Laughing at Myself

Fortunately, laughing at my foibles is an ability I possess. Unfortunately, eating politely is not: I bounce peas off the table, lose track of breadcrumbs, and cannot keep lettuce corralled in a salad bowl.

Neon Diner sign

In 6th grade, when my class stopped at Good Gert’s Diner in Salt Lake City after our fieldtrip to the zoo, I put on my best behavior. Not wanting to be thought a country mouse, I sat straight, studied the menu, and with a graceful swish of my ponytail, ordered the fried chicken special.

When the waitress asked if I wanted soup or salad, I responded, “Yes.”

She asked again, “Soup or salad?”

Increasing my volume, I replied, “Yes, please.”

Exasperated, she tried once more: “Which one? Soup or salad? You can’t have ‘em both, girlie.”

I thought she was saying super salad. They still talk about it at class reunions. And I still laugh when they do.

My eating ineptness peaked when I was a sophomore in high school: I hugged the passenger door of a pick-up parked at the A&W and listened as my date replayed the night’s football game. I feigned interest in his damage-dealing, game-winning tackles and wished I’d thought of an excuse — a sick dog, a swollen toe, an allergy to football — when he loomed out of a crowded school hallway and asked for a date. Instead, I stammered, “Yeah, sure, I guess so,” and fled.

Donny Wall was not the man of my dreams for my first date in high school. His head sprouted red-orange, wayward hair; and his nose, many-times broken, took a turn to the far left. He wore barn boots decorated with cow manure to class and propped them on nearby desks, smiling like a demented jack-o-lantern if anyone complained. For the school talent show, he burped most of the alphabet before Mr. Hansen managed to stop him.

But my mother refused to call Donny with news of my polio diagnosis, so here I was in a littered truck with a barbarian.

When the carhop arrived with our order, I reminded Donny of my invented  curfew, 10:30 and not a second later. He nodded, stuffed French fries in his mouth, handed over my chocolate milkshake, paid the bill, and started the truck. I removed the lid, tipped my head back, and lifted the milkshake to my mouth. Then Donny bounced his old truck over a gutter.

Twenty ounces of freezing avalanche hit my face: coating my bangs, running my mascara, plugging my nose, dripping off my chin, drooling down my neck. I was iced, blinded, airless. Squawking, I turned toward Donny.

“Good God, girl” he bellowed “I expected to have fun with you, but didn’t dream it would be this good!”

Donny and I remained friends for many years. After all, both of us barbarians, we’d shared a near-death experience, laughing till we thought we’d die at an A&W.

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40 thoughts on “Laughing at Myself

  1. Your episode with the salad reminded me of my first confirmation luncheon when they served shrimp and I had no idea what they were or how to eat them. I watched everyone else first–then proceeded to remove the tail. Lucky I watched, or I might have tried to eat the tail, too. Would have made quite an embarrassing mess to spit it out–or I might have just swallowed it with my pride.

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    • How comforting to know that you, too, were a less than sophisticated diner when younger, Laurel. I think you were more alert than I, however, because you had the sense to watch others. I probably would have ended up swallowing the tail.

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  2. If it weren’t for your title, I’d feel bad for the fun I had reading this. I can picture the milkshake mess, as I think I caused a similar bath with soda once or twice. I am similarly challenged when trying to eat politely. When the waiter/waitress removes my plate from a table, the outline remains on the tablecloth until they take out that little curved metal thing that lets them plow my crumbs into a napkin.

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  3. While my daughter was going through a messy divorce she went on a first (and last) date for dinner at a fancy hotel. After ordering a lovely meal, the date suggested a dance. When they returned to the table, she found that the waiter had removed her unfinished meal. Not sure what to do, she called him back and demanded her meal. The waiter was not happy and she was embarrassed.

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  4. Laughing at your mistakes – which are , after all, inconsequential in the scheme of things – is so much healthier than brooding over them. I hop you got your super salad one day!

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  5. I still have trouble getting food to my mouth without dripping little bits. Usually it’s some sort of red sauce (or chocolate!) on a white shirt, right in the middle of my chest. I have to keep a Tide stain stick in my purse. Maybe I should just wear a lobster bib.

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  6. Oh my goodness I giggled sympathetically all the way through this!

    My grade six camp to the city included me, delirious at the sight of a plate full of hot chips (we never had them at home), reaching for the salt…sprinkled liberally…the first much anticipated mouthful…not salt but SUGAR! I was devastated.

    I didn’t like Donny much until he decided you were heaps of fun, then I kind of adopted him. I’m glad you kept him as a friend and I loved your reference to you both as barbarians!

    Thank you. A great read, I just woke up and you’ve put a smile on my face already.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad I woke you up with a smile. I am discovering that everybody has an embarrassing story about food and eating; it’s been fun to read them all. Though I lost touch with Donny years ago, I have happy memories of him despite my initial dismay at keeping him company.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Only twice in my life have I shared laughter where we couldn’t speak or catch our breath. Every effort to gain control over our voices and shaking shoulders resulted in more laughter. We even tried covering our eyes while wiping tears but each time we looked at each other the laughing and gasping started again. The last time was with Aunt Beulah. Yes, we were eating. ’nuff said….

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  8. Ma fed us well on little money, but was no culinary genius- the classic lunch was thick homemade bread, margarine and ketchup, placed under the broiler until charred, we loved it. So, at 13 in grade 8 Home-Ec, told to prepare a family luncheon dish- guess what Sheila prepared?. Proudly presented to Mrs Heikila, alongside the Chicken Ala Kings and Sloppy Joes… social suicide. This was a very funny post, Janet, luckily we never went on class trips that required food, Ma’s tongue and mustard sandwiches would have finished me. Super Salad, indeed.

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    • Having been raised on homemade bread used in a variety of ways to fill hungry stomachs, I found the description of your family staple quite appetizing, Sheila. I suppose I would have been scorned with you when I presented homemade, buttered bread crumbled in a glass of warm milk as a luncheon delicacy.

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      • Hi there Janet- you describe a dish I had in England, called “Bread Sauce” A Yorkshire delicacy- Yummy. As I had little to guffaw about today, I looked forward to telling you your story reminded me of a Classic “Lucy” She is in The Brown Derby with Ethel and Fred, William Holden, who she annoyed is leaning over her booth, gazing love-lorn as Lucy attempts to eat spaghetti- no words, priceless. Now I can guffaw.

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      • Ah, that one’s a classic Lucy along with the one where she and Ethel get a job on the assembly line of a chocolate factory. I used to have a video tape of the best of I Love Lucy. I don’t know what happened to it; I’ll have to rummage around and see if I can find it. Hope you enjoyed your guffaw after a guffawless day.

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  9. When I was a lad, my family didn’t have the means to eat out very often, so my understanding of the whole restaurant procedure was somewhat limited. On one occasion I embarrassed my family by retrieving the money left on the table by my father. I was so proud to have saved that money, until I was told it was a tip left on purpose. Funny post.

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  10. At least he was quick-witted. I took a country girl to a restaurant once and the first thing she did was eat the parsley; then she told me, “Don’t eat that, it tastes terrible.” I said, “OK. Thanks.” I found out later that she had never been to a restaurant and had never seen parsley before.

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  11. Being able to laugh at oneself saves a lot of heartache through the teenaged years and beyond. I must admit to having become somewhat self-conscious when adolescence hit and acne sprouted, but luckily my strong sense of self-worth and confidence saw me through.

    I was most impressed to read that you and Donny Wall remained friends for many years. Most of the guys that I made a fool of myself with in high school went one way—and I went the other!

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    • Like you and your friendships, Rita, mine with Donny didn’t last beyond my first two years of college. I saw him in the summer. but before my junior year, my family moved to Wyoming, and no more Donny Wall.

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  12. I reckon I must have embarrassed my first husband when we first went out eating at pubs. I would always get half a roast chicken and would eat every shred of meat from every bone – quite a lengthy procedure. But he never complained, probably too busy talking and drinking with other people to notice anyhow! Anything fancier than the pub, then I’d watch other people first. Very entertaining post and comments, Janet.

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  13. Again, lots of giggles this morning! Thank you for allowing me to laugh with you!!!! Although I have never had milkshake in my face, I’ve had plenty of the like emptied on my lap, or toppled over across the table top and onto someone else!

    I generally don’t eat (or drink) with others, apart from my family & close friends.

    Business lunches & corporate dinners during my short-lived marketing career taught me one thing: meal-time should be fun time, whether it is me with my bowl of noodles curled up with a book, or a raucous meal with buddies, or a family reunion where no one is expected to behave.

    Dates were just the worst. Early on, I decided I could not go out with anyone who made me so nervous I had to watch every word & every morsel that came in or out of my mouth. So as you can imagine, I didn’t date a whole lot, at least, not in the conventional sense.

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    • I absolutely agree that mealtime should be fun and is best shared with loved ones and close friends who would rather laugh than worry about being proper. And, like you, I love eating by myself with only a good book for company. I value your comments; thanks for making them.

      Liked by 1 person

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