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.
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
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