I’ve Done All the Dumb Things

10 August 2016

Mrs Lindsay, my beloved English and History teacher, was a complete legend in my mind and one of the people responsible for me having the courage to pursue a career in the arts. So, imagine how thrilled I was when Mrs. Lindsay sought me out after the show, crushed me in a gigantic hug and told me how proud she was. We quickly arranged to meet in the staff room for coffee and a long overdue catch up on old times.

Entering the staff room a bit later I looked around nervously, expecting a heavy hand to come down on my shoulder at any moment and a voice to bellow in my ear, “Harris, what do you think you’re doing in here! Get back to class!” but no such reproach came and I was free to roam the hallowed corridors of the infamous teacher’s quarters, just as if I were a real adult and everything!

As soon as Mrs. Lindsay and I had settled into the hard grey plastic chairs at a long rectangular table littered with NW magazines, dirty coffee mugs and stale teddy bear biscuits, we began catching up on what each other had been doing for the past twenty odd years. Our subsequent trip down memory lane started out pleasant enough, but at a certain point Mrs. Lindsay dropped a little bombshell on me that made me regret ever having been naive enough to think that I’d left my schoolgirl persona behind me forever. I was telling her how much I used to enjoy her habit of going off on tangents, telling us funny stories about her childhood, in the middle of a lesson on The Sumerians, when Mrs. Lindsay suddenly laughed, saying, “I’ll always remember you mixing up a metaphorical dog with Timmy the dog from The Famous Five.”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “That was pretty stupid wasn’t it?”

I paused and waited for her inevitable reassurance that it was no dumber than thousands of other comments from students she’d taught over her thirty or so years in the business, but sadly for me, it was not to come.

“Yes,” she nodded thoughtfully, “it was weird. You were always bright academically but then you’d come out with some of the dumbest comments I’d ever heard at times.”

Oh, right. Well, Mrs. Lindsay, you stunk like a frigging ashtray dipped in B.O. at times, so how about them apples!

Of course I didn’t say that, just nodded and laughed along. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me. She was right! The more I thought about her comment, the more examples I managed to come up with of my knack for opening my mouth and letting words escape before I could stop them. My biggest clue that this was probably a widely held opinion should really have been the quote under my year 12 Yearbook, which simply read, “I don’t understand.”

Please, let me explain.

Like – I would assume – most students, there were times over the course of twleve years of schooling when something explained by a teacher, or a dirty joke relayed by a friend at recess, might not have been fully comprehended by those present. The difference between most of those kids and myself was that I would frown and pipe up with a loud, “I don’t understand”, desperate to be enlightened instantly, whereas the majority of my peers would simply think those words, vowing to find out the meaning later at a less public and humiliating time.

It’s as if there’s always been this little person waaaaaay back in the corner of my brain jumping up and down, waving their arms around screaming “Don’t say what you’re about to say! Just stop talking! It’s not a good move, trust me!” and there’s another, bigger little person right at the front near my mouth that simply looks back over their shoulder, roll their eyes and goes ahead anyway. Not dissimilar to something you might do when you’re at a party, someone is being loud and obnoxious and you look back at them then turn to your mate and say “Oh, ignore them, they’re just showing off”.

Once I arrived home and began to obsess over (my less beloved now) Mrs. Lindsay’s offhand remark, I started adding up my other, similar verbal faux pas over the years:

  1. Ten-years-old, walking with my best friend and her younger sister, when two older girls block our way on the footpath and begin calling us every name under the sun. My friends put their heads down and try to keep up the pace to get to their house, which is only a few metres away at this point, but I stop, turn to the bullies and ask, “Why are you like this? Is there something wrong in your life?” I genuinely want to know because it completely baffles me as to why these girls would begin harassing complete strangers with no provocation. They, however, are not particularly impressed by my obviously advanced psychological skills at such a young age, choosing instead to punch me square in the face.
  2. When it comes to sex, there is a whole world of questions I should have kept to myself. The first and most notable is the day a boy on a bike propositions me as he rides past, and I immediately go home to my mother and ask, “What’s a root?” I am twelve and should probably know better.
  3. When I am about fifteen, a group of my friends are discussing the Pope (Who knows why – we certainly aren’t a religious lot by any stretch of the imagination) when I casually remark that I saw him on TV arriving somewhere and falling over as soon as he got off the plane. After the laughter subsides I am informed, between snorts, that part of the Pope’s ritual upon arrival in a new country is to kiss the ground.
  4. When my fifteen-year-old boyfriend and his best mate make some suggestive comments to my best friend and I about “grabbing some Frenchies for us to use when we got home”, I comment, with a furrowed brow, “but I don’t speak French.”

Unfortunately my slow-wittedness hasn’t always been limited to what comes out of my mouth. There have also been quite a few questionable actions on my behalf that have gotten me into trouble over the years. Some of these include, in quick succession:

  • Shaving my toes when I was a teenager – subsequently having to continue the habit on a regular basis ever since
  • Discovering that the engine of my Datsun 120Y is on fire and driving it straight into a petrol station and pulling up right next to a petrol bowser
  • Spending a whole year eating less than appetising salad sandwiches at work before my housemate informs me that I have been making them with cabbage instead of lettuce
  • Wanting a late night snack and heating up some leftover fried rice in the oven – in it’s plastic container
  • Pulling a tampon out of my handbag instead of a cigarette in front of my brand new boyfriend’s gang of mates
  • Asking my husband if it’s possible to make payments on my credit card online
  • Crashing my boyfriend’s cherished panel van into six parked cars on the opposite side of the road when I have only had my license for three weeks.

I’d like to say that the days of dumb-arse comments and questions are mostly behind me, but no.

My husband and I were flicking around Foxtel’s movie channels the other night and came across Avatar. It was about an hour into the film and we’d seen it at the movies ages ago, but I was having a bit of trouble remembering some of the details. Ignoring the little voice shouting at the back of my head, I turned to my husband and asked, “Is this supposed to be a different planet that they’re on?” only to have him turn, stare at me and turn away with a slow shake of the head. I think it’s fairly safe to say that the poor man has given up by now.

All that I can hope for is his memories of my numerous faux pas’ fading into oblivion as the years go by. The last thing I need in my old age is a husband with a memory as sharp as that self-satisfied old bat, Mrs. Lindsay.


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