I have a special knack for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, back pedaling, then saying something like "well, good to see you again" and walking off. Here are a few highlights. Please rate them according to degree of humiliation:
A) When I didn't remember the name of this highly sensitive, quiet girl who was in our Halloween Dance group my junior year in high school, I came up with this clever idea on the spot: "How do you spell your name again?" I asked. She gave me a quizzical look and said "R-o-s-e" in a louder, slower-than-usual kind of voice (the kind of voice you use when speaking to non-English speakers or people in a coma). "Oh, right. Well, I knew someone once who spelled it differently," I back-pedaled, "so now I always ask!" Exit the room in shame...
B) I worked at the Richards Building info desk at BYU. In my office, there was a big cahuna named Lee. Lee was one of the most important bosses. There was another Lee in our office, who was a new freshman, a new employee, and cute as a button (but that is beside the point). One day, a man with a southern accent called and asked for Lee. "He's not in, can I take a message?" I asked, assuming this man meant big boss Lee. "Just tell him his pa called," the man said. With a smile, I wrote the note and posted it on Lee's office door--the word "pa" included. Do you see where this is going? Was the message for big boss Lee? No. Was big boss Lee's dad no longer living? Yes. Did confusion, humiliation, and pain ensue? You betcha. Could I look big boss Lee in the eye after that? No way.
C) My aunt has a talent for ceramics. She makes all kinds of figurines, paints them, glazes them, etc. Sometimes, her projects border on being a little . . . oh, how do I put this?. . . well, let's just say ODD: ceramic boots get paired with silk flowers to make a nice arrangement, and, occasionally, a Santa Claus kneels at the manger of the baby Jesus. I find the latter ceramic figurine particularly garish, and have said so many, many times--to my husband, mother, and sisters, of course. It always appeared on my mom's table the day of the family Christmas party, and then sort of went away just in time for Christmas. In the back of my head, I knew my aunt had made it, but it had been around for so long that it became an entity in itself, with no maker, no origin. It just existed for a couple of weeks. I have always hated it, because I have a problem with mixing the secular part of Christmas--Santa--and the sacred part--baby Jesus. I feel that the two types of decorations should not be juxtaposed in any kind of lawn arrangement, painting, or, in this case, ceramic figurine. Having established the background, let me take you to the moment of total tactlessness: there we were at the family Christmas party. My mom and my aunt and I were all chatting, and my mom brought up my intense dislike for sacred/secular pairings. This intrigued my aunt, who said, "give me an example." "Oh, you know, like santa kneeling at the baby Jesus" I said, completely without thinking. My mom, who was standing behind my aunt, frantically started to do one of those cutting motions across her throat, mouthing the words "no, no, no." My aunt got really pointy-mouthed and squinty-eyed and said "well, what's wrong with that?" in a very angry voice. "Nothing!" I said. "I mean, in that case, it is okay, because it shows that Santa is supplicating to the baby Jesus," I went on, "so that is actually a very, very good representation of what Christmas is all about. . . yes, I like it. I like it very much indeed. . . " I left the house feeling rotten, but my mom reassured me: "she won't remember what happened by this afternoon. She can't remember anything since her stroke." Comforting thought.
D) Speaking of Christmas, just yesterday I was helping my cousins--who recently converted to Judaism, one of whom learned to read and speak Hebrew for her Bat Mitzvah, which I attended, and both of whom are very devout and very serious about their beliefs--go through some of their mom's boxes. I came upon two boxes full of Christmas lights and decorations. "Oh, I may be interested in these," I said, "But wait, you guys should have these CHRISTMAS decorations. Don't you want these CHRISTMAS decorations?" There was a moment of awkward silence, during which I searched my brain for a reason why these decorations could possibly be undesireable. "Uh, we don't really need those anymore," they said. "Oh, RIGHT! DUH!" I said. "But do you guys still give gifts and stuff?" "Yes, it's a little thing called Hannuka." They said. "Oh, right. Well, I guess I'll be taking these . . . "