Friday, March 13, 2009

Such is the life of a klutz.

Finally, I understand why I never loved Lucy.

Every family has its own drama, and its own cast of characters. Primadonna. Martyr. Instigator. Patriarch. Enabler. Control freak. Mediator. Victim. Headcase. Drama queen. Nurturer. Peace maker. Black sheep. Saint. These familial action figures don't come in a complete set, but every family has at least one. One individual you can always count on to behave a certain way, causing everyone else to react as they invariably do, thereby triggering the comfortable dysfunctional pattern that, for better or for worse, feels like family time.

In my family, I have always been the klutz. I suspect I had gross motor delays as a child. (In those days, these things weren't diagnosed or labeled). I remember cut and paste assignments in kindergarten and first grade as messy, humiliating torture. Your hands got sticky and gross and you could never cut along the lines and your work looked lousy and... and... how DID those other little girls cut and paste so neatly anyway? I'd try to wash all the paste off my hands and run home – once again, without my sweater. I have forgotten countless sweaters in my day - probably enough to fill your nearest Benetton.

As I grew, the flake-fest continued. There was the time I got cast as Max in Where the Wild Things Are by my modern dance teacher and forgot to show up at the church where we were supposed to perform. The Wild Things gyrated gamely without me, and the audience was told to pretend I was there.

One New Year's Eve, my parents had a party, and my mother asked me to pass around the caviar canapes. I managed to unload a few of them before I tripped and plopped the whole platter upside down on the floor. Eventually, "maman" declared me incompetent and would only ask my younger sister for help. The fact that this hurt my feelings never came up. I was relegated to tasks that couldn't possibly jeopardize the carpet. But I got back at the stupid carpet, the time I stepped in dog doo and tracked it all the way up the stairs.

My clumsiness became family folklore. Whenever we got together with my grandparents, someone would bring up one of my special moments. It was always good for a laugh. By then, I had learned that the best way to keep people from making fun of you is to beat them to it. So when the family would all get together at my parents' summer cottage, I'd trot out my greatest hits.

The Accidental Cleaning: I let the dishes pile up in the sink way too long. Out of dishwasher soap, I put laundry soap in the dishwasher. Five minutes later, the kitchen is knee-deep in bubbles, leaving me no choice but to clean the kitchen. Since it takes every towel in the linen closet to dry the linoleum, I decide to do the laundry. Thirsty from all the effort, I reach into the fridge for a pitcher of tomato juice and miss, spilling TJ everywhere. Which is how I finally get around to cleaning the refrigerator.

The Amateur Plumber: My husband and I are on the road and by the time we find a motel, it's very late. The toilet won't stop making noise, but we really aren't up to changing rooms. Drawing upon mechanical skills I never knew I had, I rip a plastic bag into strips, which I tie together to make a rope. I then loop my makeshift rope around the little metal arm inside the toilet tank and secure it to a towel rack, thereby generating the sweet sound of silence. When the toilet breaks a few minutes later, we still don't hear it: I'm too busy bragging about my newfound aptitude for engineering. We're just noticing the soggy carpet when the front desk calls: Is everything OK? Because it's raining in the room below us.

Baptism by Caffeine: I'm on the top deck of a ferry, drinking coffee with with my better half. The air is bracing, the coffee's warm, and I'm getting so animated, I start talking with my hands. Suddenly, there's an indignant mewling sound from the deck below. A young couple stands directly beneath us, a tiny baby wailing in the woman's arms. He's dripping wet from the coffee I just spilled on his sweet little head. A boatload of complete strangers stares up at me with concentrated loathing.

Bread Alert: Over a lovely, romantic dinner in a Maine country Inn, my husband asks me to pass the bread. Which I do, dipping the straw basket just a little too close to the lovely, romantic candle and setting the basket on fire. In the interest of public safety, I douse the flames with my water glass.

Somehow, I've made it to middle age. Along the way, I've had countless fender benders, pulled out of the grocery store parking lot with the grocery bags on top of the car, gotten appointments wrong by a week, a day, an hour or a street address, worn clothing inside-out, forgotten my purse at airport security and left a yellow diamond pendant as an unintended tip for an excellent massage. I've actually developed some coping mechanisms. I obsessively check my belongings when I travel. I have a sixth sense about when I'm going to be distracted behind the wheel, and make a point of concentrating on my driving. I'm partial to very large key chains jangling with keys I no longer use. This makes my keys cumbersome, noisy and harder to lose. I wish I could impart some of these tricks to my children, but they prefer to learn from experience.

I have a son who once took our yorkie for a walk, tied the little guy up outside so he and his friend could go to Starbucks and then walked home without the dog. Fortunately, the poor creature was still there when the boys went back for him. As for my daughter, lets just say she's a lot like me, minus the mechanical aptitude. I am deeply sorry that I have passed on my unfortunate je ne sais quoi to both of my kids. At least their mother doesn't think it's funny.

P.S. Last night, I prepared a recession dinner of noodles, salad and a big bowl of turkey chile for four, which I heated in the microwave. Halfway between the counter and the microwave, I dropped the bowl. You'd have to do a scientific experiment to determine which splatters farther - pyrex or turkey chile. Both were EVERYWHERE. I was reminded of a guy I once met whose job was analyzing the debris pattern from plane crashes to help determine what went wrong. Anyway, I dashed into town to get us some takeout, while my long-suffering husband cleaned up most of the mess without me. By the time it occurred to him that a photograph of the chili debacle would be the perfect companion to this blog entry, it was too late: the floor was spotless. You'll just have to make do with another shot of Lucille.


Anonymous said...

Ouch. (Very funny stuff.)

ERC said...

Oh, Freddie --

When I do those klutzy things, I think how difficult they would be to do, if you actually tried to do them.

How did that paring knife manage to bounce to just the little corner where you couldn't reach it without moving the refrigerator? How did I manage to knock over a glass of wine AND spill a bowl of hot food while reaching for my fork?

Spilling hot coffee on a baby's head is a great example of such a move. If someone told you, "Now, just TRY to spill your coffee in such a way that it lands right on that baby's soft little head," why, you couldn't do it!

Thanks for the grins!

Marilyn Richardson said...

Just brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I, too, was born under the sign of Klutz. You remember the weird ditty that Laverne and Shirley used to chant at the start of that TV show long ago and far away? It included "shlemiel" and "schlimazel," which it turned out were Yiddish for (more or less) "jerk" and "rotten luck guy." For some reason, I really had to know what those words meant and eventually was told the key: a "shlemiel" is a waiter who spills the soup; a "schlimazel" is the customer upon whom the soup is spilled. When I finally knew the answer, it was demoralizing since I'd been both.