I suppose this falls under the category of things I should know by now. I have a recurring faux pas problem.
I have, I fear, damaged at least two older gentlemen who tried to befriend me and had their self-esteem clobbered.
First it was Ted, a well-regarded and fondly-remembered retired teacher, volunteer and advocate. I was working as a journalist at the time and waiting outside of Stratford’s council chambers for a meeting to start. Ted was waiting too, so I walked up to say hello. He happily greeted me but called me another name—I think it was Jen. I corrected him and told him my name and reminded him I was a reporter at the local paper.
He was mortified and explained that he had a past student who looked just like me and he often got us confused. I tried to make light of it but he was so embarrassed he couldn’t see the humour.
I saw him a day or two later and my first thought should have been that, since he was dying inside after the name mix-up, maybe it’s too soon to be “funny.”
I didn’t have that thought. I had this thought: “I’ll turn it into a joke and we’ll laugh and laugh….” So I walked up to him and said, “Hi Ted, it’s me Jen.”
And he said, “Hi Jen! It’s nice to see you. How are you?”
I stood there waiting with the faint hope he was turning the joke back on me and we would laugh and laugh. I could feel the heat crawling up my neck as I sheepishly explained it was me again, the reporter, Laura
He looked baffled. I’m sure he walked away wondering why I would do such a thing. I wanted to slink under the carpet.
You would think that moment, which I expect will replay in the moments before I expire, would have taught me something. To pause before speaking perhaps. Nope.
A couple of weeks ago, I went out for tea with an 83-year-old friend Gary. We meet at McDonalds every couple of weeks and he always gets an orange-cranberry muffin. His love of the cranberry is unmatched. He can speak at length about the virtues of the cranberry.
He offered me a piece of his muffin and I turned it down. He said, “Are you watching your weight or something?”
I said, “What do you mean? Are you saying I need to watch my weight!?”
I was kidding. I knew that’s not what he was saying.
He was gutted. He apologized and chastised himself for saying something so awful. I told him I wasn’t upset, I was joking.
I didn’t think about it again until a week later when I got a message to call him. When I did he told me he wanted to apologize for the stupid thing he said. He hadn’t been sleeping.
I went out for tea with him this past week and as I feared he refused a muffin. He said he wasn’t hungry and rhymed off all the things he had for breakfast like a grocery list.
I thought I would outsmart him. I went to get the coffee (tea in my case) and bought him a cranberry-orange muffin to go and I bought myself a pastry. I figured if I ate the pastry he would cave and eat the muffin and all would be right with the world.
He took the muffin but was adamant that he was full from breakfast. Ack.
I ate my pastry. Still nothing.
I wonder if he ate his muffin when he got home or if the cranberries just don’t taste as good as they used to. I wonder if he threw it out.
I should call him and apologize again. I’m having trouble sleeping.