For someone whose work involves paying attention to detail, I can be pretty unobservant at times. I seem to have a rare talent for turning the ordinary into an awkward situation. Like the time I commandeered a passing teenager to snap a photo of me and two of my children on the sundeck when we were on a Caribbean cruise.
I dismissed the press-ganged photographer’s slightly surly attitude as an adolescent strop; maybe he just didn’t want to be stuck on a boat with his family. That would be why he was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt on a beautifully sunny day.
Similarly, I put my offsprings’ squirming while I instructed the kid on how to hold the camera down to typical parental embarrassment and pressed on, confident that one day they’d appreciate the memory we were making. I smiled as the kid made heavy weather of handling the camera, attributing it to a bit of passive-aggressive resistance.
Finally the picture was taken, the camera handed back, and my kids breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the young man headed off down the deck. Then they wanted to know why on earth I had asked a boy with one arm to take our photograph?
Then there was the day my wife and I were in a coffee shop in Los Angeles, wondering how to get to a local place of interest. I told Marcia I would ask one of the other customers and, leaping up before she could stop me, headed over to a woman sitting at a nearby table. She cocked her head in somewhere between surprise and suspicion when I asked for help.
I had failed to spot the white cane by her chair.
Fortunately she had a sense of humor and more awareness of things around her than I did. Taking me by the arm, she led me out onto the street, paused to get her bearings from the direction of the traffic noise, and then pointed which way to go with her stick.
And then there was the thing with the newspaper. Not long after moving to the US, I went down to our local shopping strip one Sunday morning to buy a newspaper from the unfamiliar-to-me street rack. I dropped my quarter in the slot, pulled on the handle, and nothing happened. Irritated, I was determined to get my copy.
Putting one foot hard against the bottom of the dispenser, I braced the top with one hand and pulled as hard as I could with the other. The window opened slightly, just enough for me to slide my hand partway inside. I managed to grab the top paper with two fingers, and pulled it towards the slot.
Some of the sections fell away, but I persisted despite the pressure on my hand and forearm. I managed to tug the rest of the pages through the gap, ripping some as they came. Straining against the lock, I pushed my hand in again and retrieved the missing sections. Satisfied and kind of impressed with myself, I drove home with what I was due.
Flattening the pages out on the kitchen table and putting them in order, I sat down to enjoy my deserved read. Scanning the masthead, ignoring the stinging from where my hand and forearm had been scraped in the retrieval, I spotted something.
Sunday edition: $1.
In the words of the erudite Britney Spears, “Oops! I did it again.”
Pretty soon I was back at the newspaper rack, pushing three extra quarters into the thing and hoping that any security cameras in the area were catching me making things right.
I’d like to say that such situations have encouraged me to look a little more closely before I leap, but the bigger lesson has been not to jump to hasty conclusions on landing with a bump. Context is everything: It’s wise to pause before becoming indignant. The reaction I consider to be off may actually be right-on for a number of reasons I am unaware of.