Just trippin’

A friend of mine once had a gun pointed at her because of me. We were walking back to our shared office after cheeseburgers at John’s Quick Lunch, the only place we knew where you could still get soft drinks in glass bottles.  A Pepsi for her, Coke for me. As we neared our workplace, we passed a Brinks truck parked outside the bank at the corner. At the worst possible time, I tripped, on a pebble or a stick or more likely nothing at all and bounced her right in the guard, who drew his gun out of instinct.

Who knew having lunch with me might require a flack jacket.

I have been, to put it plainly, clumsy, since the day I took my first step. Apparently I hung out in my walker until it was almost time to apply for college, crawled out reluctantly, coerced with the promise of big girl shoes, and it’s been one misstep after another since. I don’t exactly lack poise; it’s more of a balance issue.  Which is why after more than an hour of holding me down while the ER doctor pulled bamboo splinters from various parts of my tiny body following my first non-training wheels assisted bike ride (family legend has it that my dad was crying the hardest of the two of us), my parents decided to enter me in every feminine activity known to inspire gracefulness. As a result, I’m a mad little dancer and a passable figure skater—but I still tend to trip over curbs, bang into coffee tables and fall up staircases from time to time.

In addition to some pretty remarkable bruises, my ungainliness has been the basis of a myriad of oft-repeated stories.  As a teen, I nearly somersaulted on to the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral because my fellow sightseer stopped to genuflect and I didn’t brake in time. I have set a sweatshirt on fire, while wearing it, a la Mrs. Doublefire, a story that raged through a Paris primary school thanks to the precocious nephew of a friend.  I have fallen down sewer holes into icy water and done front flips down the slippery hardwood stairs of a previous townhouse. On date nights, while cuddling in front of the TV, I’ve been known launch bowls of chips at the screen just by shifting to get comfortable.

The height of my fame came on a Sunday morning several years ago when I tripped and rolled out of the shower, managing to flush the toilet with my foot as I fell. This was before the days of water flow regulators, so when I jumped back into the tub, I was scalded with the hot water and blinded by the steam, causing me to fall out again, this time landing squarely on one of the bic razors that had also fallen due to all the commotion. This would have been bad enough in itself, if the door hadn’t open to reveal my love, accompanied by several guests who had stayed overnight.  They heard the thumps on the floor upstairs and came running to my aid. I probably should mention that I walked into the barrel of a cannon later that day (I was touring our local war museum), but it seems redundant.

While abject clumsiness is a debilitating condition, I don’t let it get to me. My friends and I have learned to deal with the situation. Those who know my history give me a wide berth when we walk down the street and avoid anyone wearing a weapon. No one ever asks me to carry things that are sharp or breakable. I’m not allowed to touch power tools under any circumstances. I worked for a company that refused to buy a paper shredder until I left its employ. It’s a known fact that I can manage returning from a buffet table as long as I focus, so no one talks to me. Despite being on the short side of average height, I don’t attempt heels more than two inches and some days, even they make me feel like I’m walking on stilts. Boots are much better; at least they hold my ankles straight, plus they make me look far more daringly sexy and devil-may-care than is true. Living in a cold climate, I’ve been known to throw handfuls of road salt in front of me if I need to walk where it’s icy. I also avoid rain-soaked grassy hills, oil-slicked roads and the transport of hot beverages. I always remove my glasses to hug or kiss someone. I never lean on anything. No matter how securely it’s bolted down.

So why I am telling you other than to amuse you or provide a warning should you see me coming down the street? It’s because I realize while we’re all willing to talk up our abilities, we’re chronically reticent to acknowledge our shortcomings. I’m interviewing people for an open position at work and I’m asking my candidates to tell me about something at which they are truly awful. Whether they get the job or not won’t hang on the fact that they’re dreadful cooks or can’t parallel park, but whether they speak of their deficiency in shameful hushed tones or wry acceptance will tell me a lot about them. We’re all bad at something, we all have shortcomings, our crosses to bear—and I’m not so shallow or isolated to believe that being able to fall down while standing still is the worst of what could be. What I’m saying we all should free yourself to embrace our dolt selves. Accept your lesser qualities; they’re part of the rich stew that makes you the wonderful and unique being you are. Give it a try, make friends with your foibles, demand acceptance of your limitations and you’re bound to land on your feet. Chances are I wouldn’t. But you could.


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