Several months ago, I was having lunch with a gaggle of gals. The conversation turned to a magazine interview that had recently got some attention. A popular musician had made some comments about himself and others, and many of those comments were either prurient, potentially offensive, or both. I won’t mention the musician now because it’s old news and it’s not important to this essay. What I will mention, however, is one of my friends’ statements. Referring to the musician, she said, “He just doesn’t have an editing mechanism when he speaks.”
I did not contribute to the dialogue, but I listened intently. I also felt self-conscious. Why? Because I don’t have that mechanism either.
And you know what? Thank God I don’t! If I had that editor, I would not be able to write fictional dialogue. It would not flow from me. I’d undoubtedly stifle it.
Now, I’ll admit that this deficiency comes at a price. Sometimes, I say things that are utterly inappropriate. I could give you several examples, but I’d rather not embarrass myself. And trust me, the examples I’m thinking of are embarrassing. I recall them with a certain amount of shame. I should, though, also share that – in my adulthood, at least – I don’t think I’ve ever hurt anyone with my off-the-cuff remarks. A desire to hurt people is simply not part of my make-up, so if anything “bad” comes from my lack of editing, it’s generally just bad for me.
But despite those moments when I’m not altogether pleased by hearing what I’ve said at the same time that you hear it, there also have been numerous instances when my spontaneous, unedited remarks result in a hearty laugh. So, in my opinion, it’s a pretty cool deficiency to possess.
Admittedly, a hearty laugh is not always elicited without the participation of a foil. I am therefore grateful that I grew up with a few folks who enjoy this type of humor. There was an occasion when one of them (oh, what the hell, let’s call a Dad a Dad) seemed to not mind his foil status at all. Here’s the story:
I was in my mid-twenties, and I had traveled from Manhattan to Cape Mey, New Jersey, where my parents were gathering with a close circle of friends for their traditional Fourth of July weekend of bridge, tennis, partying, and fireworks. It was good to join the group, as these couples (nine, in all, I think) had been in my life since I was a kid. At one time, the original Bridge Group (a number divisible by four) all lived in the same small community in Virginia. And although their proximity to one another began to change in the late 60’s, when families moved by choice or due to the husband’s employment, the group remained close. (They are to this day.) The Fourth of July weekend was therefore always filled with love and laughter.
The particular weekend I am recalling, I enjoyed hanging with the group as a “fellow adult.” I felt comfortable and relaxed, knowing I’d grown out of that phase of my life when I was destined for the Kiddie Table. Sure, I wasn’t really their peer (let’s face it, they had been driving for probably 20 years when I was walkng to school as a first-grader), but with the collective easy-going attitude that always permeated this group, it was easy to sit back and join the circle.
And we were, in fact, in a circle when the moment occurred. It was a circle of chairs. In the backyard of one of the rental houses. It was the before-dinner hour(s), and everyone had their beverage of choice. To my right and left were many of the wives. I don’t recall where most of the husbands were, but I do know where my father was. Standing. In the middle of the circle. Holding court, as he loved to do. His audience, primarily female.
At one point, he reached for a handful of peanuts from a bowl on one of the small tables. In doing so, he bent his lower torso to such a degree that the inseam of his shorts split from bow to stern. He acknowledged the incident with a grin and a subtle shrug, proceeded to stand tall, and then he casually scarfed down his handful of peanuts.
Which is when one of the wives said, “Oh, Robbins, you show great aplomb.”
Which is when I blurted out, “That’s not a plum!”
Immediately, several women who had known me since I was “yea-high” doubled over laughing.
And Dad – his true reaction hidden behind those WWII Ray Bans – just smiled and kept eating peanuts…