So many thoughts cross one's mind that one never blurts out. Banal thoughts, vulgar thoughts, irrelevant thoughts, inappropriate thoughts. Mean thoughts—and, far worse, covetous thoughts.
Even the most verbally exuberant of us manage to muzzle ourselves many dozens of times in a day, and we get no credit for it at all. Every day there should be a ticker tape parade.
I celebrate my routine forbearance by fondly recalling and even cataloguing the rare happy times when I have blurted out what I was thinking before I had time to think the better of it. I'll share three examples, and hope they'll inspire you to share some of your own.
About twenty years ago, I found myself sitting on a meeting I didn't even belong in, at at publishing company I used to work for. Having become a freelancer for the firm, I happened to be in the office one day when a momentous meeting was taking place concerning the future of one of the firm's publications. On a whim, the president invited me to the meeting in case I would have some insight.
Boy, did I!
The vice president of marketing (who we will call Fran, because the real name is also one syllable) was presiding over the meeting and every other member of the company's top brass was in attendance—physically, but not mentally. The editor of the publication, whose job was on the line and who also seemed to have some insight into the situation, kept trying to speak. But she was shy, and the marketing VP was an unstoppable gasbag. So notorious, in fact, that no one bothered to try to interrupt her anymore. They just let her gas on and on and on and on. Incredulously, I looked over at the top brass. They were entirely checked out—gazing into the middle distance, perhaps re-calculating their mortgages in their heads, or fantasizing about sex.
Someone had to say something. But no one was saying something. And it seemed no one ever would say something. And the marketing VP was still talking. Finally, the beleaguered editor tried to break in on more time. And the marketing VP interrupted her and began on another tangent.
"Fran!" I heard myself shouting at the top of my lungs, somewhere between the "r" and the "n" beginning to wonder what was going to come out of my mouth next. "Shut! The fuck! Up!"
"Oh fuck you," she said, without missing a beat. (Gasbags like Fran are used to getting yelled at, I've noticed.)
And the room exploded into gales of astonished, relieved laughter. Everyone who was there remembers it as if it was yesterday. (Except Fran, probably.)
About ten years ago I was on a golf course, paired up with a stranger. He too liked to talk. He kept bugging me to gamble on the golf. Lots of questions about my life, as if we were on a first date. And shaggy dog stories that he had no chance of concluding before it was time to hit the next shot. And so he would still be talking—to me, or to another of our partners—as we were trying to play.
I didn't realize how much this was getting on my nerves until about 11th hole, when I hit a putt amid his patter, eight feet past the cup. As I walked by him to retreive my errant ball, I heard myself say—while making the talking sign in his face with my thumb as the lower teeth and my fingers as the uppers—"yakety yak yak yak!"
He did not apologize. In fact, he did not say another word for the rest of the round. He, too, gave me the sense that I wasn't the first person who had suggested he stifle it.
The night before Thanksgiving last week, I was driving in unbelievably hideous holiday traffic in search of my daughter's iPhone, which she had left in a fucking yogurt store in the trendy Chicago neighborhood of Bucktown.* No man as lucky as I has ever been in a mood as foul as that, on Thanksgiving Eve. Just then, a hipster—a yuppster, really, who looked like he had been manufactured, beard and all, by the Under 40 Division at L.L. Bean—walked in front of my creeping station wagon and stopped and glared at me. He was pointing to the white lines on the street, which indicate that self-righteous, well-to-do hipsters are allowed to cross in the middle of a block, any time, willy-nilly, and everyone is supposed to stop. (These crosswalks really are for hipsters only. They don't have these lines on the South Side, because they don't have hipsters on the South Side.)
I didn't see him the moment he walked into the street because it was dark and I was probably still bawling out my daughter.
But then I saw him, in plenty of time, and stopped to let him pass.
Alas, I hadn't stopped instantaneously enough for his liking. In fact, he may even have been startled and disillusioned to stroll into the street and find that the world did not pause like a YouTube video.
So he stopped in front of my car and pointed even more dramatically down at the striped hipster crosswalk.
I nodded as if to say: Yes, I see. I stopped. We are good to go, Bro. I mean, Hipster.
Alas, also not good enough! He squared up and thrust his face at me and scrunched up his beard and glared.
His point finally made, he began to proceed across the street.
But now I felt I had a point to make.
I pushed the window button. And once more, the words came to me unbidden.
* My daughter didn't actually leave the phone in a yogurt store in Bucktown. A boy who had spent the evening hitting on her actually took it from the table where they were sitting, and "forgot" to give it back to her. My wife insisted on making the one-hour round trip to the boy's home, for fear of what I might say when I got there. Can you believe that?