Are you ready to humble?
WASHINGTON -- I recently reported that my car had been towed, but the city parking enforcement guy couldn't find it in his records. He said it must have been stolen and told me to call the police.
"It can't have been stolen," I whined.
Why, he asked.
"Because it's a piece of crap," I said.
"Thieves steal crap," he said.
"And it's a stick shift."
"Whoa," he said. This argument seemed more persuasive. Car thieves in my city are often very young and are not known for the versatility of their driving skills. Many thefts are brought to a close literally seconds later, by a tree.
But the cop on the phone wasn't convinced. Probably stolen, he said. He asked me to go outside and write down the address in front of which I had been maybe, possibly technically slightly illegally parked. I did, but when I was walking back to my house, I noticed, in the distance, on a whole separate block. ... Well, you know what I noticed. I had evidently forgotten exactly where I had parked. The ensuing phone conversation was personally humiliating.
I specialize in the personally humiliating. Once, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the following occurred:
I was in the street, waiting on a corner for the light to change, in the middle of a knot of other pedestrians. In my mind I was mulling the details of a play that I was writing, about a female gunshot victim who was paralyzed from the waist down. I'd been searching for a certain line, and finally, right there, at the corner, I figured out what I wanted her to say. I was elated. Then I noticed that the people around me were sort of slowly edging away, giving me a wide berth, as though I had emitted something unpleasant.
Apparently, I had. I realized: I must have said it aloud.
The line was: "I can feel my nipples!"
My moment of greatest humiliation occurred a quarter-century ago in Miami. I don't think I've written about it before, but my friend Dave Barry frequently includes it in his speeches because he is a cruel, cruel man.
At the time I was the editor of Tropic, the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald. Without warning, the door opened and in marched a contingent of harrumphing suits. These were dignitaries, executives from the Herald's parent company, Knight Ridder, on a tour of the various departments of the Herald. (Apparently, I had been forewarned in a memo, but I never read memos.) Apparently also, I was supposed to give them a little spiel on the art and practice of putting out a Sunday magazine. I had prepared nothing, of course.
In desperation, I figured I would just show them what we were working on at the moment, which was a story about a guy who chased hurricanes. We were going to illustrate it in an inventive way: We'd taken a picture of him hanging by his arms from a tree branch. In the magazine, we were going to rotate the photo 90 degrees, so it looked as though he were being held horizontal by a mighty wind.
A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So I was going to show them the picture. Meaning nothing untoward, I called across the room to my art director: "Hey, Philip, can you find that picture of that guy getting blown"?
Instantly, I was struck by the hilarity of what I had just inadvertently uttered, and collapsed face down on my desk, giggling, then crying from mirth. Eventually, I seized control of myself and looked back up, right into the eyes of the suits, who looked comically suit-like and uncomfortable. The humor of the situation struck me anew, and I burst out laughing once more, pounding my desk and gasping for air. When I finally managed to bring myself under control, the suits were ... gone.
That was their tour of Tropic magazine.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.
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