Last night I was at a dinner/birthday party for one of my wife’s dear friends and fellow psychologists. These women have been close friends and have met bi-monthly for over 22 years. From time to time they invite the spouses to a larger get together.
I have to be the first to tell you that these are usually not my favorite get togethers because, even though I enjoy the company of almost all of my wife’s friends in the group, there are a couple of participants in these larger gatherings who tend to dominate the conversation in ways that I will not bore you with here. However this grouping was unique.
As usual the party include other spouses; a retired physician, a semi-retired architect, and a psychiatrist. Our visitor from St. Louis was the birthday “girl’s” step daughter who happened to be a former industrial psychologist and retail store owner who didn’t seem to grasp that a guest should not dominate conversation, even at a party for her step-mom. Everyone knew that I was a teacher except the step daughter. These facts will come into play later.
Unfortunately what started as casual conversation turned for the predictable worse. Psychobabble (to be expected) was balanced for a while with conversation where I could include myself, or when the time arose, use humorous asides to break the tension of not telling the boring or self centered monologists to shut up. We are all way too polite for that but I feel free to use humor to try to create a break and move the conversation long in another direction.
On we went to dinner. Bland, oh so bland. But that is another story. At dinner the conversation turned more interesting and upbeat. It included economics, history, current affairs, and sociology more than psychobabble and as a result I was right in the middle of it. The only sidetracks were the occasional interruptions of pomposity and self centered stories by the usual suspects.
At any rate, while serving birthday cake, the step daughter decided she would compliment the groups dynamic conversation by saying, “This is such an incredible group of intellects. I wish we had some common people with ordinary intellect like,” and then she paused and said, “School teachers.”
Yes. She did.
She did not know that I was one of those mentally challenged school teachers with common, ordinary intellect, and at first I thought I would take it as a compliment (After all there is nothing wrong with good old common sense.) However we all knew it wasn’t meant as a compliment. The moment was filled with both silence and ongoing chatter but we all froze a second.
I said, “Excuse me, but I am a common, ordinary school teacher.” I guess the others looked at me waiting for the explosion, but I didn’t want to embarrass my wife in front of her closest friends, so when this St. Louis interloper simply went on to say without any apology, “Oh? What do you teach?” I was so weirded out that I simply said, “Nothing anymore.” She said, “Oh retired?” I was about to respond again when I heard a couple of the women say, “He teaches the public now.” I simply agreed and calmly said, “ Yes, that is true.” I just sang to myself. “Life went on beyond the palisades, They all bought Cadillacs- And left there long ago.” (Sometimes I revert to song to calm down.)
I was so shocked I failed to respond emotionally. I just let it pass, turned to my wife, and whispered, “common and ordinary intellect?” She took my hand and thanked me.
Where was my inner Taylor Mali?
Later that evening I realized that I had actually done what Taylor had done at the dinner table where he was accosted before he went all Taylor on his provocateur in his poem, What Teachers Make . “I decide to bite my tongue instead of [hers]… because we’re eating, and after all this is polite conversation.” My provocateur wasn’t worth it. She was an ordinary and common boor. She never asked me what I make.