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Being a Ridiculous Person is Hard

January 30, 2017

Everyone loves to watch that character in a movie or tv show…….Bridget Jones or Leslie Knope or Liz Lemon…….the one that bumbles through life saying outrageous things and making horrible mistakes.

Being that person in real life is not a tip toe through the tulips. Sometimes it’s merely embarrassing. Sometimes it means your child’s teacher thinks you’re a nut case. Sometimes it means you spend 2 nights in an Israeli Detention Center.

And sometimes, like last Thursday it means you get “let go” on the spot from a job you already quit.

Thursday morning I uttered the word, “smart ass,” on the altar of a beautiful, old Catholic church in front of the entire school of 5-15 year olds, parents, and teachers and probably the priest.

How does one find oneself cursing on the altar of a church, you might ask?

Well, here’s what happened.

I love public speaking and I’m good at it. I’ve always loved it. Even when I was a shy teenager, I loved reading at mass and later excelled at debate. At my now-previous job I had occasion to give presentations to schools for one of our fundraisers. I loved doing it. I loved getting the young kids all excited and explaining to them what we do. High schoolers were the hardest because they give you no reactions but I liked talking to them too.

So, when my co-worker said she was a little reluctant to give a presentation herself after her first one was not so great….and she asked me if I would do the next one so she could observe……..I said, “Sure. I’d love to.”  It was at a Catholic school. In the church. After mass.

I arrived in the middle of mass and sat in the back pew with my bag of swag. It was a beautiful church. You could see that it had recently been restored, the gold stars shining beneath vintage-looking lighting fixtures. I wondered how old it was.

As the mass went on, students of all ages went to the lectern and read something. I thought about how smart that was, to get kids accustomed to speaking in front of others.

I was extemporaneously writing my speech in my head as I observed.

After mass, there were awards for a geography bee given out and general announcements, including what was for lunch that day.

It was finally time for me to get up there.

I said hello, I asked if anyone knew how old the church was (they didn’t), I mentioned the public speaking thing and talked about the feeling you get in your gut and your throat when you get in front of people.

I congratulated them on being the top earning school in all the schools who participate. They seemed excited and proud. I was doing great. I was personable and engaging. I was giving the best speech of my life!

I started to give them examples of what the money they raised provided. This much buys 2 of these, this much buys a month’s worth of that etc…

And then I began to tell a little story that I had told the last couple of times I gave one of these talks. It supposed to go something like this:


Everyday at X, I see the impact of what we do. Sometimes, I’m walking through the lobby, going to get coffee and I see someone sitting on the couch waiting to be helped. And they have this look on their face, like they’ve just been given the worse news of their lives. They’re scared and nervous. It reminds me of the look my mom had when she went for her first chemotherapy treatment. She was biting her nails and so nervous. But when they come out of their meeting and they’re leaving the office, they looked relieved. Like they know they’re not alone. They have help and support and hope. That’s what we do. We give people hope. And your contribution, no matter how small has that direct impact on people’s lives. 

That’s how it’s supposed to go.

However, for some reason when I got to the part about walking through the lobby, instead of just saying, “getting some coffee,” I added, “and joking with the receptionists….” And then something in my stupid, Tourettes-like brain wanted to add just one more description to emphasis the lightheartedness I have when I’m walking through the lobby so as to more drastically juxtapose the mood to the person sitting on the couch who is having a very bad day. So, I added, “and being a smart ass.”

When that word came out of my mouth, there was an audible gasp from the entire church. Little kids, teenagers, adults…..they all looked at me in horror as if the devil himself were coming out of my eyeballs.

I instantly felt the consequence of my slip. I apologized. I joked that I would need to say Hail Mary’s as a punishment. I apologized again. But I had to keep going. At that moment I was an ice skater who had just fallen hard on her ass after attempting a triple salcow. I had to finish the routine.

So, I continued on, I kept talking about my mom and how we give people hope. I was trying to bring them back around. I took out an item that represents one of the most important services we provide, passionately speaking about how important it was to the people we serve.

But I could see they were still reeling from the fact that I said, “smart ass.” Two girls had not stopped giggling and one woman in front continued to give me a look reserved for only the worst of humanity.

Acknowledging the elephant in the room I said after I had just about wrapped up, “You know of all the embarrassing things I have done in my life…and I’ve done quite a few…..this one is going to go down as the most memorable.”

Ba-doom-ching. Nothing. Crickets. 

I got off the stage and jokingly said to the woman who had introduced me, who seemed to be the only person smiling, “I’m gonna get fired.”

“No…it’s fine,” she said. “You’re in church. We forgive you.”

I met my co-worker at the back of the church, her eyes bulging in disbelief. I walked out to the car laughing and hating myself for being so stupid.

When I got back to work, I didn’t quite know what to do. Should I tell my boss? Should I wait to see if she says something to me. Was it really all that bad, or just fodder for a funny-Marie story? So, I went to my work-confident and said, “Can we have lunch. I think I did something really bad.”

I confessed over lunch and her continued, “don’t worry about it…it’s going to fine” mantra was scaring me. I had really done it this time.

By that afternoon, I could tell by the reaction of my two co-workers that I had to get ahead of it and go tell our boss. When I walked into her office and asked if I could close the door, she directed me the adjacent conference room for more distance. I knew she had already heard. As I closed the door I said, “I guess you already know.”

“Yep,” she said. She was furious.

Turns out, I had no sooner gotten into my car and turned the key of my ignition before an e-mail went out to parents saying I don’t know what…..that someone said smart ass on the altar? That I shamed myself, my employer and House Atreides by my horrible acts? Doesn’t matter. The affect was extreme. The founders of the organization, people I like and respect, had been informed. A two-hour meeting had been convened and though I already had one foot out the door, the rest of me was shoved off.

“Today has to be your last day,” she said.

I admitted to my boss that honestly, I was not upset that the word “smart ass,” was said to a group of kids. Everybody knows those kids have heard way worse at their homes and on the playground. There are some real, honest-to-goodness, serious problems in this world and this doesn’t even qualify in my book. But, I did admit that I was very sorry that I had put her in such a position and I was even more regretful that I caused two people that I like and respect to think badly of me and have to face the ridiculousness of handling angry parents from one of our biggest supporters.

As I walked out, tears in my eyes……I chastised myself. You stupid, ridiculous train wreck. You had one job. All I had to do was not say that one word and I would have rocked it. If only I could go back to getting up this morning and give this day a do-over.

Was it a huge mistake?…..saying “smart ass” when I shouldn’t have. Meh…..but like the time I dropped my passport on the tarmac in Germany, the context of this seemingly innocuous screw up had consequences exponentially larger than any other circumstance.

Telling the story to my son he responded, “That’s hilarious.”

“It’s really not,” I said. “No, no…you’re right. It is hilarious.” And we laughed.

My favorite reaction was Mr. Canada’s.

“I’m a ridiculous person,” I lamented to him, worried that he would get an all too realistic glimpse of the farce that is my life. There is no wizard. It’s just me, fumbling through life, trying to stay alive and out of jail, maintain friendships, and keep a job and not always succeeding.

“I love that you’re ridiculous,” he said. “I love that you’re a little messy and you leave your shoes everywhere. I love that you’re clumsy. I love everything about you, just as you are, you silly woman.”

Just what I needed to hear.

Well, nothing like a horribly embarrassing mistake followed by a letting go to motivate you to pack up all your belongings and drive across the country to a new life.

Maybe I can be a different person over there in the rain and cold. Maybe I can get my act together and be responsible and successful and never say the wrong thing or lock myself out or drop my passport. Maybe I can become popular and loved by everyone I encounter.

Meh…..who am I kidding? Look out Portland, here comes a Cajun smart ass with a gift for the ridiculous. You’ve been warned.


From → Rantings

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