Every time I’m faced with highly confusing information, I have an automatic response. I narrow my eyes and nod, like I know what the other person is talking about and I’m not a completely hopeless dolt.
I narrow and nod, for example, every single time I’m ever talking to a mechanic and he is telling me there is something wrong with my car — something serious, of course, like the carburetor has sprung an aneurysm and is plummeting into retrograde and time is of the essence and money is no object and disaster is imminent.
Oh, the carburetor! An aneurysm! Yes, of course! And oh, God, no, not retrograde! We have to take extreme measures! Whatever it takes! I’m pretty sure if you examined the inside of my head at a time like this, it has gone completely blank, all tabula rasa on me, in my overwhelming desire to, above all, not look like an idiot.
Mechanics bring this out in me. So do any kind of fantasy football addicts, Proust scholars, CPAs, hardcore music buffs, readers of fantasy or vampire novels, insurance adjusters, and people who take astrological signs seriously.
Add to this list the very nice guy who makes those skim lattes for me when I’m starting to nod off and drool. He’s young, of course. Everybody in the universe is young, except me, I have begun to suspect.
Anyway, yesterday, Latte Guy told me he’d gone to a costume party over the weekend. “We dressed up in nineties outfits,” he said.
I narrowed, I nodded, I tried not to look blank and panic-stricken. “That sounds like a lot of fun!” I said brightly.
I thanked him and left as quickly as I could. I wanted to throw myself on the hot sidewalk and die. What on earth are nineties clothes? I mean, I lived in that decade, didn’t I? I got dressed every day. Logically, I must have been wearing nineties clothes all those 10 years. But what were they? Why would you want to design a costume party around them?
I wracked my brain. All I could remember was that, by the nineties, I had managed to finally ease my way out of maternity clothes. Also, as I recall, I often wore exercise clothes in the dim hopes people would think I worked out constantly. Other than that, I had no clue. I can tell you about fifties clothes, sixties, seventies. I can remember eighties hair. But the nineties?
I told my friend Brenda about it as we walked to a music concert that evening. “I think I’m still wearing nineties clothes,” she said. “My closet’s probably full of them. You think they’ve gone out of style?”
A couple of hours later, we were listening to Emmylou Harris and her band. “We need to be dressing like that,” Brenda said, nodding at Emmylou’s fringed skirt and long, fringed boots.
Emmylou sang for a good 90 minutes. Her voice is still crystalline and she looks like a zillion bucks, if you care about superficial things like that (we do). “She’s at least 65,” Brenda said.
Then, near the end of the concert, a drunk fan called out a request. “I could sing that,” Emmylou said coolly. “But I won’t right now. You see, I’m in charge here.”
I’m in charge here! I sat and marveled at what it must be like to say no so authoritatively, so unapologetically, just to say and do whatever the hell you feel like. Not to try to please others, not to pretend you know something you don’t, not to kowtow and nod.
Could I ever be a person like that? I wondered.
Just as quickly as that hopeless little dream blossomed in my mind, it withered and died a fast death. The odds of my becoming a dominatrix on stage or in life are about the same as the odds of my wearing a fringed skirt and long fringed boots. Life might be crazy and unpredictable, it might even be a costume party. But you have to be nuts to expect it to deliver miracles like that.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read a marginally related saga about how it’s better to pretend you have a headache than to lose at Scrabble