Last Word: The Gum Accident

There are two kinds of people in this world: the ones who make being cool look effortless, and everyone else. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category. In fact, if I were a superhero, I’d be “Captain Awkward.”

Once at a crowded deli counter on a Friday night, I patiently waited my turn to order. When the clerk called my number, I loudly announced that I wanted two, large breasts. The moment I realized what I’d said, I felt everyone’s eyes on me, and a small giggle escaped. The more I attempted to clarify that I had actually meant chicken breasts, the harder I laughed.

The fact the no one else laughed with me only fueled the situation and with tears running down my face, I ended up leaving and getting takeout instead.

There was also the time I gave the whole “Scan-n-Bag” your own groceries thing a try. While checking out, I innocently asked the clerk how they prevented people from just sticking stuff into their bags without paying. The clerk looked up and studied me, and then I realized that she was contemplating whether I’d filled up mine with enough un-scanned pine nuts and saffron to send my kids to college.

Prickly heat crept up the back of my neck, my face turned magenta, and I looked guiltier than the time it was all quiet in the movie theater and I told my husband that it was just my stomach.

Now I’m pretty sure there’s a picture of me hanging on the bulletin board in the break room, and I don’t ever try to check out my own groceries.

In addition to routinely humiliating myself, my other superpower is making unfortunate choices.

Being one of those people who compulsively records every moment of their kids’ lives, I had my husband videotape me, without a single stitch of clothing on, when I was nine months’ pregnant with my second daughter. As if at any point in the future we’d actually sit down as a family in front of the TV, make some popcorn, and watch me displaying my naked body like a python that swallowed a Toyota.

Of course, after a couple of moves I lost the tape, and have subsequently spent the last 18 years paralyzed with fear that in the event of my accidental death, some unsuspecting family member will pop it in a VCR thinking they were about to watch a Girl Scout pinning ceremony and discover something else entirely.

But if I’m the Batman of embarrassment and unfortunate choices, my mom is Robin. Years ago she went on a lunch date with a male companion at an upscale restaurant. Shortly after being seated, she excused herself to use the ladies’ room.

After settling into a stall, she procured a wad of toilet paper to have on deck for when she was finished. As she waited, she absently took out the gum that she’d been chewing, stuck it in her reserve, and then forgot.

Just a few, short moments later, however, she was acutely reminded.

Though most women’s bathrooms have vending machines for various feminine emergencies, very few — if any — dispense jars of peanut butter in the event of an unexpected gum accident.

Immobilized, my poor mom simply sat there in an attempt to figure out proper protocol for such a sticky situation. Trying to remove the gum was going to be complicated given its unique location, but simply standing up and leaving things as they were, wasn’t much of an option either.

When more than 15 minutes had passed, her worried date sent someone in to look for her. Too embarrassed to admit that she had an entire stick of chewed-up Trident stuck in, arguably, the world’s most inconvenient place, she simply called out “I’m OK,” before finally managing to extract enough of her minty-fresh problem to return to the table, and finish the date.

She skipped dessert.

As sort of a PSA, my mom agreed to let me share her story so that others might learn from her experience and hopefully avoid the inherent dangers that come with multi-tasking in a public restroom.

After hearing her story, I almost stopped chewing gum altogether.

But I’ve got bigger problems. You see, there’s this videotape that I misplaced about 18 years ago, and I’m just not sure how much time I’ve got left to find it.

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