Sunday, April 10, 2022

The most embarrassing moment

I wrote this piece about ten years ago. Still the most embarrassing moment of my life.

My mother was somewhat of a snob. Not intellectually, for sure. Not even socially, for the most part. She was a high school graduate who made good by marrying a career military officer. From her position of safety, she was free to cast judgment upon others. And she taught her daughters well to do likewise.

"Tacky" was an especially dismissive term reserved for artwork in a house that differed from what she liked, unattractive wardrobe accessories worn by others, the exterior maintenance of a house that was other than what she would have done. "That is so tacky" was the ultimate scornful statement.

One of the most scorned yard treatments when we lived in Southern California was plastic flamingos on a front lawn. Whether a solitary bird or a flock, all of us pointed and laughed when we saw them. In our family it was almost like looking for license plates from different states while you're on a road trip. "Oh, look! SIX flamingos over there." Heads swiveled as we took in the tackiest of tacky sights.

As is usually the case, I strove mightily to cast off my mother's less attractive teachings. I didn't gossip, didn't speak harshly to family members, and reserved the silent treatment for only the most deserving situations. 

Many years later I had moved away from California and now lived in Washington State. I obtained a professional degree and was employed in a respected occupation with a salary that provided me with more than the necessities of life. I worked for a company that developed software programs for the educational institutions' administrative needs - for example, payroll, financial accounting and student scheduling. From time to time I would be sent into the field to train people on how to use the features of the software.

On one project, we had worked for several years to develop a new financial system and it was time to train the first district on its use. The suite of applications was called WISE (Washington Information Systems for Education). As a person logged into the system, a blinking owl greeted them (you know how an owl is WISE). It was in the days before graphics were sophisticated; back then the pictures were created using the characters on a word processor.

I drove to Puyallup to spend the day with the accounts payable clerk in the school district office. I'd been told she was reluctant to be changing how she did her work, so I wanted to approach her with compassion and a bit of humor to make the process easier. Her name was Darla, and I found her in a tiny office in the back of the building. I sat down with her and showed her how to log on. The computer was slow that day and the little blinking owl displayed for an unusually long time. To break the silence I said, "What do you think of the owl?" Darla said, "It's all right". I lowered my voice conspiratorially and said, "I think it's a little tacky myself - you know, like flamingos on someone's front lawn." 

And Darla said….

Yep. She said, "I have flamingos on my lawn."

I looked for a table to crawl under, but couldn't find one. Instead, I excused myself and slunk to the restroom.

I try to learn from my mistakes, so I have told that story many times. It was the most embarrassing moment of my life. Even more than when I had a tail of toilet paper tucked into my pantihose at work. And not just the toilet paper. The back of my dress. That probably happens to everyone at some point. When I talk about my horrible flamingo faut pas, I get to remember all over again that I was tackier that morning in Puyallup than a yard full of flamingoes ever could have been.

When we redid our yard several years later, I put a metal pink flamingo into the ground in the side yard, to remind myself. I wonder if people laugh when they drive by.