Ever say something that gets met with a silence so profound by those listening to you that you can hear the sound of their blood swimming laps inside their bodies?
It doesn’t happen because what you’ve said is wrong in itself, most times; it’s just that you’ve said it in front of the wrong audience. In life, it’s all about knowing your audience.
I knew I had the right audience the time I was addressing a roomful of women and proposed pantyhose for the upper arms. General hilarity!
I also had the right audience when I was asked to speak to a class of Fifth Graders about the joys of first-person writing. I warmed us up by having everyone think about how funny it can be when people get the words wrong, and, by way of illustration, pointed to the many little kids who think the Star Spangled Banner is all about bums bursting in air. More hilarity!
But sometimes you just have the wrong audience for your remarks.
I think of when I went to get my car serviced last month and in seeking to remove my car key from its jangle of fellow keys, came upon the one that opened my dear uncle’s apartment, in his grave these two years now.
I began telling the young mechanic about how I found his body.
Which utterly flummoxed him.
I had the wrong audience.
Another day, in my book group of highly refined ladies, I was trying to help us remember the name of the next book in our lineup.
“Wait I know what it is! It’s on the tip of my tongue! The title is one word. Two syllables.”
“Bootstrap!” one person said and everyone laughed.
“Hiccup!” said another. Again with the laughter.
“Butthead!” I sang joyfully.
Wrong audience. Again.
And then there was the time last week when my mate and I went for dinner to the house of friends we have seen maybe eight times in the last 20 years.
As we were packing up to leave at evening’s end, this spouse of mine picked up my little tote, one of those soft, six-section bags that the liquor store gives you if you buy a few bottles of wine.
“You never know WHAT she’s going to have in here,” he told our hosts in jocular fashion. “Rotting fruit, random beverages, which then spill…”
I shot him a look. It’s true I often carry produce in there, as well my traveling mug with the coffee still inside it – even though the thing has long since lost its spill-proof sealing gasket.
But then, peering down into the bag, he went on:
“Whoa, wait! You have a bra in here too? Why on earth are you carrying around a BRA?”
At first a look of horror started across my face. Then I gave up and chose Truth:
“Why is my bra in my wine tote? Because, everyone, I took it off during dinner, that time I slipped away to the bathroom.”
I held my breath. I looked at our hosts – who after a short pause, broke into peals of laughter.
It’s true we’ve only seen them eight times in 20 years, but 20 years is 20 years and they know me sure enough. Luckily, that time I had the right audience.