Friday, May 1, 2009

A serious mistake*

"If you only come face to face with your own mistakes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day – that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave."
-- Capt. Augustus McCrae (in Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove)
I love that book. That's not the mistake part - I talk about that later in the post. But it seems appropriate to quote the character of Gus McCrae on the topic of mistakes because we share a common trait that seems to get us in trouble: sometimes we just refuse to take serious stuff seriously.Listen to how McMurtry phrases it:
"It was the kind of lapse [Gus] had been subject to all his life: things that were clearly dangerous didn't worry him enough."
My particular brand of this character flaw is highlighted by inappropriate attempts** at humor.

Mistake #1: I still remember vividly sitting in a meeting with the Assistant Division Chief during the later stages of my thirteen-and-a-half year stint with the Internal Revenue Service (that wasn't a mistake either - don't rush me). I didn't know the guy very well - but well enough to realize that he wasn't exactly a fun-loving sort in the office. I don't even remember the specifics of the incident that well - but I do remember one thing: I tried to make a joke in the meeting that was neither appropriate or funny. And I remember another thing even more clearly: As I returned to my office, kicking my own @$$ as a propulsion system, I promised myself I would - from that time forward - refrain from making jokes during meetings with superiors at work.

I've kept that promise pretty faithfully in the fifteen or so years that have passed. It's a pity I didn't expand the promise to cover situations outside the workplace -- until later.

Mistake #2: Once again, my memories of the incident I am now about to describe are not very distinct. (I'm sure that's my convenient defense mechanism against guilt. It's one of those experiences where I remember it now more based on the story being retold multiple times - rather than remembering the incident itself.) I think this occurred in the early Nineties (when the kids were quite small) - but I could be off by five years in either direction. Anyway - this story shares a lot in common with mistake #1 above - except this one's considerably more egregious.

The Middle-Aged Woman got robbed at gunpoint one night in a store parking lot several miles from our home. She was in a state of shock as a result of the incident and stopped in at her brother's home to get her head together before coming home. She contacted the local constabulary from her brother's place - and they treated her like the criminal. Apparently, for suggesting that armed bandits were operating unimpeded by their donut-chomping @$$es!

Suffice it to say: MAW had a rough night.

There's a lot of stuff about that night I don't remember. It may be that I was waiting for her to come home with some supplies I needed to complete work around the house; I can't remember whether I knew about what had happened before she arrived home or not. It doesn't make any difference. It also doesn't make any difference that I had my car broken into some months prior and had my Franklin Planner (and other stuff) stolen - but you'll understand why I mentioned it in a minute.

So, when Snoplum finally walked through the door and told me what had happened, I replied:
"Well - now we've both had our planners stolen."
Not: "Oh my God, Honey! Thank God you're safe."
Or: "Come and let me just hold you"
Or even: "Let's have sex - that will make you feel better"***

So, I have revealed to the world (again) that I am a sh*theel.
And I have (rightfully) never been forgiven for that night. Nor do I expect to be. But I have gotten better at avoiding inappropriate remarks.
I do this by keeping my mouth shut.
Except for that night when someone called the house claiming I'd been kidnapped...

Look - I'm done talking about my mistakes. For now.

Take care.

*Today is the one-month anniversary of "speaking in CAPS". I've been able to post every day for a month! Readers and listeners will have to decide for themeselves if that has been a mistake.
**"Attempts" is the key word here. The slightest hint of success would have been a welcome mitigating factor.
***You can see I still haven't lost the ability to make this sort of mistake, can't you?


Sprite's Keeper said...

Wow, Jim, I agree. You were definitely a sh**heel that night. Poor MAW! Luckily, she kept you.. :-)
I have made the mistake of snarking up a meeting at the expense of a manager who had made his own joke about womens shoes and I took it one step further by claiming the stilettos were for him, busting the entire room into laughter, making him blush, but feeling like an absolute a-hole for doing it. I STILL remember it 6 years later and use it as a lesson. Until I forget and do it again. Meh. You're linked and congratulations on a full month of posting!

Pamela said...

I have gargled my own heels so many times I've lost count. Great post, and congrats on an excellent month of posting.

Middle Aged Woman said...

1- Yes, you were a jerk that night.
2- Amazing post. You are now forgiven, officially.
3- I am so proud of you. I know it is totally messing with your sleep and schedule overall, bit, in the words (sort of) of Jim Charlie, "I would most like to (read) Jim Styro in the (internet).

Everyone will think it's nepotism, but SpeakinginCAPS has become my favorite blog. I'm going to have to start doing a better job on mine.

Middle Aged Woman said...

'bit?' I meant 'but.'

TennLady said...

Since you married the queen of wise-a$$e$, what is the big deal?

Stacy (the Random Cool Chick) said...

She was robbed at GUNPOINT...yep, if my hubby had greeted me without at least an 'Are you OK?' he would have totally been in the doghouse! ;) It's sweet, though, that you 'fessed up to the blogosphere and even sweeter that she forgave you - in writing! ;) Great spin! Did they ever catch the gun-toting moron? :)

lisleman said...

well thinking before speaking always helps. I disagree about humor in the workplace. We spend much of our lives in workplaces and I don't suggest not getting work done, but if a little humor can make the place a more pleasant place then go for it.

IRS - sounds like a dull place to work is it?

Jim Styro said...

SK & Pamela: Thanks. Hopefully I can keep things rolling in Month Two.

MAW: It's nice to be forgiven.

TennLady: I do not believe that it is in my best interest to answer that question.

Stacy: No - I believe those cops are still on the force in Westland. Oh, you meant the thieves! They're still out on the street, so far as I know.

lisleman: Was I advocating elimination of humor in the workplace? I don't think so. The IRS was anything but dull. Some of my best friends are "revenuers".

historymike said...

Scary stuff.

Also, I have learned over the years (mostly through similar moments of Thoughtlessspeak) that it is useful to have on hand appropriate responses one can trudge out in default mode:

"Oh my gosh - are you OK?"

"I am so sorry to hear about your loss."

"Well, I am a Michigan fan, but the only time I really root against Ohio State is in the UM-OSU game. It's really all about the Big Ten."

"Oh, what a BEAUTIFUL baby!" (even if the child is so ugly his momma ought to stuff him in the corner and feed him with a slingshot)

That being said: there are always situations one does not expect to encounter, like wives being robbed at gunpoint, or when my son at age 3 caused me to say words that may never have been previously uttered in the English language:

"Whoa, whoa, WHOA - do NOT color on the piano keys!"

Jeanne said...

This one really hits home for me! I'm pretty sure my inappropriate sense of humor was a factor in my recent joblessness. In fact, I did a post on this topic a while back: