The Best Insult I Ever Received

Insults can come in a multitude of forms and are spoken for a wide variety of reasons.  They can be subtle, or they can even come in the form of backhanded compliments, which seem to me the worst of all.  Most of us give and receive insults, even if we are only joking and serve them up to people we really love and admire.  Insults are quite often irritating and can invoke emotions of anger, resentment, embarrassment, humiliation, or sadness.  But there are rare occasions when an insult is so perfectly timed and delivered, so incredibly appropriate, that it sticks with us for a long time and is worth sharing as a self-deprecating anecdote.  Here’s mine.

I worked in a public library for fifteen years in a small town in Georgia.  One day the library director and I and another employee took a trip to Atlanta to talk with a vendor about a software package we were considering purchasing for the library.  We were all in my car, and I was driving.  On the way back from Atlanta, we were traveling through a very rural area, largely made up of dairy farms — lots of trees, pastures, and barns.  The speed limit was 55, and I was cruising along at about 70 or so.

I felt a powerful wave of muscle contractions in my lower abdomen when I saw the flashing lights in my rear-view mirror and pulled over to the grassy shoulder of the state road.  The car was the familiar blue and gray style used by the Georgia State Patrol in the late 1980s.  I had met a few state patrol officers, and for the most part, they were tall men with wide shoulders and stern faces.  I am not a big guy, so even their presence is intimidating and makes me feel like I’m guilty even if I haven’t done a thing wrong.  To my surprise, the person that I saw stepping out of the patrol car had a more curvaceous body form and shoulder-length blond hair pulled back into a ponytail.  It was my first encounter with a female state patrol officer, and when she reached my rolled-down window, I was thrown off-guard again by how attractive she was.  I was in my late twenties, and she looked to be only a few years older than I.

Of course, she asked for my license, politely verified the pronunciation of my last name, and then she began the conversation that I will probably never forget.

Officer: “So, where are you headed in such a hurry today, Mr. _________?”

Me: “We’ve been in Atlanta all day and are heading back to work.”

Officer: “I see. And where do you work, Mr. _________?”

Me: “At the public library.”

Officer, after an outburst of laughter: “Oh my goodness, Mr. __________, this is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to you all year!”

Me, smiling and slightly hanging my head: “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”

Officer, in a playful patronizing tone: “You promise me you’re going to slow it down for me the rest of the way back to the library, Mr. ______________?”

Me: “Absolutely.”

Officer: “Alright, Mr. ____________, you all have a good afternoon and be careful, okay?”

Me, sheepishly: “Yes mam.  Thank you.”

This was my first and only warning for speeding.  I am now in my mid-fifties and, since I began driving when I was fifteen, I have never been issued a speeding citation or another warning.  When I say “absolutely,” I mean it.

We Liked Grandma So Much Better Without Teeth

I introduced my maternal grandmother in an earlier post.  From my description of her then, it should be apparent that my grandmother had an incredible sense of humor, a trait I would like to think I inherited.  She had five grandchildren.  I was the last and the only male.  She absolutely adored me.  For most of my childhood, she lived in the house with my family (my parents and my older sister and me).  Both of my parents worked, so she served as a live-in nanny.  She also did a good portion of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

She received a great deal of pleasure from making my sister and my cousins laugh to the point of losing our breath.  If we wet our pants, she probably secretly considered herself victorious — mission accomplished!  She would stop at nothing to entertain us, including removing her teeth, putting a nylon stocking over her head, and then pulling it up while dragging the skin of her face up with it to distort her features to almost frightening proportions.  Some years after her death, my memory of these times became almost nostalgic, and I decided to write a funny song about her.  It must be fairly entertaining, as I have been asked to perform it many times for groups of people who never knew my grandmother or any other members of my extended family.  I include it here as a way of recording it and as a tribute to someone whose impact on my life was far greater than I realized when she was still with me.


I recall the trips to Grandma’s house when we were little boys
Lots of food, candy, cakes, and pies, and she always gave us toys
And she told funny stories that would nearly split your side
But when she pulled her dentures out, we laugh until we cried

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
And when she sang her mouth was just as round as a wreath
We liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Now there’s something about a toothless grin that I just can’t explain
But when Grandma turned and gave a smile, we nearly went insane
And if she used her Polygrip her speech was never slurred
But Lord when she forgot it we couldn’t understand a word

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
A handmade set of ivory chops just simply can’t be beat
But we liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Now I know you love your grandkids and I’m sure they love you too
So if you want to see them giggle, then here’s what you must do
It sure can be depressing when your hair gets gray and thin
But when your molars start to go that’s when the fun begins

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
I’m sure it was a challenge when she tried to chew her meat
But we liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Gums on the bottom and gums on the top
If she talked real fast her lips would flop
Her nose hooked over and touched her chin
And we’d start laughing all over again
Couldn’t have loved her better had she been cursed with stinkin’ feet
We liked Grandma so much better
Oh I wish you could have met her
We liked Grandma so much better without teeth

Suggestions for the Wait Staff and Their Supervisors

I have a couple of gentle suggestions to restaurant waiters and their supervisors. To the waiter: it does not impress me when you try to memorize my order, thus not writing down what I am requesting for lunch or dinner. It actually irritates me when you attempt to memorize my order and then get it wrong. The irritation is magnified as the number of people at the table increases, and the potential number of mistakes goes up as well. I am perfectly happy for you to carefully write down my order, and even read it back to me to confirm. However, if you are memorizing my order because your supervisor demands that kind of service, then you are clearly not to blame. So, to the supervisors: encourage your waiters to write down their orders for the sake of getting it right the first time, which leads to better customer satisfaction, less incorrect orders going back to the kitchen, and more revenue for the restaurant.

Here is the second suggestion.  Please learn these two important phrases, which can never be overused and are appropriate in a multitude of situations during the course of a dining experience: “thank you” and “you’re welcome.”  I don’t expect you, as a server/waiter, to become ingratiating, and I’m not overly impressed with the exaggerated Chik-Fil-A-style response of “my pleasure” either.  However, when I hand you the menu back after placing my order, or if I hand the bread basket to you when it is empty, a simple “thank you” from you would be nice.  Likewise, I should say the same to you when you deliver items to the table and when you refill my glass.  It’s common courtesy. Obviously, you should thank everyone at the table at the end of the meal, especially when payment is being made and received.

Lastly, and this is most important, do not substitute “you’re welcome” with the phrase “no problem.”  The latter implies that you have gone out of your way to do a favor for the diner by providing service, which is not the case. The phrase implies that your action, under normal circumstances, would have caused undue stress or required a sacrifice, but you were willing to do so out of your generosity and graciousness without expecting any compensation.  That is not the arrangement you have with the diner at the table.  Unfortunately, I am hearing this phrase more and more often in restaurants, even very fine ones.  So, if you have a polite diner who is courteous enough to say “thank you” for your good service, please respond with “you’re welcome.”  Supervisors should make this simple dialogue central to training their wait staff.

Waiting tables may not seem like a career that one might typically aspire to seek, but it is certainly respectable.  In fact, I have had the pleasure of dining at some very fine restaurants where I was convinced the server was far better educated than I and had much better cultural awareness than I could hope to achieve.  On these occasions, dinner was far more than just a meal — it was a rich experience.  I have memories of such a dinner at a restaurant in Carmel by the Sea in California at a place called Casinova. Our waiter was a well-spoken gentleman, probably of Mediterranean heritage, in his mid to late fifties. He never smothered us, gave us just the right amount of information, and made us feel like we were his only customers, which was certainly not the case. He was as polished as any professional you would meet from a wide spectrum of fields.  He took his job seriously, and he was good at it.  He made the evening for my wife and me one to remember and cherish for the rest of our lives. And, he never once uttered the phrase “no problem.”

My Grandmother’s Raunchy Side

I was raised in a morally-conservative Southern Baptist home.  Most of the cousins that I knew best were all Southern Baptists, as well as many of my friends, mainly because my circle of friends largely came from our church.  Drinking alcohol was a sin, plain and simple.  Dancing was frowned upon but tolerated by the time I was a teenager in the 1970s.  My mother was not fond of playing cards, unless they were game-specific like Old Maids, and much later, Uno.  She was suspicious of regular playing cards because she associated them with gambling, another sin of the infidels.  Most of all, sex was something extremely private and reserved ONLY for the sanctity of marriage — end of discussion.  There was no wiggle room on this point at all.  And it was not a topic of conversation in our home, instructional or otherwise.

My maternal grandmother was also a strong Southern Baptist and beloved by many in our church.  She lived with us through all of my childhood and most of my adolescence.  My mother worked outside the home, so my sister and I were largely raised by our grandmother.  She held many of the same convictions that my mother did; however, there were times that her rural upbringing emerged, sometimes in irreverent ways.  She had some wonderful little “sayings” that verged on being nasty, which made her giggle to the point of losing her breath.  I always thought they were rather inconsistent with our family’s moral code, and I loved them.  Here are a few examples.

If someone in the room exclaimed that somebody “tooted,” she would rattle off this zinger: “The fox is the finder, the stink lays behind her!” Of course, this is an old variation of the later line: “The one who smelt it is the one who dealt it.”  Coming from my sweet grandmother, it was hilarious.  Speaking of farting, she did it quite often in our home and found it to be quite entertaining.

Another even more priceless example to me was what I heard my grandmother say one time when she saw a very tall woman with a very short man.  I will never forget it.  “Well, when they’re nose to nose his toes is in it, and when they’re toes to toes his nose is in it.”  Now that’s mighty raunchy humor coming from a Southern Baptist grandmother in the 1970s.  I have so many more wonderful memories about my grandmother that I intend to document in this blog at some point.  She inspired a song that I wrote and have performed many times, mostly because it has been requested so often, especially by seniors at gatherings where I have entertained.  It never fails to bring laughter, just like my grandmother did for us so many times.

No Easy Way to Say It

Losing a family member to death leaves a significant empty space for those left behind.  The death of a parent summons feelings of vulnerability and a sense of one’s own mortality.  Even when death is an end to suffering, there is a certain finality to it that brings sadness.  However, even in the darkness of these times, there is plenty of humor that always accompanies the human comedy, and the recent death of my father is no exception.

I wrote last week about “the call” I received from the nursing home informing me that my father had passed away.  The words spoken by the facility’s representative reminded me of other testimonies I have heard from people who have received “the call.”  A couple of weeks before he died, my father had suffered from an infected lymph gland in his neck that was very inflamed and painful.  He was on some very strong antibiotics that zapped what little energy he had left at age 94, but it appeared that he was getting better and was strong enough to get out of bed.  His nurse told me that he had actually eaten dinner only an hour or so before he died.  So the representative who called had the unpleasant task of giving me news that by no means was a surprise but was nevertheless not altogether expected either.

Herein lies the comedy.  You have to wonder how nursing home personnel are trained to deliver such bad news to loved ones.  In this case, the voice on the other end of the phone said, “Mr. ————? I was calling to let you know there’s been a change in your father’s condition,” to which I replied, “Okay.”  And then she handed it to me: “He passed away this evening.”  Now, at this point, I began asking the predictable questions about how he was found, how he died, what time it happened, etc.  What I really wanted to say was, “Why yes, I would say that is a fairly significant change in his condition.”  It would be hard to immediately come up with a better example of the understatement of the year.

My wife has told many people the story of “the call” she received about her mother’s death, which occurred while she was in a rehab center only a day or so after my wife had been with her.  The nurse who called and delivered the message told my wife that her mother had “expired.”  Really?  Expired?  I realize now that this is a technical term used in the geriatric healthcare industry, but I can’t imagine why you would use that term when talking to the daughter of the deceased.  Expired?  Can we renew her?  Did we not put down a large enough deposit?  It makes the deceased sound more like a library card or a driver’s license.

The truth is that there is no easy way to tell a person that someone they love has died.  It’s bitter and heartbreaking.  It is so precise and final.  It defies couching or masking.  There is no sufficient euphemism, although we certainly do our best with words like “passed” or “passed away” or “crossed over.”  I don’t envy those who are charged with the duty of bearing the saddest news of all, but I can’t help but find the humor in delivery methods like these.  Expired?  Really?