(Another excerpt from 3 Pairs of Shoes, coming out in November of 2014.)
Lisa, my dad, and I went to the car rental place to fix a problem with the bill. I’m not a fan of face-to-face interaction when problems need solved, because I tend to get frustrated trying to find the correct sounding words to keep the employee calm and still efficiently working to solve the problem. Since it was just a bill correction, I had it in my mind that we would need 5 to 10 minutes to fix the bill, and that we needed it in writing. As we arrived, I was uneasy, but focused. After all, it was my fault the bill was messed up because I had failed to ask the right questions in the first place. Today, I was set to ask these questions.
As we walked into the car rental office, Lisa and my dad went into stealth mode. Slightly flummoxed by the change in their behavioral pattern, I approached the counter with my first sentence ready. Through some sort of social people ESP, Lisa and Dad had an entire conversation of their own, and then took their positions. Dad took a position behind me to my right. Lisa approached the counter with me, to my left, but far enough away to seem uninvolved. I stood front and center.
I don’t remember who verbally spoke first, but I remember thinking, “Let’s get this over with. Fix the bill, get it in writing, leave.” As I sorted through my mental filofax of vocabulary to find the most efficient way to ask for what I wanted, Lisa started to casually fidget with her paperwork while dawning a big, Hollywood smile. Her fidgeting caught my attention because it wasn’t her normal fidgeting, It was actually a calculated distraction for the worker behind the counter (which I figured out after the explosion of events that came next).
I squeezed a few words out, feeling small and out of place. Out of nowhere, my dad starts in from the right, does some hand gesture dance, and asks the man, “Where did you go to college?” Inside, I panic. Wait, who said he went to college? What if he didn’t go to college? What the hell does that have to do with fix the bill, get it in writing, leave?
What the hell does that have to do with fix the bill, get it in writing, leave?
Before I was done panicking, the worker goes into his story, while my dad egged him on with more out of place questions. I became so overwhelmed with thought and feeling, I stepped back from the counter. My dad steps to the counter to lean on his right arm, but never fills my space. As the conversation progressed, the second worker stops what he is doing to join in the conversation. I kept waiting for these guys to start singing their Alma Maters and cheerleaders to come running in to band music.
Then, Lisa chimes in with a few questions of her own, and used acknowledging words like “oh yea?” and “you’ve got that right.” and “you college boys!” all while still wearing a smile. At first, I thought these were just small talk words, but then I realized she acted as a component that set the conversational rhythm and mood. Somehow, Lisa and my dad had come in like social cooperative hunters in order to bring the room under their control. I was amazed.
…I was just standing there like an unplugged kitchen appliance.
Soon, the room was filled with conversation and I was just standing there like an unplugged kitchen appliance. I started to worry that this quick office visit was going to turn into a dinner invitation at our condo, and yet another unrelated person my kids would grow to call Uncle because he was over at our house so much. Now, my fear of this lasting more than 10 minutes was diminished by my fear that this could last a lifetime.
Quickly I reorganized my brain and tried to refocus on the directive – get the bill fixed, get it in writing, leave – but I failed. By this time, the conversation had turned into a morris code of syllables, accompanied by bursts of laughter, and the backbeat of Lisa’s calculated fidgeting, which by now incorporated her iPhone and probably a post to social media. Everyone seemed happy with this arrangement, so I stepped back from the commotion, and became a spectator. I tried to eek out some small talk, but all my words did was bring the conversation to a grinding halt, which then my dad brought back to life with talk about various US cities and some strange story about airports and door locks.
A few mouse clicks later, we were leaving. Everyone said their good-byes, and we headed out to our rental van. In the brief walk from the door to the van, the silence gave me a moment to release my mind. I sighed and then I turned to Lisa and said, “I don’t know what just happened in there, but we still didn’t get it in writing.”