Monday, January 23, 2006

A Weekend with Ms. Obvious

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.


  1. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Again you make my day. Reading your blog is the highlight of my work day.


  2. I think it is a credit to you that you DON'T notice these things and I suspect it was refreshing for the people you mentioned. I'm sure they notice that people are acting differently around them or possibly staring at their disability and trying to pretend that they haven't noticed. You are probably one of the few people who doesn't make them feel self concious and they most likely love you for it. So continue on this way and don't be ashamed. There is nothing wrong with concentrating on a persons face and the conversation you are having rather than being distracted by something that doesn't even matter.

  3. I think it's great you don't notice other's "handicaps". It shows a lot of character. You treat every one as equals without pointing out their differences...just like we all should do! Bravo! Don't change who you are...embrace it...share it with others!

    Thanks for visiting my memory today. (Have a wonderful National Pie Day...who knew?!)

  4. Anonymous9:38 PM

    Great post, Jess. Really.

  5. I really think you should work on this. Maybe these people don't know they're walking around their whole lives with a cat paw for a hand. You could be the one to switch on the light bulb for them! But definitely use tact. Don't just say, "Hey, chow, chow, chow, what's up with the cat paw? Try just a more subtle "Where do you get your claws trimmed?" I don't know I just think you're being too hard on yourself. AS USUAL.

  6. LOL...hey, just beating everyone to the punch.

  7. What Mama D said for sure..

  8. What a wonderful post...from one Jess to another.

  9. I feel guilty for having a laugh at those peoples' expense. I can't get that image of you shaking a small hand out of my mind!

  10. Wonderful post, Jess. I've missed your blog and I'll definitely be back!

  11. Anonymous11:20 PM

    Thanks for visiting my blog and therefore leading me back to yours. You live in Wisconsin? Seriously? Is it cool there? I can't even picture Wisconsin. Wheat? Corn? Cities? If you ever get a chance, write some about where you live. I also love the fact that you were rambling on about blue skies and green fields to some guy on a bus, blind or not. You're funny.

  12. I agree with everyone else. I would think it's incredibly refreshing that you don't notice. I'm sure these people get very tired of their differences being brought up at every turn.