Monday, December 05, 2005

What did you just say?

Yesterday, while I was in line (not "on line," which is a pet peeve of our New York bureau chief, Mis Hooz) at a grocery store, the couple in front of me got into a minor argument when the man tried to gently touch the woman's face.

"Eeew!" she said. "Your hand stinks!"

She didn't say exactly what his hand smelled like. One can only imagine. But judging from the way she scrunched up her face and reeled back, it wasn't pleasant. Or maybe she's just really averse to public displays of affection.

As you might imagine, the guy was mortified. He sheepishly tried to defend himself - "What? What do you mean?" - but if he hadn't been trapped between people in line, he might have run away to wait in the car. He looked over at me to see if I heard what she said, but I was pretending really, really hard to be really interested in the organic lip balms on display by the register.

Hell yes, I heard her. Anyone standing back by the dairy section looked up to see what smelled.

Of course, as I drove home, I knew I'd write about this. And I began to wonder: What is the worst - or most embarrassing - thing someone has said to you in public? Is there anything that a woman could say to a man that would be worse than anything a man said to a woman? How important is the setting in such a situation?

Here's the first thing that came to my mind, which might disappoint you a bit: A few years ago, while working at Borders, I was talking with one of my co-workers after returning from lunch. Just before she left to take her lunch break, she gave me a strange look, and then asked "Did you eat salami for lunch?"

And I always chew on gum or a mint after lunch, just to avoid such a situation. I wash my hands too. So I either forgot that day, or was just emanating the scent of salted, cured meat. Anyway, I've never eaten anything close to salami on a lunch break ever again.

I'm sure I'll think of something more embarrassing later. Or maybe we can share stories from grocery store lines.

(Image from "Red Meat" © 2005 Max Cannon)