Saturday night I attended J’s company party, where my powers of observation were severely challenged. First I cost us two days salary (the prize in the trivia contest / drawing) for failing to remember the name of the damn monkey from Friends. Guess who will from here until the end of time know that the monkey was named Marcel? That’s right, David Schwimmer.
I met lots of J’s coworkers and their spouses—all fantastic people. I chatted for several hours with a spouse (let’s call her M) who teaches in a local school district. We covered lots of conversational ground, including the state of public education today, writing, married life, TV shows we never watched, a frightening tool called the turd knife, alien abduction, demonic possession. You know, the usual. After dinner J whispered to me, “I wonder how M lost her arm.”
I paused to digest this. “M only has one arm?”
No WONDER there was some awkward shuffling around when I extended my hand for the handshake! I had completely missed it. (Later, an extremely drunk woman across the bar would accost M with the much less subtle, “What happened to your arms?!?!?!”)
I’m sad to report that this kind of obtusity is becoming a pattern for me. In high school I once took a Greyhound bus to visit a friend I met at art camp. On the way there I sat next to a very friendly gentleman in sunglasses for about five hours, chatting about how blue the sky was and how green the fields were and such niceties. I only realized he was blind AFTER he popped out his extend-o-cane and got up to exit the bus.
And then there was the time I met my senior year roommate’s childhood friend. Let’s call this friend “G.” It was dark, we were in a crowded bar, the music was thumping, people milled all around us. I went in for the handshake, grabbing G’s hand: “Hi, nice to meetcha!” That’s when I realized her hand was the size of a cat’s paw. I just grinned and sucked it up because at the time I thought she was playing a practical joke on me with one of those tiny hands on a stick shoved up her sleeve. My friend Randy did it all the time when he met people. I learned years later that G had been born with a deformed arm. And I'd been born with a deformed ability to notice.
I don’t try to miss such obvious physical traits. I think it’s because I focus on my conversation partner's face: the smile, the curvature and freckling of the nose, the glass eye. (The blind guy slipped past because we were sitting side by side, and I’m not one of those people who spins in their car seat to face whomever they’re talking to. I tend to look in the direction in which I’m hurtling.)
Anyway, I’m going to make a concerted effort to be more observant in the future. Just thought you should know.