mouth thing. Honestly, you are probably stressing way more about this than it is worth. Besides, technically he IS back on the market!! I am from a small town in Southern Indiana. My graduating class had 38 in it also. It was the biggest class the school had ever had (I suppose maybe because we were baby boomers). There was one restaurant, one post office, two gas stations, one grocery/hardware/fabric store (kinda like you would see on Little House on the Prairie), one mill, several churches, one main road and no traffic light. Everyone knew every every body and every body's business.

Masked Mom said...

To paraphrase a scene from "Everybody Loves Raymond:"
Do you call an oral surgeon or a podiatrist to have your foot removed from your mouth?

(Ray asked his regular doctor whether he should call a proctologist or a podiatrist to have his wife's foot removed from his ass...)

Romeo Jensen said...

excellent story karla and soooo well told. Im from the city so I cant relate but your story telling skills sold me... that and the fact you actually spelled out etcetera... LOL
Okay tell us guys what we all want to know... what answer does your husband give to "Do these jeans make me look fat?"
If it works on you... as a species... we men shall make him our King!
romey

mrhaney said...

hello karla. i have done a lot of stupid things also in my life. the good thing is now that i am sixty years old i forget what most of them are.

a fish on a bycicle said...

it could have been worse....but I struggle to see how, if you ever see him again maybe you could cut out the preamble and just stick a knitting needle in his groin?

Müzikdüde said...

This story is the essence of who I am. I always thought I had a corner on the market when it came to things like this. It sure is nice to know I have some company.

Mr. J said...

It only took me a month or so to get over your insensitive comment. It's all good.

Kiki said...

Oh Karla, you should compose all of your foot-in-mouth stories, lessons you've learned, and bad mommy chronicles into a book.
You're too funny!

a fish on a bycicle said...

liar!!, any man will tell you that it's impossible to be 'excited' and wee at the same time.....good job too, imagine the mess?

Arctic Skipper said...

"any man will tell you that it's impossible to be 'excited' and wee at the same time" - can't you just stand on your head and pee? ;)

Karla, you are hysterical! Cold, hard, uncaring and heartless, but very, very hysterical! ;) Poor guy - maybe he thought you were just trying to cheer him up? Yeah, uh, yeah! :P

Ryan Franklin said...

That's messed up, you should be ashamed of yourself... back on the market... what kind of monster would say such a thing? Oh, I know, the kind of monster that puts babies in dryers.

karla said...

Alright, Ryan, no one likes a smartass.

Oh wait. That means no one likes me.

Crap.

homelessthoughts said...

My grandpa is a boat mechanic and shortly after my grandma died we went to a resturaunt where they were both well known. The owner of the resturaunt said cheerfully (not kidding), "we'll, at least now you have more time to work on my boat".

As horrifyingly insensative as that was -- we did all understand it was his awkward attempt to bring a moment of lightness to the situation.

So "back on the market" isn't so horrible. He probably thought you were trying to cheer him up.

Homeless Dental Sex said...

Geez, that sounds like something I'd say. I also grew up in a small town, though not as small as yours. We had 92 people in my senior class. I have had people come up to me and ask me my whole life story, which I tell them. Then I just say "see ya" and walk away because I have no clue who they are.

pat said...

lol wow! This story just brought back a memory of something similar which I'd long since forgotten/suppressed. No big details here, but it involves my camp cousellor job one summer. Somehow, there was a misunderstanding between my CIT (cousellor in training) and I that resulted in me taking a kid's mom aside and standing in on a conversation where my CIT accused the mom of child abuse. I can't believe that I'd forgotten about that!

Well Karla, thanks for helping me to relive a horrible experience from my childhood... Maybe I'll blog the extended version sometime later :)

Curator said...

"These are dangerous days. To say what you feel is to dig your own grave."

Black Boys On Mopeds, Sinead O'Conner