I am the master of the faux pas,* more coarsely known as aphtae epizooticae.** These incidents are part of who I am, as I often speak without thinking. My bursts of verbal enthusiasm, though often innovative and spontaneous ways of looking at a situation, always come at inappropriate moments.
You see, I am often caught at a dinner party, drinking an important guest’s water (“drinks to my left, food to my right; drinks to my right, food to my left?”), or inappropriately stuffing a stranger’s bread roll down while waiting for the first course that never comes soon enough. However, the most prominent faux pas de moi, occurred over the freshly painted portrait of a dear friend — let’s call her Penelope Hightower. One evening, invited for a tony dinner at her penthouse, I entered her parentally-endowed Park Avenue lodgings with its original chandeliers and working fireplaces and noticed a grotesque portrait of my dear friend over the entrance mantelpiece. At the time, Penelope’s entrance hallway was the size of most of our shared apartments — after all, it was the 60’s, we were poor, and a studio apartment divided by four inmates made living in New York a possibility.
Loudmouth, I expressed with disdain, “This painting of you is atrocious. You look like Lady Godiva on acid. Your tits are not even matched. Jesus, Penny, take it down!” Henry Goldman was the first non-button-down-Wall-Street-tycoon Penny had ever dated. Since she claimed that this Henry was the love of her life, I came to dinner to meet her new Lothario.
From her cavernous living room came Henry’s sarcastic voice and with a New York lilt. “Ah, you must be Sheila. Glad you like the painting of Penelope. Can you imagine she sat for more than 16 hours — broken up by a little lovin’?” (Despicable, this Henry.) With a deep breath, I introduced myself to him. “Sorry, I have no taste.” (Truth gets you into trouble. I have superb taste.) He smiled arrogantly and insisted his painting was “historical-interpretive-with-past-and-present-Penelope-once-removed-intermixed.” (Indeed!) I told him I knew very little about art and had been an English major.
Was it a faux pas, a foot in my mouth, or was I a fortune teller? For though Henry married Penny, taking her last name as his hyphenated name, Henry Hightower-Goldman, this marriage would not last. Some 20 years later, I am happy to report Penny’s portrait and Henry are long gone. Penelope is remarried, and as far as I know Henry has much of Penelope’s family money, having never worked at anything, especially as an artist. Their joint child is delightful, a brilliant student with no artistic ambition. She’s studying to be a brain surgeon. Clearly, Henry’s art was a recessive gene; my outspoken gene a dominant one.
*aphtae epizooticae: hoof-and-mouth disease; an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. Now used colloquially as putting your foot in your mouth.
**faux pas: This expression originated during the time of Louis XIV. During his reign, dance was so important in the royal courts that to make a false step in any one of the many dances could get you thrown out. It is now a slip or blunder in etiquette, manners, or conduct; an embarrassing social blunder or indiscretion.