I'm one of those people who thinks of the perfect thing I should have said long after the occasion has passed. An old friend acknowledged my problem with the observation, "You're not quick, but you're thorough."
OK, so my mom was wrong when she taught us that wisdom comes with age. She forgot the word "usually." I have never run out of stupid things to say since I was little nor have I learned to vibe out a calm verbal maturity now that I'm grown. Grown tall is not necessarily grown up. Such an emotionally mature future isn't always in the cards, like the time I ran into a man I haven't seen since his wife passed away after a long illness.
What, I wondered as he approached, is the right thing to say to someone you used to be close to but haven't seen in several years? I knew it was a stupid question even as it slipped out of my face and I heard myself saying, "So how's your late wife feeling?"
Long after his startled look and quick departure, I realized I should've simply apologized for failing to keep in touch. Or asked what he's been up to these days. Or the thing really sane people say, "How's it going?" Any of those greetings would have been appropriate but no, I didn't think of any of them at the time I needed something to say that was slightly less demented.
Sure it's funny now. But it's so typical of the gaffes made by regular people who don't have scriptwriters coming up with the perfect thing to say on every occasion. Why can't somebody write a book: Verbal Fakery: Prepared Improvisations For People Who Don't Think Fast Enough.
Waiting on line for the bus, I tried to be friendly to a pregnant lady standing behind me. "When is the baby due?" I asked. She frowned and said, "What baby?" Turned out she wasn't pregnant, just overweight.
I thought I'd learned a lesson from that bus-line experience but a few months later, trying to be thoughtful and complimentary to an acquaintance whose belly preceded the rest of her by five minutes, I said, "You carry small." "What do you mean?" she shot back. "I'm not pregnant!"
I went home to Facebook and defriended her before she could do it to me.
Then there was the time I asked the passenger in the next seat on a flight from Paris to New York where she had bought "that beautiful lace pantyhose." Turned out the woman was French and was wearing ordinary pantyhose over unshaved legs. It was humiliating sitting next to her for the rest of the long trip. I can only hope it wasn't Carla Bruni.
To a lovely elderly woman who had just told me she had trouble remembering things, I asked, "So what is it you can't remember?" She might have used a Voodoo doll for revenge because now I have days where I can't remember what it was I was trying to remember.
One gaffe really irritated a lady in the supermarket whose ginormous shopping basket containing her twins took up the entire aisle. I wanted to be friendly so she'd allow me to squeeze past, and I said, "They're adorable. How do you tell them apart?" She retorted, "One's a girl and one's a boy." Oh.
Every time I think I'm the only person in the entire world who asks stupid questions, I remember what is probably the most stupid question ever asked: "Where'd you lose it?"