Wednesday, March 23, 2011

absit iniuria verbis: duos

And then there was the time....

I was a young Air Force wife.  We belonged to the Non-Commissioned Officer's Club where we could join other couples for dinners, cocktails, dances and social events.  The wives had an auxiliary social group that met during the day for luncheons that would feature an educational speaker, community service projects and charitable fund raising efforts.  At the end of the club year, we held a banquet to record and applaud our successes, elect committee chairwomen, and give awards for achievements.

The club photographer gathered us all on stage for a group photo.  We stood, row-by-row, shoulder-to-shoulder, refreshed our lipstick, straightened skirts, tucked blouses, grimaced to each other to check for a lodged poppy seed or pepper flake in our teeth, and then posed.  A much older woman --the wife of a senior-ranking non-com officer --who was standing next to me wore a white pullover knitted sweater.  As she smoothed down her front I spied a dark black hair on her bosom.  I delicately reached over to snatch it and just as the photographer was putting us in focus, I gingerly and effectively tugged.

"OUCH!" she loudly exclaimed!  I startled and froze with the short curly hair pinched between my still extended thumb and forefinger that just seconds before had been attached to her chest.  Too embarrassed to comment, I lowered my hand turned and faced the photographer and smiled.

That was a case of not knowing what to say.  Here's one of saying it all just plain wrong.

In high school, before Stephen and I were dating, but were getting better acquainted, I quickly learned that he was very well read--often admiring him quoting entire passages from Shakespeare, lines of poetry, or pages from classic literary works.  I was impressed; after all, I was a reader, carried honors level English lit classes, and we had a respectable library in my family home where books were considered especially important and valued when we were growing up. I was glad that I was at least familiar with Hamlet and Polonius, and could return with such quotes as, "To thine own self be true" and "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

Stephen would frequently walk me to my locker between classes, and we'd chat before the bell rang.  In those early days, he would tell short, lively, and captivating stories of his time living in Cyprus until the war.  He recounted adolescent thrills of being a refugee and his efforts to come to the United States without his parents but with two siblings in tow.  I was growing more and more attracted to him.  (See the Do You Like My Hat blog entry.)  We also quietly shared knowing that the teacher whose French language class he was walking me to each day stood close-by carefully eavesdropping on his tales.  It was fun to watch her expressions as the stories became dramatic or when she was frustrated by student distractions when she was clearly trying to attend to Stephen's narrations.

Most of our locker visits were quick between bells and he dominated the conversation as he recounted his experiences, shared favorite authors, or we bounced back Monty Python dialogue and quotes.  On one particular day I remember, he was quieter.  He seemed concerned about something, and naturally, with my personality, I self-consciously considered that he was growing tired of me, and was distancing himself. 

So I drew upon my vast grade-eleven literary knowledge, and searched for an appropriate quote or reference to open a conversation about his quiet concerns.  Remembering an important Greek legend, and thinking it appropriate after recently learning so much about his Greek culture, I said:

"Why, Steve, you appear to have the Spirit of Androcles above your head."

He simply said, "What?"

So I repeated, "It seems you have the Spirit of Androcles hanging above you!"

He paused, thought for a moment, nodded, then said, "Do you mean the Sword of Damocles?"

Crushed, I felt my face get hot, and quietly said, "Ah, yes, I guess I do."

I then replayed in my mind's eye where I'd learned of this famous historic morality tale.  Oh, how my memory had betrayed me.  I hadn't read it in Aesop's Fables, where I'd confused Androcles the Lion, and some wistful guiding spirit of Greek Mythology somehow creating my own Spirit of Androcles, but rather entirely botched the quote as I recalled it from a version of Pygmalion.

But now, I must reveal my literary sources.

The Three Stooges.  It was in the episode of slap-stick comedy that I'd seen so many times:  Half-Wits Holiday, where Moe, Larry, and Curly are transformed in a Pygmalion plot adaptation from bumbling repairmen into society gentlemen.  In an ensuing food-fight, Moe sends a pie upward that sticks to the ceiling, and seeing his concern, a society Dame --one they were supposed to impress with their new gentle manners -- says, "Young man, you act as if The Sword of Damocles is hanging over your head!"

BINGO!  That's what I meant.

Stephen laughed.  Not so much at me, which would have been humiliating, but just for the humor of it.  Oh, yeah, I was really, really starting to like him.  It wasn't long after this admission, that I fessed up that my knowledge of Hamlet was solely from the Gilligan's Island television episode when the castaways created a musical version of Hamlet using music from Carmen.  Stephen had never seen an episode of Gilligan's Island.

Even without that in common, years later we married, and in our wedding ceremony hearing it and repeating it for the first time, I solemnly pledged him my trough.

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