Barbie Shoes

§  Somehow this poor abused specimen of high fashion survived all the heckling and proudly wore her ridiculous shoes to her sister’s wedding.  §

One of my favorite ways of wasting time used to be reading a Lifestyle news section that scoured the Net to find and share entries from interesting personal blogs. They were occasionally thought-provoking; sometimes frightening; often utter baloney; and frequently downright flabbergasting in their complete idiocy. I enjoyed reading them immensely.

In those innocent days (about two decades ago), one could even publicly comment at the end of these shared posts. Although I rarely did so, I clearly remember one of the few posts to which I ever replied.

The young woman who’d written the post was bitterly upset over the treatment she’d received from her family and friends when she and her husband travelled from New York, returning to her rural childhood home so that she could serve as bridesmaid at her sister’s upcoming wedding. This was during the Sex and the City era, when conspicuous consumption of insanely-expensive, foot-breakingly tall high heels was a huge fashion trend. Young Woman had received just such a pair of heels as a gift during the previous holiday season. She’d proudly packed them to wear at her sister’s wedding…to the absolute hilarity of her family.

Now, long before reading this post, I had personally given up wearing anything higher than kitten heels. Pain and then pregnancy had convinced me that wrecking my feet for the sake of fashion was perhaps not one of my brighter behaviors. But this young woman was obviously years from making that rational decision, and so wasn’t taking well her family’s jibes about her overpriced, overly-tall shoes. Worse yet, it seems, they underestimated the price of the shoes (the cost of which could probably have fed a family of four in a Third World nation for two years or more). No, she kvetched, they didn’t even recognize the value of the shoes, and their teasing went beyond good-natured banter; it was abuse.

To add to her distress, when she and her husband had to drop by the hometown Super Big Evil Mart, he was stared at by locals who just didn’t recognize the style and fashion of a great V-neck sweater. More abuse! This particular gripe set me to snickering as I recalled a class reunion and one couple who had returned from New York to our Midwestern city. They stood out as polished and sophisticated, both in dress and mannerisms, from our classmates; and, yes, they received a few stares just for that reason. People tend to gawp at anything unaccustomed or different; it’s simply human nature. But Young Woman obviously hadn’t lived long enough yet to grasp that fact.

Still, somehow this poor abused specimen of high fashion survived all the heckling and proudly wore her ridiculous shoes to her sister’s wedding. She even persuaded the photographer to completely re-arrange the planned family photos to account for her suddenly-taller stature. As I read her pathetic plaints, though, I couldn’t help but recall the lyrics of the very old Lonnie Donegan song, Putting on the Style.  “Putting on the agony, putting on the style/that’s what all the young folks are doing all the while…” This gal was truly obsessed with putting on the style, whatever agony she might have to endure both in her own feet and from the “emotional abuse” she was dealt.

As her bellyaching little post wound down, though, I came to her final paragraphs, which described a comment made to her at the reception by the wedding planner. Describing the wedding planner in extremely unflattering terms that mocked her hairstyle and appearance, Young Woman nevertheless proudly recounted the planner’s compliment to her at the close of the day, “You really rocked those shoes!”

Wait a damn minute…. This Young Woman had wasted perhaps 800 words’ worth of my time with her moans, groans, complaints and kvetches about how much abuse she’d endured—and the one person, the one person in this entire scenario who compliments her, she herself abuses with belittling remarks about appearance? The word irony came strongly to mind…

There was, of course, a photo of her “ruby slippers” attached to this post. Glancing at them, I wondered how much Young Woman would someday need to pay a podiatrist  to repair the wrecked bones, muscles and tendons of her feet. Then I scrolled through the comments, most of which admired the shoes, while a few sympathized with Young Woman for the terrible mistreatment she’d endured. Others were scathing in their responses to her pathos.  None, though, mentioned her ironic insults of the kind wedding planner.

I simply couldn’t resist. Pressing the Reply button, I left, as I said, one of the very few comments I ever added to one of these entertaining Lifestyle posts. It was brief, pointed and pithy:

“Nice shoes, Barbie. But you really need to get over yourself.”

24 Hours Too Late

Mark Twain famously said that “Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.”

He was right.

I shopped at a bookstore one day with a man I was dating; he wanted to buy a new Bible. We walked up an aisle filled with dizzying arrays of Bibles in a dozen different translations.  New International Version.  New Living Translation.  New American Standard. New Revised Standard.  New Jerusalem.  He darted from one to another, uncertain which to buy.

“I’ve always preferred the King James version myself,” I commented, “just because it’s so poetic.” He cast me a disdainful look and snapped, “That’s why you don’t understand the Bible.”

(And let me just say right here that it is absolutely NOT true that I was ever arrested for boyfriend homicide.)

Much too late, I realized I could have responded that, no, the problem was that HE didn’t understand poetry. My delayed realization just proves the accuracy of Twain’s quote.

If I had a time machine, I suspect I would wear it out going back to make all the superb, cutting, decisive responses that I just couldn’t think of at the time. I’ve wondered, though, why it is that most of us can’t conjure up this brilliant badinage when we genuinely need it.  And I think that I have hit on at least a possible answer – something I recall having read long ago in an article about the gulf between what we anticipate and what actually happens.

When we have trouble with a quick response, it’s because what was said to us is not what we expected. The veiled insult, the subtle snub, the snarky remark, the witty but utterly cutting and devastating quip – we spend a few seconds simply flabbergasted as our brain tries to rewire itself in response to the unexpected.  While perhaps it isn’t true of the most recent generation, in years past, most of us were raised to be at least superficially polite. Consequently, we assume that people in social situations will at least pretend to be polite. Coming up against a contradiction to that assumption requires a split second of adjustment – and in a social situation, a split second can be quite a long time.

This is the same sort of reaction that a teenage clerk has when, having told a customer that the total price of his purchase is $9.17, is handed $20.17 in payment. As the young clerk stares at the money in confusion for a second, the mature customer gloats over the clerk’s ignorance. But the  young clerk is not unintelligent; he is bewildered for just a moment because the money handed to him is not what he expected.  He expected to be handed a ten or a twenty or even exact change. An extra neuron or two has to fire before he makes the connection to the fact that the customer wants only paper money, not coins, in change.

I’ve heard this explanation advanced, too, as the reason that we stare for a moment or two at a person who has a physical difference – a birthmark, a facial scar, something we perceive as outside the norm. Our brains simply take an extra split second to make the adjustment to what our eyes have perceived, resulting in that graceless additional moment in our glance—a nanosecond that is interpreted by others as a rude stare.  It takes just seconds for our social awareness to kick in, reminding us that staring is impolite, but that is long enough to irritate others and infect us with guilt for what was no more than an involuntary reaction.

Returning to the question of repartee, I’ll never be any good at it. I worship those people with the ability to process a nasty remark and return some brilliantly-worded riposte with barely a pause.  My own retorts usually take weeks to evolve.

But let me just say it here and now: Morris, you don’t understand a damned thing about poetry.