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.
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.