Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

Two quick stories illustrating two different aspects of the phenomenon I like to call Blurt-itis. (Something I’m quite familiar with.)

1.  Recently I boarded a plane and was getting settled in my window seat. As other folks were boarding, I looked up and caught the eye of a woman coming down the aisle. She had evidently been to my concert the night before, and recognized me.

She gave me a big smile, and without realizing what she was saying, she blurted out, “You were so great last night!”

Everybody within earshot looked up at her and started laughing.

The poor gal turned a bright shade of ripe tomato.

And me?

Well, I felt pretty good about it. :)


2.  A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I was a novice entertainer paying my dues performing in bars. I’d just gotten hired by a very popular club for their Friday night slot. Biggest night of the week. Very crowded. Since I was relatively new at this, I felt some pressure to do a great job, and tried hard to interact with the crowd and be funny.

Midway through the evening, four people came in – two men and two women. They sat down at the only available table, about 20 feet away from me. The spotlight was bright so I couldn’t see them well, but I could see that one couple looked a generation older than the other couple.

I welcomed them, as was my custom, and asked what they were up to on this fine Friday evening. The older woman answered that they were celebrating their son’s birthday, and pointed to the younger man.

Now this younger man was a bit rough looking. He had a lumberjack-type shirt on, longish dark hair and a beard. I couldn’t see him well with the bright light in my face, but from where I was on the stage, he looked about 40. I looked at him and said, “Happy Birthday! What’s your name?”

He told me, “Howard.” I sang happy birthday to Howard, and the bar crowd joined in.

Then I asked him, “How old are you, Howard?”

He told me, “25.”

Here’s where it gets tricky. Sometimes when you’re playing to a crowd, or a particular person in the crowd, you can tease them a little bit. Most people enjoy this – they like the attention – if you can make it fun for them. The tricky part is you can’t push too hard or get too personal. It’s a fine line. You have to know where it is, and have the rapport skills to pull it off.

But on this night, at this time in my life, I didn’t.

I looked at this young man, and without thinking about it, said something like, “Twenty-five! Man, it’s been a rough life, hasn’t it! You look about 40! What the heck have you been doing to yourself?”

He laughed, and everybody else laughed.

I started into another song, and then it hit me. I knew exactly what I’d done. I knew exactly why this young man looked older than his years. I felt so ashamed, so embarrassed, that my throat got dry and I could barely finish the song. I told the audience I was taking a break. I put my guitar down and walked down off the little stage.

I got to the bottom step and came face to face with the older man at Howard’s table.

He looked at me and said, “Thanks for singing Happy Birthday to Howard. He’s our special son.”

I looked back at him. “I know,” I said. “I just realized that.”

But it was too late.

Big career lesson.

© 2016 Greg Tamblyn

Feel free to share your own Blurt-itis stories, funny or otherwise, in the Comments Box. If you’ve never commented here before, your comment will have to be approved by me before it posts, but it will. Thanks.

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11 Responses to Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

  1. Shira Nahari says:

    We all know Siri – at least if our electronics collection includes anything that transcribes voice messages. Well Siri blurts a LOT and sometimes gives weird driving directions. Just in: “Apple is giving Siri an AI upgrde. Among other thing Siri will now know the precise name of the body of water she’s directed you to drive your car into.”

  2. Ron Barthet says:

    I used to have my foot in my mouth so often, I started a club and had cards printed up and everything. It was “Toe and Tonsils Touchers Club. “

  3. Bo Frazer says:

    My favorite/not-favorite similar foot-in-mouth story:
    I wrote a chart for the piano player at a Unity morning church service for my special music tune that he wasn’t familiar with. I’m fairly musically illiterate, but have “big ears” — one of those kind of players. So at the end, when I wanted him to slow down, I wrote “ret”, short for “retard”, like… slow down, the tunes over. Well, apparently it’s supposed to be “rit”, short for “ritardando”, the fancy Italian way to slow down. So he looks at it and says “REEE tard?”, making playful fun of my error. So I learned something.

    The next day I was doing a bluegrass gig in the park with an unfamiliar player, and at the end, I yelled “REEE tard!”, off mike, so we would slow to a stop. I looked up and realized that there were about 5 special-needs adults sitting, of course, at the picnic table closest to the music. I paled and stammered through the rest of the set.

    Anyone who knows me will tell you: I am not the Donald Trump kind of guy who would mock or in any way want to make fun of or insult anyone different from me or differently abled (except maybe certain Republicans, obviously). And I could see no negative reactions from the table. But I felt about 2 feet tall for an uncomfortable moment there, because THEY wouldn’t know that. I have tried to see what I can learn from this, but all I can come up with is the self-effacing humor of retelling this story. Don’t let this happen to you!

    • admin says:

      Yeah Bo, I’m cringing for you. So similar to what I did. But in your case, so totally innocent.
      Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone!
      - Greg

  4. Chris Mitchell says:

    We were doing an exercise at work many years ago that involved being stranded on a desert island with a group of people. Descriptions were given for the various survivors. Things like an elderly man, a young woman, someone with a disability, etc. The point of the exercise was to discuss who should continue to live (I can’t remember why we had to make that decision exactly but it might have had something to do with the life continuing) and why. One of the characters had Aids. I blurted out something like, “Well, cross him off because he’s going to die anyway.” I was trying to be a smart ass, but not only was this highly stupid and insensitive of me (and in no way reflected my true opinion on such issues), but one of my co-workers had a brother who died of Aids. Needless to say, I felt like going to that dessert island and staying. It was a painful lesson. One that I have made every effort to not repeat. Open mouth, insert foot is not especially pleasant.

  5. Polly Sonifer says:

    As a young woman (which thankfully I’ve aged out of!), my brother used to tease me that I only opened my mouth to change feet! It was true, unfortunately. Playful teasing that goes overboard was one of my specialities. With age, comes some wisdom and restraint. Nowdays, I make those faux pax less often.

  6. Sweet says:

    I was wearing a pink top and a boy I knew when I was younger started laughing and said “WHAT IS THAT”
    I said your mum
    His mum died the last month
    I texted him to say sorry
    He saw it but never text back

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