Every morning on my way to work I buy a paper at a newsstand located on the Manhattan-bound 4/5 train platform at Borough Hall. The proprietor of the stand greets me every day with a, "Hello, my friend!"
I adore him. He has the best smile -- dazzling white teeth and just the hint of a dimple in his left cheek. His eyes twinkle with every grin. I look forward to my daily hello along with my copy of the Daily News.
Occasionally he gets forgetful and says to me, "Long time, no see, my friend!" Mind you, he had just greeted me like a lifelong buddy the day before. But no bigs. I don't take it personally. Perhaps I have one of those morphing faces where I look different from day-to-day? Or maybe he just has that many customers where he can't possibly keep track of all of us? To the latter I say, awesome! He works hard and deserves to have a bustling business.
But today I feel bad. Our exchange went a bit awry, you see. He went beyond the usual "Hello, my friend" and chatted a bit while handing me my change. Slightly jarred by the change in our routine and partially deaf due to the din of the subway station, I thought he said, "Yesterday's weather was very, very nice!" So I cheerfully replied, "I know! SOOOOO nice!"
He looked at me with a mixture of surprise and confusion. I didn't understand his reaction but whatevs, who has time to quibble over such things? I wished him a good day and walked over towards the 2/3 platform.
Just as I was about to step on the train, my knees locked and I gasped. I was frozen in a moment of horror and mortification as his thickly-accented words echoed in my head with brand new clarity: "Your dress today is very, very nice!"
Clearly, my foggy, pre-caffeinated mind was operating on a 60-second logic delay. That is SO NOT what I heard during our encounter. Oh.my.God. His perplexed response made so much sense now. Oh.my.God. After he complimented me, I totally said, "I know! SOOOOO nice!" Oh.my.God. What must he think of me?!?!
Well, for one, he must think I'm a complete beaver. An immodest, stuck-up beaver, at that. Oh, the shame! I swear, I'm not a complete beaver! Only a partial one! And that behavior is usually tied to hormonal changes anyway! I'm usually very gracious and well-mannered!
What to do in a case like this? I guess I'll just have to swallow my shame. I can't very well go up to him tomorrow morning and say, "Hey, remember when you complimented my outfit yesterday and you thought I acted like a right cunt? Well, it turns out that my seemingly inappropriate response was due to the fact that I didn't understand you because of your REALLY heavy accent..."
I'll look like an even bigger asshole. And it just won't fly. I have to leave it alone. It's like thinking up a devastating comeback hours after being paid a nasty insult. If you don't issue the proper response within a few seconds, that window of opportunity is slammed and nailed shut forever. You cannot revisit it at a later time or date. You just can't.
Oooh, maybe there's a chance that newspaper guy will think today's snatch was his "Longtime, no see, my friend!" friend, not his daily, "Hello, my friend!" friend. I might be off the hook. Perhaps I can even plant the seed of mistaken identity with a well-executed, "Can you believe the nerve of that conceited asswipe yesterday? Some people have no couth." Desperate and sad, yes, but still, it's worth a shot.