Last week, as my childhood friend Muriel Ann Glitzengelder and I walked along a busy city street, we saw a woman exit her car and step onto the sidewalk in front of us.
It was chilly that morning, so we weren’t surprised to see her wearing a long skirt, jacket and gloves. But we did get a bit of a surprise as she turned away from us.
The back of her skirt was tucked into the waistband of her tights and gave us (and everyone else) an unfiltered view of her derriere.
Together, Muriel Ann and I shouted, “Ma’am!” Hearing our plea, the woman turned around.
“Excuse us,” Muriel Ann said, “but your skirt is tucked into your tights.”
No additional explanation was needed. Any woman who has ever worn a skirt knows it’s easy to “mis-tuck” the hem. And unless someone tells you, you can walk around all day unaware you’re exposing your back side.
Horrified, the woman yanked the garment from its elastic trap and profusely thanked us.
Hey, we’ve all been there. (Maybe she would’ve eventually noticed a draft?)
Muriel Ann and I continued our walk and reminisced about similar mishaps — toilet paper stuck on a shoe, pants unzipped, shaving cream on face, etc.
“Remember in high school when Susie Smith accidentally sat on a glob of peanut butter in the cafeteria?” I said. “No one told her; they all just giggled behind her back.”
But I whispered the news to her, and she was grateful. From that day forward, Susie Smith went out of her way to be nice to me.
“If I had a piece of spinach stuck in my front teeth, you’d tell me, right?” I asked my childhood friend.
“I’d even get you a toothpick!” she assured me.
“Or if I had coffee breath, you’d let me know?”
“Here’s a mint…”
The art of discreet social intervention is usually best handled by loved ones or people you trust, but that is not always the case.
My grandfather, bless his heart, seemed to get crumbs of food on his chin at dinnertime. My grandmother would silently pick up her napkin, give him a knowing look, and then wipe her mouth. That was the signal for him to brush his face with his napkin.
I, however, am more direct than my grandmother. If my own beloved husband should happen to have a tiny, minute piece of food in his mustache, I don’t do the napkin diversion like Grandma. I just say, “You have food in your mustache.”
This approach may seem less caring or genteel than my grandmother, but it is worlds better than my mother, who has never mastered the art of the discreet intervention. After 46 years of marriage to my stepfather, if she spies a speck of food, say, below his lip, she tries to do a silent “spouse signal,” but she’s so obvious, everyone at the table knows. Or worse, everyone in the restaurant.
First she clears her throat. Then, as we’re all looking at her after the throat clearing, she points at the spot in question on her own face with dramatic jabbing gestures. Sometimes she’s sticks out her chin and taps it just in case we missed it.
“Ma, what’s the matter? Is something wrong with your chin?”
But there’s no disguising or ignoring the intended message. Pretty soon, we’re all self-consciously wiping our mouths, imagining we have ketchup on our faces. Even the people at the next table have started nervously wiping their mouths, too.
Oh, I suppose it could be much worse. I could have some unmentionable hanging from my nostril. In that case, no frantic hand signals or pantomime is needed; just hand me a tissue, please.