Judith Martin ~ aka Miss Manners ~ like Santa she knows when you've messed up!
Let me just begin by saying there is a waitress at that restaurant who is pregnant. She’d be about seven or eight months along by now, by my calculations.
So perhaps a person can be granted the tiniest shred of empathy.
Both waitresses are young – of child-bearing age. Both wear their hair up. Both have names that begin with “J.” (Not their real first initial; this thin veneer is part of my flustered, bumbling attempt to explain the explainable.)
Some days they worked together, the J’s, almost interchangeably, one coming to the table then the other. Both with flawless skin and sweet dispositions.
Then their shifts changed, I guess. I didn’t really note the specifics. Obviously.
All I know is that I was having breakfast again last week with my smart and sassy friends, all witty and urbane and full of good breeding. I am just there trying to blend. An Oklahoma girl through and through.
One of the J’s was working her way around the circumference of our circular table, taking our particular orders for eggs scrambled soft or hard, oatmeal with or without raisins, tea or no – just hot water, a latte, all on separate checks.
J did this with her characteristic good humor. She has learned the names of most of the regulars and caters to our whims and eccentricities as though it is her pleasure.
Inch by inch she worked herself around toward me until she came to a spot where my neighbor’s chair cinched in close to a jutting corner of the room. Up on her toes J stretched, drew a breath and sucked in her girth to pass between.
We smiled and chuckled and, and, and…here it comes...God help me...with the kindest most motherly affection I truly felt in my heart of hearts, I said, “You made it!”
And I patted her belly.
I know. That in itself is so far beyond the pale that you may be swooning. Take a moment and brace yourself. There’s more.
“I’ve forgotten your due date,” I said.
You have probably figured out already that this was not the pregnant J. This was the other J. The one with her hair up and the lovely smile. The one who is in the prime of her fertility, but alas, not with child.
“Oh, I’m not pregnant,” she said, her smile a wistful memory. “You must be thinking of J.”
The other J. Of course! The other one with the hair and the smile and the bun in the oven. The one who is probably due right about now. That J.
I have an internal Thesaurus that began rifling through all the synonyms for “clumsy.” I think they began to flash across the neon billboard on my forehead: awkward; inept; inelegant; gauche.
J, though, was gracious as ever. She accepted my apology readily. She understood how I had mistaken her for the other J. Ha ha ha, we laughed uncomfortably. She went on about her duties, seemingly unfazed.
My clever well-mannered friends chatted on, having not heard my gaffe. I glanced under the table to see if there was room for me there, but no.
So I sat slumped, wearing my self-made dunce cap. What a ridiculous thing! How in the world?!!
Who says that? Who does that? OMG. I do.
I have no theory to explain how good intentions and affection can become entangled with ungainliness in such a way. And why?
Normally, when I make a fool of myself this way (yes, sadly, for me this seems to be normal) it is when I am feeling especially smart and showing it off. That is when I usually mess up. I figure it’s the Universe thumping me on the head and keeping me in my place. I must deserve it. But did she?
I went to her and apologized again for hurting her feelings. She pretended not to know what I meant. Then, she said, “Oh! That?! Don’t worry about it!”
I told her I wouldn’t. So I won’t. Not after this anyway. I’m done with it. Not another thought. So help me.