I’m 48 so it’s safe to say I might be half way though my time on this planet and I’ve been wondering something since I was about eight or ten.
When am I going to become sophisticated?
Grace, maturity, elegance, refinement have all eluded me my entire life. I’ve had the good fortune to possess athleticism, good humor and some brains but that air of culture and urbane sophistication has completely eclipsed my personal development. It’s not like I’m a buffoon, tripping from one mishap to another ala Mr. Magoo. It’s more of subtle lack of charm punctuated by a few epic moments of utter cringeworthy uncouthness.
My first year of ballet lessons (I was about six) ended with a pageant. Each class danced. My class did a re-enactment of dancing poodles. We had an odd number in our group so I danced alone in the center amid dancing poodles pairs. At some point during our 2 minute routine, I decided as the solo dancing poodle, I must be the Star Poodle. When it came time to take our bow, I decided the Star Poodle should be in front of the rest of the poodles and I stepped over the floor light at the front of the stage–and found myself trying to balance on a 2-inch ledge. My Prima Ballerina attitude disappeared when my teacher hauled me off my perch for a good scolding while the other poodles made graceful little plies and bows.
I started high school in eighth grade (we had a very small high school). The layout of the building was unofficially designated by areas of cool and uncool. The front hall was where all the seniors sat after lunch. As an eighth grader, there was no way I should have even been in the front hallway–we were relegated to the back hall but there I was, trying to be suave and casual, leaning on the brick wall watching the cool seniors. I’m sure I was thinking I could get away with it because my oldest sister was a senior and she wouldn’t send me away. I decided to emphasize my suave and casual look by crossing my ankles as I leaned, hoping I would be seen as so sophisticated that all would forget I was a nerdy 8th grader. Alas, it was not to be. I started to slip down the wall after I crossed my ankles. Instead of uncrossing, I tried to maintain the pose by scootching back on my heels and somehow ended up doing a really bad combo of the Can-Can/Russian cossack dance that ended quite badly only after I got each senior’s attention. My sister still laughs at that one.
And then there was the time I tried to pull off a certain ease of refinement that failed so obviously that I can barely relate it but here goes: I was a papergirl in high school–people got their papers but I was dismal about turning in my collection–so bad that my route money had to be picked-up by the boss. It didn’t make him happy to to drive up my driveway to collect the paper money, especially in the winter when the driveway was coated in ice so I ran out to meet him. Just as I handed him the envelope, I slipped on the ice and ended up lying on my back on the side of the driveway. I thought the best way to handle that was to casually continue my conversation as though I always slid to a lying position while being yelled at for not turning in paper route money. He just stared at me in shocked disgust as I breezily chatted away. Then he backed down the driveway. It still makes me cringe.
Sadly,I haven’t grown out of my inelegance. I have discovered more times than I care to admit that my fly is undone or I’ve been riding with my bike helmet on backwards (can you believe it?) I do see that much of it is little things that most people do and laugh at themselves. Still, occasionally I really ding the bell of the Uncharmed-For-Life.
My latest? Well it’s uncomfortable, that’s for sure. It was a Friday night, I was all dressed up and driving to my youngest son’s school fundraiser. My husband was driving from work–not a problem, I didn’t mind arriving solo but I did miss my dearest for a very important reason. I couldn’t zip up my dress all the way. It was one of those fitted dresses that gapped in the middle of the back when I tried to zip it. Unfortunately I don’t have a maid or super flexible arm sockets so I decided to wear a little cardigan over my half-zipped dress and have my husband discreetly zip me up when I got there.
Of course none of that happened. This is what happened: the dress started unzipping as I walked across the parking lot. My husband hadn’t yet arrived so my temporary solution was to stretch my short little cardigan beyond it’s breaking point until I could get into the ladies room. Of course I was stopped at the reception table. By the headmaster’s wife who is pleasant and friendly but we’ve just never had any exchange deeper than, “Hi! How are you?”
I was in a panic about how much I was gaping in back so I had no idea what she was saying to me but it definitely appeared she was leaning in for a hug. What could I do? I couldn’t snub her! I had to get it over as quickly as possible so I pushed my chin onto her shoulder and gave her this incredibly awkward, lower-arm-with-elbows-tucked, handicapped embrace with my hands still clutching the sweater. Thankfully she went with it but gave me such a look after the painfully long moment and said, “I just wanted to know if you wanted the steak or fish?” I really don’t remember what I answered. How’s that for elegance?