I am going to tell you a story about a humbling personal experience so that the next time you do something embarrassing (and trust me, it is only a matter of time for all of us) you will be able to think back to this mostly true story and find reassurance in the fact that you are not alone when you do something hilariously humiliating. Because, as they like to say, misery loves company.
Last winter, on a brutally cold day, I stopped at a gas station to fill up the car. 24 hours earlier it was fifty degrees, so of course, I waited to buy gas until the next day when it was ten degrees.
Now, before I go any further in this tale, let me first explain that being a child of the ‘60s, I have really long hair that I keep pulled back in a ponytail, and I have a long beard and mustache. Not ZZ Top long but still long. Of course, I am fully aware that my appearance is nothing to brag about, but it is germane to this story. (I’m also fully aware that I just used the word long four times in two sentences – but, hey, you’re here to read a little blog post – not a literary masterpiece.)
So, on with our story.
I pulled into the gas station, got out of my car and was immediately blasted by a 40-mph arctic wind. Frantically, I grabbed the zipper of my jacket and yanked it up just as far as it would go – which proved to be just a bit too far. Because I was looking down at the time, when I brought the zipper all the way up, it caught in my beard. Now, when I say caught…… what I really mean is that it was buried deep in my beard.
It was not a pretty sight.
I don’t know how many of you have experienced this particular form of torture, (especially you ladies), but I’m guessing it’s a small number.
Let me state without hesitation, that it was one of those incredibly awkward moments in life when it was difficult to tell which was worse; the physical pain or the embarrassment. (It’s like when you fall off the ladder and then look around to see if anyone saw you.)
Surprisingly, a significant part of the discomfort stemmed from the fact that I could not lift my head. My chin was pinned down against the zipper. All I could do was lean way back and lift my eyes, which I immediately wish I hadn’t done because standing on the other side of the gas pump was a well-dressed gentleman who was staring at me in utter disbelief. (That is understandable because this is not the kind of thing you see every day.)
As our eyes, unfortunately, met, he raised both hands, palms up, and shook his head in bewilderment. Silently inquiring, what in the world?!
Thankfully, I couldn’t return his gaze for long because leaning back that far was killing my spine, and the zipper continued to pull on my beard in such a harsh and unforgiving way that tears were beginning to form in my eyes.
Obviously, trying to pump gas under such dire conditions was now out of the question, plus I had little desire to continue being a public spectacle, so I had no choice but to carefully get back in my car.
As I twisted like a contortionist in an effort to sit down in my vehicle, while at the same time making a desperate attempt to cling to a sliver of what remained of my dignity, I yanked my head back one more time to look at the well-dressed gentleman, and I was dismayed to see that he had taken out his phone and was pointing it at me, no doubt, in an effort to preserve the moment so he could later entertain others at my expense.
Once I was back in my car and safely out of view, thanks to the heavily tinted windows, I briefly considered driving home with my beard still hopelessly tangled in the zipper, but three sound reasons prevented it.
First, there was the pain which was beginning to cause me to involuntarily whimper and would only be exacerbated when I leaned back in a pitiful attempt to see over the steering wheel.
Then there was the off chance that I would be stopped for some reason by a police officer, and I could only imagine how hard he or she would laugh when they asked me to step out of the vehicle.
But by far, the most compelling reason was the fact that I did not want to walk into my house with my beard caught in my jacket zipper and have to face my wife. (Although actually facing her was currently physically impossible.)
Perhaps at this point, it would be helpful to point out that my spouse already suspects I’m an idiot, and I did not intend to provide her with any more ammunition. In other words, I didn’t want to throw gasoline on that particular fire.
So, out of necessity, I made the decision to bite the bullet. For the next ten minutes, I painstakingly extracted an enormous chunk of sensitive facial hair out of the unforgiving metal teeth of the zipper. It was a character-building experience that I hope to never repeat.
As I was working and sniffling, I imagined the well-dressed gentleman sitting at the dinner table with his family that evening, trying to control the spasms of laughter as he began his gas station story. “You are not going to believe what I saw some moron do today! Here, look at my phone!!”
Once I was finally free from the brutal grip of the zipper, I took a few seconds to comb my mangled beard in an effort to hide the bare spots where the hair had been yanked out. (Unfortunately, my wife is extremely perceptive when I’m trying to hide something.)
Because I was facing a fifteen-minute drive, I was confident that my red and puffy eyes would be less noticeable by the time I got home.
Soon enough, I arrived back at our house, and I decided to put on a brave front. Stepping through the door, I managed to strike a deceptively cheerful tone of voice as I called out, “Hi, Sweetie. I’m home.”
My lovely bride glanced up from her quilting and looked at me quizzically. I suddenly had the unsettling feeling that perhaps I’d forgotten something.
Her questioning look soon turned into a hard stare, and as her suspicious eyes bored into me, I tried unsuccessfully to prevent the beads of perspiration from popping out on my forehead.
I decided my best option at that moment was to flee from my wife’s unrelenting gaze. “I’m going to wash up for dinner. You’re such a wonderful cook, I can’t wait to see what we’ll be feasting on tonight!” (When you’re trying to get something past your spouse, a little flattery never hurts.)
I took one step and my wife said, “Aren’t you going to hang up your jacket in the closet?”
“Oh, I’m so excited about dinner, I forgot.”
I headed to the closet, and I could feel my wife’s eyes following my every step. I opened the door, reached in for a hanger, and then I heard my wife say in a mocking tone of voice, “Why don’t you remove that large tuft of hair from the zipper before you hang it up.”
I looked down and realized that the charade was over. There was indeed a significant chunk of fluffy facial hair still wedged in the metal teeth. I had been so preoccupied with trying to make my face look presentable (something that is difficult to do under the best of circumstances) that I had neglected to check for any other visible evidence of the travesty that had transpired.
My wife folded her arms. “Do you want to tell me what happened, or do you want me to guess?”
Feeling defensive, I blurted out, “It could’ve happened to anyone!”
“No, it couldn’t. Only you could do that.” Then she added, “I told you not to grow that ridiculous beard – but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
As I pondered a snappy response (the fact that I had to ponder actually removed the snappiness) I reflexively reached up to stroke my beard which caused me to wince in pain.
My bride of forty-six years smiled sweetly at me and said, “You do know they make coats with Velcro, right?”
I groaned as I realized how much she was enjoying this.
Then with undue confidence, she ventured, “My guess is that you stopped to buy gas. You got out of the car and yanked up the zipper of your jacket into your beard which made it difficult for you to see the man on the other side of the pump or to drive a car like a normal human being. Therefore, you had to sit at the station and remove the facial hair from the teeth of the zipper……Am I close?”
It seemed to me that her guess contained an inordinate amount of detail (all of it correct), and that made me just a little suspicious. “How could you possibly know all that?”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. “Shirley down the street texted me the link. The man at the gas station posted your video online. Congratulations, you’re famous!”