I was meeting some friends at the Beer Garden in Astoria, some friends of friends and their friends, too. One of my friends’ friends had just gotten married to a strikingly beautiful Brazilian woman who was visiting the United States for the first time. As if there was another kind of Brazilian woman. Let me be perfectly clear—as a rule I’m not jealous of all Brazilian woman. I only get jealous if a Brazilian woman is good at anything, at all. They can pick ONE THING AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED.
Anyway we were at these long beer hall tables. I am famous for blabbing my mouth even when I am unaware of the context of the situation, and I couldn’t really hear what my friends were talking about so I busted in on their conversation. I heard my friends’ friend mention something about going to Subway and ordering a meatball sub, with marina sauce, and then slathering it with mayonnaise. This is disgusting. And I had become pretty comfortable with my friends’ friend, so I really ripped into him, exaggerating what kind of huge, fat, disgusting piece of shit he was. “Are you KIDDING ME??! That is THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I’VE HEARD OF. You PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR MOUTH?! Does your WIFE KNOW YOU PUT THAT SHIT IN YOUR MOUTH!?” I couldn’t be stopped. My face was turning red. (Actually that’s probably because I was drunk.)
That’s when I heard Miss Brazil’s squeaky voice in adorable, innocent, and broken English.
“I enjoy the sandwich, it is me,” she said. Apparently gnarly, nasty-pants shit creamed together on a subway sandwich is considered a delicacy in Brazil. She looked like she was going to cry. And have you ever made a pretty girl cry? It’s worse than stealing from mentally-ill grandmothers, trust me. I tried to apologize and explain to her what a sarcastic asshole I was, that this is how we joked in America! We’re ironic, sarcastic assholes and we don’t mean anything and we are all horrible, horrible people but mostly just me.
But surely her first impressions of Americans are not the best. In my defense, it’s not like I wanted to be an ambassador of international relations with Brazil. It just happened. People shouldn’t let me near foreigners.
To this day, the Brazilian woman tells her husband and my friends that she thought I was so funny and that was so great and hahaha. But it’s all a front. I know she is plotting my death, with those sexy Brazilian eyes, and cute little accent. You heard it here first.
This week’s stories are about accidentally offending people. Or in the last story, it’s about accidentally complimenting someone. They are all situations that are worse than making a Brazilian woman cry.
Throw Him A Bone
by Whitney Collins
There came a time when, after six years of dating and faced with the inevitable choice of continuing to eat most of our meals out of styrofoam containers or deciding to register for gold-banded china, my now-husband and I peered over the precipice of forever-after and decided to take time off.
I don’t recollect if this breather was mutually agreed upon. I don’t recall if I there were tears or negotiations or sighs of relief. I don’t even know exactly how long this recess lasted. However, what I do remember vividly is that about ten days into the break, I went out to dinner with some acquaintance’s cousin—my first date in more than 2,000 days—and before we could even open the menus, it became painfully apparent that my dating skills were not simply rusty, they were completely corroded. My ability to banter and eyelash bat and flirt and feign interest was now indistinguishable from a pile of iron filings.
At this ill-fated rendezvous, I think my poor dinner companion just sat across from me, smiling weakly, unsure if he was watching a girl trying to explain her half-assed career or Tony Soprano trying to knit a baby bootie. After three or four clumsy attempts at small talk, I’m pretty sure I just said “THIS IS BULLSHIT!” (maybe out loud) and proceeded to order a Keystone Light in the can.
I don’t think this particular chap called me back for a second date, but, if he did, it’s quite likely I told him I was busy cleaning my toenails with a toothpick, and he could come on over to my place if he felt like it, but I didn’t really have much to offer other than some cottage cheese that may or may not have gone bad.
I know going “back on the market” makes some people incredibly nervous, but, in my instance, I just felt incredibly apathetic. I think I showed up on two dates with wet hair. I may have thrown a bag of Twizzlers at the movie screen during Black Hawk Down. At restaurants, a couple of times I ordered the children’s hot dog and lots of times I made teepees out of sugar packets. It’s possible I even told one guy that senior citizens should have to permanently turn in their car keys if they ever wanted to see a Social Security check. But, whatever the case, I do know that I was completely and unabashedly honest. During this hiatus, I freely admitted to potential suitors that I didn’t like ice cream or Bruce Springsteen or Labrador retrievers or sailboats or the Grateful Dead or pork chops or kite flying or musicals or San Francisco. I especially didn’t like driving with the windows down. I sure as hell didn’t plan on ironing anybody’s shirts—EVER. And how about those goddamned s’mores? Could someone please tell me who the hell invented those crumbly pieces of half-cold, half-warm, chocolate ass-crackers?
A dick, that’s who.
Anyway, this brand of truthfulness—combined with what I actually did believe in (Bigfoot) and did enjoy (expensive steaks, America’s Funniest Home Videos, falling asleep on the couch around 9:00 p.m.)—wasn’t getting me or my dates anywhere, and it came to a humiliating zenith one portentous week in October.
First, on the Sunday night of said week, I went to a cookout where I spent an hour trying to talk to a single, nondescript, fleshy med student named Joe. Over a paper plate of baked beans, I tried my best to regale him with a story about these little waterproof foot protectors (okay, fine, BOOTS) that I had bought my dog. Joe wasn’t taken with my story. At all. He just stood there, extremely nondescript and fleshy and unimpressed and wasn’t having any of it. He never spoke. I don’t think he blinked. Well, maybe one eyelid did a bored spasm. But, by the end of the night, I remember hoping Joe ended up being a doctor for people who had difficult-to-cure diseases of the ass.
Then, on the Wednesday night of said week, I met a good girlfriend for wine. Halfway through a bottle, her friend Jay showed up to join us. Jay, like Joe, was also single and nondescript and fleshy, but, unlike Joe, Jay was full of personality and really, really funny. Jay even seemed like the kind of guy who might appreciate a story about dog boots, so, after a second bottle of wine was presented, I began telling him about Buddy.
“Wait,” Jay interrupted, halfway through my story, “your grandfather lives in your backyard?”
“What?!” I said. “My grandfather?!?!”
Jay put down his wine. “Didn’t you say your grandfather was named Buddy?”
“No!!” I nearly shouted. “My DOG is named Buddy. I’m telling you about my DOG! About some BOOTS I bought my dog.”
“Jesus,” Jay said. “I’m so confused. See, I call my grandfather ‘Buddy,’ and all this time I was somehow thinking you were telling me about YOUR grandfather, also named Buddy, who just so happens to live in your backyard.”
“And who I bought boots for?” I asked.
“Yes,” Jay said. “That was really weird.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It must have been. ‘So, hey dude-I-just-met. Let me tell you all about my gramps named Buddy who I feed old meat to on the patio.’”
“Exactly,” Jay joined in. “Like, I was going to ask when I could come over to your house and tie your grandfather to a tree.”
“And if you could beat him with a stick,” I added. “If he started barking a lot.”
Thankfully, Jay thought this was humorous. For the rest of the night, we shock-collared and belly-scratched and threw rawhide bones at my imaginary grandfather. We lured him to roll around on the carpet with pieces of expired baloney. We may have even sent him away to have his balls removed.
The next day, I was pretty hungover.
Saturday night of said week, I headed to our neighborhood Oktoberfest, where I met up with a friend at the blackjack tent. “Don’t look now,” she said after a couple of rounds. “But there is some guy who keeps looking over here at you.”
“Really?” I said. “What’s he look like?”
“Eh,” she shrugged. “Plain.”
I turned and saw Jay, who I waved vigorously to. “That’s Jay!” I said to my friend. “He’s a riot!” I got up from the blackjack table and motioned for my friend to follow. “Come on! Come meet him!”
We went over to Jay and I elbowed him in the ribs.
“Hey there,” he said. “So, what have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“Oh, the usual,” I replied nonchalantly. “Just beating the shit out of my grandfather.”
My friend’s jaw dropped. I winked and chuckled. Jay played dumb. “Yep,” I continued. “THE. EVER. LOVING. SHIT.”
It’s at this point in movies where the soundtrack takes a terrible turn. Where the pianist jumps on the deepest, darkest keys of the piano, or a frenzied violin string breaks from shrill vibration, or a tuba plays just one, relentless blast like a foghorn. It’s at this point in Shakespearean plays, where someone on the verge of suicide says something like “Ay, karma. She ’tis an evil wench.”
Because here, in the blackjack tent, is where I realized that the nondescript and fleshy Jay before me was actually the nondescript and fleshy Joe.
I’d like to say that I recovered from this with a funny explanation. That I stammered my way back to a redeeming, albeit crippled, dignity. I’d like to say that I backpedaled out of this unthinkable scenario like a record-breaking cyclist, and that, by the end of it, both my friend and Joe were in hysterics.
But here is what really happened: I RAN.
I ran like I was being chased by someone who had two chainsaws instead of two hands. I ran through crowds of old people and through seas of baby strollers and through churches where weddings were being held. I ran until my ass was all the way downtown and on a barstool and a cocktail was in front of me.
I’d also like to say that my night ended at that point: with me, at that bar, drowning my idiocy in a glass of bourbon. But it didn’t. Because Karma is not just a bitch, she is probably a Kardashian. At midnight, a man approached me, introduced himself as a modeling agent, and handed me his business card. “You’re just what my agency is looking for,” he said. “Exactly.”
I was touched. Really floored. I even blushed. And to celebrate, I had a couple more Maker’s-and-ginger ales before falling off a table to the tune of Brass Monkey.
The next day, still reeling from humiliation over the Jay/Joe/beaten grandfather fiasco, I called my now-husband and begged him to take me off the market. I don’t know how I got him to agree. Maybe God put him on this earth to save all of humanity. Maybe he has a drug problem I don’t know about. Maybe he really likes women who look like young boys and can’t iron and think cupcakes are stupid. Regardless, a few months later, we picked out a gold-banded china pattern.
Oh? What’s that, you ask? My modeling career? You want to know how that panned out? How nice of you. Well, let’s just say I got on the business card’s website the next morning, and it wasn’t really for models. I mean, unless you consider flat-chested Appalachian porn stars who straddle fallen logs while wearing boa constrictors for belts models.
The Accidental Racist
by Meredith Bland
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I went to school, I have held paying jobs, and I can fill up my own car while only occasionally forgetting which side the gas tank is on.
There in one area, however, in which I am completely lacking in common sense. That is the area I call “social niceties,” and others call “plain old good manners.” You know when people say, “I thought it would be nice if we did blah blah blah nice thing for this person?” I am never the person who comes up with those ideas. I am the one who says, “Oh yeah! That would be nice! Why didn’t I think of that?” Well, I didn’t come up with that because it just didn’t occur to me. It’s not that I wouldn’t do better if I knew better, but honestly – I don’t know any better. What I’m saying is, I tend to hurt people’s feelings by accident a whole lot. I’m kind of an idiot.
These don’t have to be situations that require unusually good manners, either. These can be situations in which anyone with “feelings” would know better. For example, here is a conversation I had not long ago with my husband.
“Oh, I need to stop by the bank and deposit that check your grandma gave us for Christmas.”
“Really, Meredith? You’re going to deposit a $25 check given to us by my 90-year-old grandmother?”
“Yeah…I mean…yeah? Is that not…wait…oh. I’m an asshole, aren’t I?”
If I had to pick the best (i.e. worst) example of accidentally offending other people, it would be the time I was unintentionally racist.
Wait! Hear me out! It was totally an accident.
See, I used to do training sessions on policy and procedure at a local hospital. One of the ways I would keep people engaged during those four-hour boredom assaults was to ask them to read certain parts of the manual out loud. I was training them on things like hand-washing, you guys. I didn’t have many thrills to work with.
During one training, I was going around the table asking people to read, when I came to a young African-American girl whose name I completely blanked on. I turned to the attendance list, hoping that one of the names would jog my memory. And then I saw it: Keshia. Of course! This had to be Keisha! I mean, I didn’t quite remember her saying her name was Keshia, but looking around the room at the other people there, I thought this girl had to be my Keshia. Most of the other attendees were either men (definitely not Keshias) or white women over the age of 50 (unlikely to be Keshias.)
I confidently pointed at her and said, “Ok, your turn…Keshia, right?”
This girl gave me a look and said, “I’m Anna.” That was all she said with her mouth, but her eyes said,”…you racist son of a bitch.” I cant be completely sure of that, however, because once she said the name “Anna” my face caught on fire and I temporarily blacked out.
But wait! It gets worse.
From the other side of the room, a young, blonde, prep school student raised her hand and said, “Uh, I’m Keshia.”
Yes. Of course you are.
I decided my only way out was to play it cool. I said, “Oh! Sorry! Go ahead, Anna.”
Yup, it’s cool, people. Everything is cool.
I pretended that this was a perfectly innocent mistake to make because, after all, Keshia is just a name like any other name, right? It wasn’t racist because when I called her Keshia I was thinking of The Cosby Show and its adorable star, Keshia Knight Pulliam who played Rudy and oh my god I just made it worse, didn’t I.
Luckily, the rest of the training moved on without a hitch, though I am pretty sure that I was included in a tale of a people’s persecution and perseverance at a certain dinner table that night.
I always mean well, though. I really do. I guess I am lucky to have friends who are forgiving, and family members with low expectations. I am, indeed, part of an extra special clan. And by “clan” I of course mean clan with a “c” not klan with a “k” and oh my god I just made it worse again didn’t I.
by Cheri Passell
About 10 years ago, I decided that I wanted to speak Italian, so I started to study it with a private teacher in Akron. I didn’t tell anybody about it for a long time because I’m famous for saying that I’m going to do something and then not doing it. In fact, my motto is, “What do we do if we don’t like something? We quit!”
So one evening in an Italian restaurant when I started to try out my new language with a waiter, I guess my husband and daughter were pretty shocked. And I was proud.
When my husband told me that for Mother’s Day I should go to Florence and attend a language school I jumped at the chance. This was a pretty big adventure for me. I’d been to Europe, but I’d never traveled there by myself and I was eager to do it. I found myself a little single room in a 3 star hotel, made a plane ticket to Rome and a train ticket to Florence, and I took off.
Monday morning I made my way through the ancient streets to the school, a bustling place with kind, helpful teachers and students from literally all over the world. I was placed in an intermediate classroom, and spent the morning doing listening, speaking, and writing exercises.
When we broke for lunch I called my husband back in Ohio. “Brian, would you be upset if I wanted to quit school?”
He was surprised, but not upset that, even though the school was just fine, I didn’t want to be there. I was in Italy for two weeks by myself; did I want to spend my days in a classroom?
Tuesday morning I went to the train station and bought myself a rail pass. Some days I’d jump on a train and check out little cities around Tuscany, and others I’d explore Florence. I met people, practiced my bad Italian, and figured out how to do things that I’d never done before with the help of a hundred kind Italians that took time to help me when I got lost, missed trains, and didn’t understand words. It was great.
So at the end of my trip when I had taken the train to Montepulciano for a few days, I had a few hours to kill in a little town called Chiusi and I decided to have lunch. I’d bought some thank you cards and wanted to write a couple of notes to some people that had been especially kind to me, but I was unsure of the grammar. I had written something like, “Thank you for the kindness that you’ve shown me and I’m happy to have met you, I hope we remain friends. Come visit me in Ohio!” but that involved the subjunctive and other verb stuff that I wasn’t very good at. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t really illegible so I asked my waitress (or at least I thought I did) to check my grammar. She took the card from my hands, read it, and then almost broke into tears.
“Perfetto!” she beamed, but instead of handing me back the card she took it and started to show it to the other waiters and the cooks.
“Wow!” I thought. “She’s really being complimentary! I must have done an awesome job!”
But when she got out the scotch tape and put my note up on the restaurant’s wall, I realized that I’d been misunderstood; she thought I’d written the note to her.
I had two choices: I could tell her that I wasn’t a goofy loser that writes gushing notes to people I’ve just met, or I could let her think that I am, and that I’d really enjoyed my time, however short, with her.
Every so often I think of that card and wonder if it is still on the wall on that little restaurant’s wall in Chiusi, because, of course, I did enjoy my time with her, and all of Italy.
It was the time of my life.