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   Two sample stories below from "The Worst Days Make The BEST Stories"  


Note:  Stories posted on this site are the property of Milo Shapiro and may not
be copied, forwarded, quoted, or used in any way without his permission.


Wrong Dress, Wrong Woman, And Just Plain Wrong

© 2013, Milo Shapiro.  All rights reserved.

Lesson:  Quit While You’re Behind, Too. 

Hard as it is to quit while you’re ahead, it can be even worse to make yourself quit while you’re behind.  The folks in Vegas know this all too well – we’ll try like crazy to break even once we’re in the red a little, no matter how much worse we’re making things.

The same applies to when we say the wrong thing.  Here’s a tale of a recent day when I could barely speak at all because my foot was taking up too much room in my mouth.

For my 39th birthday, I decided to have a potluck picnic in the park.  I invited over a hundred people, knowing that most would have other plans.  Sure enough, about forty-five came at different times, and there were about thirty there at any given time.  The sun was shining, the breeze was light – the kind of perfect San Diego day that makes the world want to live here (and which makes housing prices untouchable, but that’s another story).

It was a pleasure to see friends from my different circles meeting and mixing.  Friends from theater, spiritual work, my last job, current colleagues, old friends, and friends of friends that I'd never met before all conversed and socialized as we repeatedly went back for more fried chicken, pasta salads, tofu dogs, and more.

One woman in the crowd was Janie.   Janie is Colleen’s daughter and I've known her nearly thirteen years - since Colleen and I worked together in the corporate world.  When I met Janie, she was only 17 and at 26 myself, she seemed like a kid.  But years later, at 30 and 39, I've accepted Janie as more of a peer and hardly notice the age difference anymore.

Janie has always been self-conscious about her weight.  She’s not an excessively heavy woman, but I know from talking to her that, like many women, she is a larger size than she’d like to be. 

At one point during the party, Janie waved me over.  She pointed to a woman passing near us in the park, walking a little dog.  The woman, like Janie, had Irish-looking facial features, long medium brown hair and alabaster skin.  She was considerably larger than Janie, though, making the little dog look tiny next to her.  Most notably, she was squeezed into a bright yellow sun dress with a big red-and-orange-flowered pattern.  The colors were very bold against the soft greens and browns of the park around her.

It wasn’t even a bad dress, per se, but it was form fitting in a way that was not flattering.  Had it been one or two sizes larger, it might have even been attractive on her.

Because of the similarities in their facial features, Janie laughed to me and said, “I think I've just seen myself in 30 years.”

How I wished I'd just laughed.  How I wish I'd said something unrelated.  How I wish a meteor had hit me at that very moment.  Or, at the very least, how I wish that the actual words I’d wanted to say had come out of my mouth instead of the ones that found their way into the air.

What I meant to say was, “Oh, I don’t expect you’d be trying to fit into a dress that is too small for your body like that.”  This would have made sense because Janie has nice taste and would buy things that were appropriate and flattering.

Unfortunately, while that meteor was painfully whizzing by the earth somewhere else, what came out of my mouth, in a jovial tone, was, “Oh, I don’t expect you’ll fit into a dress that size.”

I heard those words come back to me as if someone else had said them and was stunned that someone would say that to Janie.  Then, to make things worse, it hit me a fraction of a second later, that I was the one who had said it.  And in my horror, especially as I watched all the joy of the day disappear from Janie’s face, I could suddenly no longer remember what it was I had originally tried to say.

“Milo…” she started, but she could think of nothing else to add.  I might as well have said, “Well, Janie, someday you’re going to blow up like a balloon and you’ll be lucky if you can drape your body in tablecloths.”  She looked so hurt and I knew I had to say something.  But the improviser on stage is not always as good offstage.

I literally could not remember what I'd tried to say the first time, so I couldn’t tell her what I'd meant.  Yet I couldn’t leave things hanging as they were.  So I had to try to think of something completely different to claim I had been trying to say. 

If this idea ever occurs to you, just run away.  Put food in your mouth.  Stick a pin in your eye.  Because at this point, trying to backpedal is just asking for trouble.  First, it’s going to sound like a lie because you are writing this tale as you speak it.  Second, it’s unlikely to be much better than what you said the first time.

“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.  I meant that a dress that looks like that is not going to come in your size.”

A pause.  Even now, as I sit here typing, I don’t even know what that was supposed to mean.  They don’t make yellow dresses in Janie’s size?  Or perhaps they don’t make tight fitting dresses in Janie’s size?  I just knew I had to start talking and unfortunately that’s what came out of my mouth.

“What?” she said, reaching for some hope that she possibly could have misunderstood me the first time, yet having no idea what I meant the second time.

“You know,” I said, not knowing at all.  “A dress.  Like that?  For you?”  I must have been praying that she’d fill in the blank somehow so that I wouldn’t have to, because I hadn’t any clue what I was talking about.

She looked me in the eye and said, “I think you should stop.  You’re not making this any better.”

I met her eyes and said, “I know.  Sorry.”

There was a little pause – probably a second or two, but it may also have been six hours.  It’s hard to say now.  Then Janie mercifully changed the topic and, whatever it was she said, I jumped right on that topic in order to move on.

She’s a great person and continued to be pleasant and friendly the rest of the day.  I haven’t seen her since, but I add this chapter to my book partly because it’s a very important lesson for me, and partly so I can send it to her – with my apologies!




Jack’s Wedding

© 2006, Milo Shapiro.  All rights reserved.

Lesson:  Take A Second Look At What You’re Doing. 

What makes sense in the moment may seem like a really bad choice once one has time to reflect upon it.  For instance, there was a great email circulating for a while (and I'm on everyone’s humor distribution list, it seems) about short newspaper headlines that had good intentions, but which were not well thought out. 

For instance, while it would be good news that an EPA inspector deemed a tank of gasoline to be safe, he probably would not have appreciated the headline:  “Gas Passed by EPA Agent”.  Sometimes, a second look or a second set of eyes can make all the difference.

Here’s a tale where what seemed right on one level was, amusingly, quite wrong on another.  And although I wasn’t the source of the problem, I was the victim!

September in Florida can be nice, but more often than not, it’s pretty darned hot.  Yet, for some reason, my Uncle Jack has chosen to have his wedding in Florida at this time.  Jack and Polly live in California but the in-laws all live in Florida. Plus, the rest of his family are more likely to come down from New York to Florida than all the way out to Petaluma, California.  Still, why they have chosen to have their wedding in the heat of June is a fact that is lost to me.

This is Jack’s third (though not final, as it turns out) wedding and we want everything to go right as a good omen for them.   A nice restaurant has been reserved – one with a catering room appropriately sized for a wedding ceremony of about 100 people.

I am college aged, but not sophomoric.  As my dad is nervous enough about being the best man and making a toast, I offer to take on responsibilities like greeting guests and helping them find seats.  I try to be as mature and as helpful as possible; I am eager to see the event go well for Jack, who has not fared well by marriage in the past.

Due to the heat outside, all of the guests rush into the building as quickly as possible to avoid an extra moment of basking in the Florida humidity.  They pack the foyer, gulping in the air conditioned breeze like porpoises coming up from a long underwater swim in need of oxygen.  Since the room is still being set up, the foyer is now crowded, hectic, and warming up from all these people.  As each new guest arrives and enters, choruses of ‘Shut the door!’ greet them instead of welcomes.

Eventually, we are let into the sanctuary, and I assist in creating a bride’s side and groom’s side.  I help several older attendees to their seats and receive the ever-craved “Such a nice boy” compliment. 

I am referred to as “Darling” more times than Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca:

  “Which side am I on, darling?”

  “Could you get me a Kleenex, darling?”

  “You’re Bob’s son, aren’t you, darling?”

Eventually, everyone is seated and waiting for the event to start.  Whatever is going on behind the scenes is taking longer than seating the guests.  So we wait.  And look at our watches.  And comment on the flowers.  And wait.

Eventually, everyone is seated and waiting for the event to start.  Whatever is going on behind the scenes is taking longer than seating the guests.  So we wait.  And look at our watches.  And comment on the flowers.  And wait.

The DJ has a little area right by the double doors.  Once opened, the bridal party will enter from around a corner and through these doors.  We all anxiously await the opening of these doors. 

Rather than just play that tired, overdone wedding march throughout the procession, the DJ has the clever idea to have a different song play as each sets enters, only to play “Here Comes The Bride” when the bride actually appears at last.  All of the songs are standards, but the DJ had found lovely instrumental versions of each, played on harps, violins, and other instruments, turning them into pretty background tunes.  That way, he can fade out each song and fade in the next one nicely without cutting off any vocalists in mid-sentence.

At last, the doors are propped open.  First in are two little nieces of Polly’s.  I note silently that the violins are playing, “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing”.  The girls are all smiles as the crowd beams back at the two of them.  Their mom snaps pictures like a paparazzi.  The two are well behaved, thankfully, and lend nicely to the ambiance.  The song fades off as they reach the front, and all the attendees’ heads turn to see who will come in next.

In come Jack’s two teenage daughters.  As these two proceed down the aisle, I am relieved to see them simply smiling and making eye contact with people they know.  It only takes about 45 seconds for them to reach the end of the procession and split to opposite sides of the altar, but it is the longest we’ve ever seen those two within arms reach of one another without fisticuffs.  “Lara’s Theme” from Dr. Zhivago accompanies them as they walk.  Not particularly meaningful, but certainly a very pretty song.  I realize at this point that the songs have been chosen purely for ambience, not for meaning.  Perhaps it is because of my involvement with theater and events, but I appreciate the novelty of the DJ varying the songs with each entrance.   I find it to be a nice touch and begin to anticipate hearing each new selection.

Next, my grandparents make their way through the doorway, looking as proud as can be.  Grandpa Harold’s clothes all match, so I know that my mother has been involved in the selection.  Grandma Florence is done up to the nines, because any event she attends is pretty much in her honor, as far as she is concerned.  She had been a photographic model in the 1920s, an unusual honor for a Jewish girl in those days, requiring a striking level of beauty. To her, the world is still a place for her to be admired.  An slow, oboe rendition of “Fly Me To The Moon” sets their background as they proceed up the aisle.  Grandma makes subtle hand gestures to the crowd, like a smaller Queen Elizabeth.  Not that the DJ could have known, but this is a good song choice.  Grandma kept singing that song all the time as my parents made their own wedding plans in the early 60’s, so it had become “their song”.

All eyes return to the doorway to see who would enter next.  From around the corner, holding hands, the parents of the bride emerge.  This is the first wedding of one of their daughters.  Their faces are wide with smiles and Poppa’s chest is held high as he beams with pride. 

As the couple enters, a pretty song starts playing but I cannot place it for a few seconds because the opening lines do not relate to the title.  All of a sudden, it hit me what song the DJ had chosen for the entrance of the bride’s parents.  And I started to laugh.

Not a muffled little smirk.  Not an awkward little snort.  I'm talking about an inappropriate, full-on comedy club kind of laugh.  The kind you can’t stop even though you know you have to, which only makes it worse.  I am trying desperately to contain myself, which only makes my faces more distracting to everyone near me (though thankfully, I am far enough from the walking couple that they don’t notice yet).

I try covering my mouth, but the sound is leaking out through my fingers like water through a colander.  My whole family is looking at me like I've lost my mind.  But looking back at them only makes me laugh even more, especially at the confused look on my mother’s face beside me. 

After about six or seven devastatingly long and noisy seconds of this, my mother leans over and says, “What is so funny?”  Talking is barely an option because I'm working desperately not to laugh any louder, but I manage to say, “When…the bride’s parents entered…”

“Yes???” she responds as I lose myself in another fit, holding my sides.  I gasp for air as annoyed octogenarians begin to detest my whole rude generation.

“He played…he played…”

“Played what?”

“’Send In The Clowns!’” I squealed back in her ear and bury my face in her lap with laughter.

I can feel her body start to shake.  I look up at her and see her lip starting to quiver.  She grips my shoulder with both hands, but it is not helping her.  She bursts into laughter and buries her face in my back.  Neither of us can stop now.  She is trembling and crying as she tries not to make noise.  We both sneak a quick look at the two “clowns” as they pass us on the right and it just sets us off again.  I don’t think the husband notices, but the wife gives the two of us a quizzical and disapproving look.

This lasts another two or three minutes as the rest of the bridal party proceeds up the aisle to songs I cannot even hear over the noises we are making.  And what a bizarre sight we must appear to them (including my uncle), crumpled up on each other and trembling.  Eventually, “Here Comes The Bride” starts and all rise.  We gather ourselves enough to stand up.  My mother’s mascara has run to the point that she is one of those clowns now.

“What the heck is with you two?” my father asks, looking about equally annoyed at being left out of the joke as he is at the spectacle we’ve made of ourselves.

She waves one hand at him while wiping her eyes with the other, as if to say, “Please don’t make me say it or I'll lose it again.”  He is annoyed at us for messing up his brother’s wedding, but later, when he hears the story, he’ll work hard to hold back a smile in spite of himself.

While the song is very pretty and was only intended as background, it still floors me that it never occurred to the DJ that it would be a bit undignified for honored guests to enter to “Send In The Clowns.”

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