Things I Shouldn’t Have Said at the Top of my Lungs

Last night in a nearby Thai restaurant, we were having dinner with our visiting daughter, a close friend from Austin and our daughter’s college roommate.  The restaurant was loud and we were having a spirited five-way conversation — the kind you have to almost scream so you can be heard.

Fine.  So, we were all screaming and it was noisy and fun, but I decided to shriek my contribution to the dinner conversation at exactly the wrong moment.  “That woman is a bitch!” I yelled, at precisely the minute the restaurant fell silent.

Furtive, embarrassed, I’ve-never-seen-this-woman-before-in-my-life glances around the table.  “It’s fine,” our daughter’s friend reassured me.  “You’re in New York.  Everybody expects that.”

Well, yes, sure.  However, not content with having already humiliated myself once in an evening, I launched into a story about the last time I inadvertently commanded too much attention in a suddenly silent room.  It wasn’t in New York.  It was in Austin, at another restaurant (you can see how I spend my time) and what I said was much more indiscreet.

In fact, I believe the exact words I shrieked were: “Now wait a minute!  I had a personal relationship with that dildo!”

My friend Karen, who’s normally one of the most open-minded people I know, turned crimson.  “Shhhhhh,” she hissed, looking like she wanted to die or to kill me or both.  (Karen!  The woman who once got drunk and told Darrell Royal he couldn’t putt worth shit?  I have come to the point in my life that I am now embarrassing Karen?)  Pat, who was also at our table, just shook her head.  Both their reactions made me realize we should probably start drinking again at our weekly gatherings.

Listen, though.  You had to be there.  You can’t take my words out of context.  You have to understand the situation I’d been commenting on to realize how completely appropriate and non-sexual my remarks were, even if the ringing silence was really kind of a bummer.

It was in the 1970s, when I was newly out of law school.  I was employed by a law firm for a year, the only woman in a rowdy gang of sexist, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, out-of-control trial lawyers.  Well, the only woman, except for another friend, JoAnne, who had a reputation to keep up, and Pat, who’d been hired shortly after me.  Pat was about as concerned about her reputation as I was about mine, so we became fast friends.

So, you find yourself in a group like that at a time when women were becoming lawyers in greater numbers, and I guess I’d say you have a couple of choices.  You can take the high road.  Or you can take the really, really low one.

And some people might say I started down the low road with my written manifesto demanding three good-looking, well-hung male secretaries.  But, listen.  We had a lot to put up with; it was time to take a stand.

All the lawyers in the office kept liquor in their desk drawers, since it was the seventies and people did things like that then.  So I could fit in, I kept liquor, too — a bottle of Jim Beam that often got stolen, then loudly complained about since it was so cheap, so why couldn’t I pony up for George Dickel like everybody else?  Anyway, I was looking for my Jim Beam in my drawer one afternoon when I saw the dildo locked into a mousetrap.

Everybody else considered that highly amusing, ha, ha, ha, so I was forced to take the next step, which involved epoxying the dildo onto the bumper of the managing partner’s pickup truck.  (I was very careful to make sure it was his pickup and nobody else’s, so checked his car pocket first.  When I saw the gun and bottle of George Dickel inside, I knew I had the right vehicle.)

So, you see, I wasn’t lying when I said I had a personal relationship with that dildo.  It was all part of being a young female lawyer in the 1970s, battling sexism all over the place, wherever you found it — in your desk drawer, caught in a mousetrap, epoxied to a pickup bumper.  I had no real choice.

I also had no choice when I was forced to hire a hooker to interview for a job at the firm, but if you think I’m going to get into that right now, forget it.  I’ll yell that story the next time it’s quiet in a restaurant.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

15 comments… add one
  • Suzy

    Oh, my gosh!!  You mean I should have interviewed you for my sex book?!  Well, not exactly, but … well, you know … you can hang with me when I talk about my sex book.

  • Craig

    One has to wonder about the humanity of restaurant designers and their hard surfaces. I used to leave dinner with no voice and blood streaming  from my ears. I have heard some of the filthiest phrases screamed in total silence over my years, and yours fits right in.No need to ask who taught you those epoxy tricks 

  • OMG. I cannot even imagine that kind of work environment. I like to think times have changed.
    Is the noise in NYC getting to you? I think it’d wear me down.

  • Cindy A

    Oh, my, I’d be a little reluctant to touch a possibly used dildo.   :-0

  • Sheryl

    I’m not sure you’d have received much reaction whatsoever from diners in NYC overhearing the word “bitch…” however, “dildo” screams a whole other language. You may have gotten a lot of extra company at your table with that one!  Thanks for the funny story, Ruth.

  • Love it, love it, love it!  Great storytelling, Ruth. Ahhhh dildos and bitches. What would we do without them?

  • Steve

    Hilarious.  But Jim Beam?  This poor country boy wouldn’t condescend to Jim Beam even in law school (which is where I developed my taste for other people’s Johnny Walker Black). 

    Being of some plebian taste otherwise, one of my favorite breakfast eateries in NYC is Chock Full of Nuts, not so much for the food, but the amazing beginning-of-the-workday conversations you can’t help but overhear in the old style booths.  Beth and stuggled to keep straight faces one morning listening to each of the four men at the adjoing booth use some variant the F word in each sentence.  For a few minutes we felt like extras in Goodfellas.

  • I have a knack for saying the wrong thing loudly too. My classic example was this summer in London in Westminster Abbey where people creep around like church mice, whispering. We were in the Poet’s Corner. My daughter asked who DH Lawrence was. I said, way too loudly, he’s famous for writing early porn.  My husband was scandalized.

  • As usual, thanks for the giggle.  And I LOVE how bold you are–love it.  Epoxy? The MANAGING PARTNER?  My hat’s off to you..

  • Oh god, so embarrassing. Luckily it was New York (and not my small town where everyone knows EVERYONE).

  • Delicious! Oh, to have been in that suddenly silent restaurant. Your dildo story deserves to be shared with every young woman who can’t get her head around feminism–and with everyone who wishes she’d found some clever comebacks in the dark days that, sadly, are not history yet.

  • Haha! I love it! I do that all the time. My voice is loud and high-pitched when I get excited, and I can’t even tell you how many oops-moments I’ve had like this.

  • Yeah–that seems to be a Murphy’s Law thing–that whenever you curse or use a word like dildo or blowjob, the entire world goes silent.

  • Loved your story. It’s a gift to be able to WRITE funny (as well as BE funny in person, while screaming at the top of your lungs in a suddenly quiet restaurant)!

  • You’re a wonderful storyteller, Ruth. I can always see you and hear you in your posts, and it’s a great way to get to know NYC better.

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