I don’t really need to ask this question, but have you ever really embarrassed yourself?
Sure you have: You’re only human. We’ve all made silly blunders that have resulted in embarrassing moments. Even Queen Elizabeth has had a Royal bird take a Royal dump on her Royal hat on Derby Day. The real problem is that if you’ve ever put yourself in a humiliating situation, you’ve probably noticed that your brain never lets you forget it. This is the same brain that can’t remember important things, like your blood type or checking account and license plate numbers.
But if someone asked you to tell them who was at your cousin’s wedding reception, where you walked around with drink in hand and trailing a three-foot-long piece of toilet paper you unknowingly had attached to the heel of your shoe, you could name every one of these people, in alphabetical order, no less.
Or that time you got up to accept the ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ award at your high school graduation with your fly open? You could tell anyone the exact time of day, the precise temperature and humidity and the color of your tie.
Your brain relishes these moments so much it takes them out and plays with them at the weirdest times decades later.
Luckily, I never had the toilet-paper or open-fly experience, but I remember one time when eating at a very expensive restaurant in San Francisco. I, of course, spilled pepper from a fancy combination salt and pepper shaker over the nice white tablecloth directly in front of me. In a moment of utter brilliance, as I tried to brush it away, I knocked my glass with the side of my hand and slopped beer across the table.
By the time I had finished, much of the tablecloth was a series of grey smudges outlined in a large patch of yellow that looked distressingly like the newspapers on which a new puppy was housebroken.
I casually tried to hide this with my elbow and upper body when the waitress brought my dinner, but she saw instantly what a mess I had made. Instead of giving me a look of contempt, as I had expected, she did something even worse. She gave me a look of utter sympathy. It was a look you might give a stroke victim who has lost control of the muscles in his mouth but is still gamely trying to feed himself. It was a look that said, ‘Poor thing, bless his heart.’
For one horrible moment I thought she might wrap a napkin around my neck and cut up my food for me. Instead she retreated to her station near the bar, close enough though so she could keep an eye on me throughout the meal, ready to spring forward if any pieces of cutlery should clatter from my grasp and stick in my forehead or if a sudden spasm should cause me to tip over backwards or fall face first into the main course.
I got through the rest of the meal in fine shape, but my brain never fails to remind me of it, especially when I eat over a white tablecloth.
Oh, and my apologies for the memories this column will bring back to you.
John Prine Americas singing, song writing poet died this past Tuesday.
A modern-day cross between the story telling of Twain and poetry of Whitman, Prine put the common man with his common man, his faults, virtues and humor to music and sang them to us all for 50 years.
Thanks for all the times you put a thought in my head, a smile on my face and a song in my heart.
RIP, John. You can now go back to “Where Paradise Lay.”