Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to win friends and influence people.

According to my mother, who would know such things, I started talking when I was nine months old. I’ll save you the math; this means I have been talking for a very, very long time. If you do something for a very long time, aren’t you supposed to get good at it? At least once a week, I end up making such an ass out of myself conversationally that the only thing I can hope is that the listener, upon leaving my side and shaking their head in dismay at my total lack of conversational graces tripped and fell, doing no great harm but causing them to forget the previous three minutes of their life. If this were so, I promise I wouldn’t ask for anything for my birthday or Christmas.

About two weeks ago, Daughter and I went to cheer on friends who were competing in gymnastics. One of the girls competing at an advanced level caught my attention by being very good and considerably younger than the other girls. Upon closer scrutiny, I realized she wasn’t as young as I thought she was, but was a dwarf. Whatever challenges this put in her way, she was an exceptional athlete, strong and airborne and cleanly defined in all of her movements. All of us watching applauded a little louder as she did the ending salute to the judges.

Last week, I took Daughter to her art class and as I was walking out, I saw a mother standing outside, watching her younger daughter play. We had talked before, but we had never discussed the fact that she is a dwarf, as is one of her children, at least partially because I suspect she already knows. For reasons known only to the god of chaos who rules my brain, I felt compelled to walk over and tell her about the gymnast I had seen compete. About two sentences in to my sports analysis, something which I like to think is the teeny, weeny, socially-adroit quadrant of my brain spoke up.

“Quinn,” it said calmly, “just because she is a dwarf doesn’t mean she has any interest in other people who are dwarves. That’s like assuming you would want to hear about other people with mostly-green eyes. Or, perhaps more accurately, people who start stupid and slightly offensive conversations. And, by the way, I think calling them a dwarf is rude.”

The other 99.98% of my brain screamed in terror, “Augh! You’re right! Then what is the less-offensive term?”

The other part sneered, “I’m sure I have no idea. I think how one handles it is not to bring it up at all. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to try to burrow my way out of your head through your ear and live in a less-humiliating brain.”

The mother had patiently waited through my blatherings, and then we reached silence. Anyone with sense would have slithered away, claiming a colonoscopy appointment. But not me, because I cannot leave a conversation when the last words made me look like an idiot; I have to cleanse the palate of the listener with something banal. Luckily, I had the dog with me, who was being petted by her daughter.

“Oh, there you are!” I bent down and said to the dog, as if he had not been leashed to me, but off on a bicycling tour of the Pyrenees. He thumped his tail, and then looked over my shoulder and barked fiercely, a sound I have only heard once before. I turned and saw a woman standing in the middle of the sidewalk, mumbling to herself. Turning back, I comforted the dog and said to the other woman, “She must be mentally ill. He gets upset by the mentally ill.” He barked again, and I turned to see her walking towards us, no longer talking to herself but dragging one leg behind her. I said cheerily, “Or she’s just disabled. We haven’t had him that long; maybe he finds the disabled upsetting as well.”

We all bathed in the uncomfortable silence, broken only by the sound of her foot sliding along the ground, her soft mumbling and the dog growling threateningly. The woman with whom I was speaking glanced around for someone else to break up this folie a deux.

My socially-adroit brain cells, all six of them, sighed and said, “That was your dignity-saving move? Can’t we just leave and hide under the hedge until the class ends?”

My brain, eager to save the day, swung into action and before I could throw myself on the lawn and hope to muffle the sound, I blurted out, “It could be worse, I guess. I had a dog I adopted when he was already an adult and he was always aggressive towards African-Americans. At least there are fewer mentally-ill or disabled people than African-American people.”

We stared at one another in horror. My brain shouted “Wait! I can make her forget all about this! Let’s tell her about the time you accidentally walked into that store which sold accessories for men who liked to dress as babies and be diapered! Tell her about the size 50 ruffled rubber diaper covers! Tell her they were bigger than she was!”

I glanced over into the parking lot and spied a person. Waving frantically, I shouted “Yes, here I am! I’ll be right there!” The gardener, removing his leaf-blower from his truck, waved at me tentatively. I turned and said “I am so sorry, I have got to go.” Both of these were the truth, as I am sure was her response of “Oh, it’s okay. Really. Don’t rush back.”


Blogger epiphenita said...

When these things happen to me, I find grim comfort that the words anal spasm or pustule or smegma douchebag didn't hurl themselves into the conversation as if someone stirred up the detritus in my brain and swept it out of my mouth.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Robin Raven said...

Isn't that the worst? I've been inching my way out of shyness since childhood. The more I speak, the better being shy sounds.

I'm chunky, and I do HATE it when people start talking to me about fat people like we're all in a big happy chub club! LOL! Or, when I speak of my vegetarianism, listing all the "skinny" ones they know. LOL!

*hugs to you* Next time just think of an entirely zany subject to speak with her about. Knowing you (or at least knowing how great you write), she'll be won over, and forget all about it.

By the way, my beloved dog Marta hated ALL MEN. We were an all-female house, but, if a repairman had to come over, watch out! That's a tough one in society. haha

I'm chatty today. I better stop while I'm ahead, if I am.

8:08 PM  
Blogger jean said...

I was hysterical laughing while reading this. This is so my life. People wonder why I am shy and quiet. It's because when I do talk I end up with both of my feet in my mouth. You have such a way with words! Thanks for the laugh. I needed it.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Skerrib said...

Oh man, I SO relate.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It reminds me of an aunt who always managed to get herself in deeper and deeper. Years ago, back in the days when you could smoke in hospitals, the woman in the bed next to my mother fished out a stashed cigarette after the nurse had confiscated the visible ones. Auntie grinned at her and said, "Good thing you're not an alcoholic, you'd be hiding it inside the lights (they were bowl-shaped hanging glass lights).

Woman's response: "I am an alcoholic; that's why I'm here."

This is the same aunt who refused the last tea sandwioh from the little spinster ladies at the church tea in England. With a smile, she politely declined, saying she didn't want to end up an old maid.

Sometimes there's just no way out.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Karen of TX said...

I was at the funeral of a friend's father and was chatting with some of my old professors. Mentioned how fast our profession was changing since "the old guys are dying off."
::Crickets chirping::
Sometimes the witness protection program just isn't enough.

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! I am with Robin Raven. Always having been painfully shy I started coming out of my shell I realized why I had one to begin with, I wasn't protecting me from you, I was protecting you from me.

6:27 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

That was the funniest thing I've read all week.

8:57 AM  
Blogger MamaTeeThree said...

Are we related, maybe? I think maybe we're related. As for me, I try not to speak in public because I have a horrifying tendency toward potty humor. I guess as the mother of three small kids, it's inevitable, but surely I could come up with something better, right?

11:18 AM  
Blogger Dodi said...

OK, I have never in my life used the initialism of ROFL... but I am truly right now ROFL!!

6:29 PM  
Blogger Kristen Gill, Marketing Manager said...

I love it I read something that promises, just maybe, to make me feel somewhat normal. I'm glad other peoples' brains make them as nuts as my own.

4:15 AM  
Blogger Weird in edgewise said...

I blame imps. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Nothing against imps. But I blame them.

One time my boss was showing me the new company brochure, and pointed out a photo of her, mostly showing the back of her head and a bit of profile. I said, "oh yes, I can tell it's you... because the hair is all [I really said this] POODLED." Why did I say this? I do not know. I did not know why I was saying it while I was saying it. But her hair was curly like a poodle. Anyway, she pretended not to hear me. Probably a good way to handle it.

8:13 PM  
Blogger BiPolar Wife said...

My brain is still reeling from the images of grown men who like to be dressed like babies....mental pictures, go away!

6:06 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

I am in a Bible study. We break into small groups for a short time - the younger women go to classrooms upstairs and the older go to the classrooms on the main level. This year, for the first time, I am in a "main level" small group, so when I am with my friends (who all go upstairs), I tease that I've aged out.

Last week, while walking with friends to small group, they started up the stairs. One friend stopped and waited for me to go up, but I reminded her, "I go with the old ladies, now!"

One of the many "old" ladies walking beside me said, "HEY!"

And thus began my downhill ascent into explanation - which should never be attempted by an amateur.

(But at least I didn't offend the old maids!! Ha!)

8:55 AM  
Blogger tenacious knitter said...

Oh my goodness, forgive me, but I laughed hysterically at this one! Not at you, of course, but with recognition :)

10:17 AM  
Blogger Chatty said...

Oh, you had me on the floor, which is nothing new, of course, but this one really hit home. I was an early talker, too. I remember my mother saying wistfully to a friend "And to think, we were really ANXIOUS for her first words..."
This reminds me of John Cleese's little speech in A Fish Called Wanda, where he is explaining the English and their horror of embarrassing themselves - like asking someone how his wife is and finding out he left her, or asking after the wife and kids, only to find that they all burned to death last Wednesday.
You and I know JUST how he feels, don't we?
I also stopped by to tell you that I hope Consort and Daughter spoil you rotten tomorrow, at the VERY LEAST because in addition to loving you, their life with you could never be boring (well, except when you are watching one of your disgusting medical documentaries, or...ummmm, come to think of it, I'll just leave it at that, because if I go on I'll be finding myself in a situation where my tactlessness and social ineptitude leaves everyone looking gob smacked...)
Happy Mother's Day, Quinn!

2:42 PM  

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