I'm terrible at first impressions. To be honest, I'm not that great at second impressions either. I'm usually way too wrapped up in my own brain/psychosis, worried about how I will be perceived, to realize that I'm absolutely blowing it by running off at the mouth. Somehow my "please God, LIKE ME" insecurities usually just come off as snarky.
Lesson 1: Know your audience!
I've never forgotten my first rodeo. I don't mean that as a figure of speech. I am literally referring to my first trip to a God's honest, pole-bending, bull-riding rodeo. The weird thing is that I grew up a stone's throw from the Purvis fairgrounds, where rodeos were held on quite the frequent occasion. But since I was not well versed in the way of the cow, or all that interested, I never attended one. That was until puberty hit and I realized that there might be girls there. One problem. I didn't have a scene. That is to say that I really didn't fit into one specific category. Even if I did, cowpoke would have been pretty damn far down the list. Like you'd need a pair of binoculars to see it, far. Things like ninja, or scuba diver, or neurologist would have been MUCH further up the list than cowpoke, if that helps to put it into perspective.
Still, when my friend suggested to me that we should go to the Friday night rodeo and that girls would surely be in attendance, I jumped at the opportunity to go. I didn't know what I was really going to, but I was sure I'd figure it out once I got there. Just before leaving school that Friday my friend warns, "hey man, don't forget, wear something nice. Don't come out there in a t-shirt and flip flops."
Now, this is possibly the ONLY, and I mean ONLY instance where I would have benefited from paying attention to the T.V. when one of those commercials for the local western wear store flashed by during my break from Star Trek TNG. Only then would I have seen that there is a certain "dress" attire that comes along with going to this type of event. One should wear a brightly colored and rigorously starched shirt. The kind of thing you'd find in your average Garth Brooks video. This shirt should be tucked into a pair of jeans so tight that one would imagine them shown on posters for what not to wear on the walls of urology school. Apparently, only the fastening strength of a comically sized belt buckle was appropriate to ensure that the aforementioned pants were adequately supported. However, most of these buckles usually contained some type of writing that would suggest that they were earned by merit of some previous cowpoke accomplishment. Since my CV was a tad light in the cowpoke accomplishment section, I would have to seek another route. Finally, a well worn pair of work/cowboy boots were needed to ensure that one could safely traverse the perils of your standard county fairgrounds.
However, since I'd lacked the attention to noticed the above clothing, I went with the following:
(1) Bright white pair of Nike running shoes
(1) Pair of fashionable ankle socks
(1) Pair of Duck Head brand vividly pastel plaid shorts (pleated for comfort)
(1) Bright yellow Duck Head brand polo shirt (tucked)
I pulled up to the fairgrounds and threw my truck in park. The excitement of tonight's festivities nearly overcame me as my senses were teased by the bright lights, sea of fellow rodeo-ites, and the curious smell of animal feces. This was surely a scene set for romance.
My feelings of excitement were quickly dashed as my compatriot's voice cut through the air, "What in the hell are you wearing?"
His words cut through my idiocy and I crashed back down to the reality that my motif of Easter-preppy might not fit this crowd. Blood rushed to my face. My stomach instantly began to ache. His words rang truer as I noticed my Nikes were beginning to slightly sink into the mud of the fairgrounds, their pearly white soles tainted by more and more brown stains. Surely, this would result in one heck of a lecture from my OCD father as he would make me use warm soapy water and a toothbrush to return them to their store bought condition.
Needless to say, many folks that evening had a fun, raucous time watching the harrowing events of the rodeo. I, however, was not one of those people. No, I was the preppy fruitcake sitting alone at the end of the bleachers as cowboy after cowboy stared, spit their chaw, shook their head in disgust, and muttered their visually guided perceptions of my sexuality.
I didn't know my crowd. I didn't take into account that I might be better suited to dress for the occasion. You would think I would've learned my lesson.
Lesson 2: Go easy on the smart mouth
My first instinct, especially when I'm nervous, has always been to crack a joke. You know, cut the tension. The problem is, if the people you're around just met you, then they might not see your comments as a joke.
My first time meeting Amanda's family was stressful, to say the least. There was no easing me into the family. After a few weeks of dating, she brought me home from college for the weekend. It was sure to be a fun time as not only would I be meeting her parents for the first time, but also both of her older brothers. No worries. I'm usually good with moms. I'd just be nice, courteous, and mind my table manners. Swallow before talking, try not to choke, and compliment the food. I can do this.
Memories of the rodeo came flashing through my head as we set down to dinner. For it was at this time where I learned that her dad was a prior dairy farmer with a PHD in Animal Science. Both brothers were raised on the farm, and the youngest held a Masters in Animal Science. I quickly looked down to make sure that I was plaid free. Whew, no worries there. Was khaki too preppy? Forget it. Just listen and be nice. If the sweet and unfairly attractive blonde across the table likes you, then surely there must be something you can do to make friends with her family.
That's when the conversation at the table shifted to someone the father and sons knew who had recently sold a horse for an exorbitant amount of money. Ribbons of thought shot through the inner recesses of the smarty pants portion of my brain. Before I knew it, a perfectly crafted witty retort exploded from my mouth.
"Did you say (insert insane dollar amount)? That's crazy. What would you say a horse does that would make it worth that amount of money? It would have to look REALLY handsome with that saddle on, right?"
*sternly blank stares*
Blood once again rushed to my face. I wanted to crawl under the table as her father and siblings outlined to me the purpose of this type horse and it's very real value in very matter of fact tones. My joke BOMBED. Like a fart-in-church level bombing. That first impression was shot. They either didn't understand or didn't appreciate that I was simply trying to make an endearing joke.
Remember how I said earlier that I wasn't very good as second impressions either?
Fast forward a couple of months to my first trip to her family's cabin at the Neshoba County fairgrounds. I've written about the fair before. It's a week of baking in the hot Mississippi sun, watching horse races, eating food that isn't very good for you, and sharing a 300 square foot cabin with 25 other attendees.
At first, everything was going quite well. I seemed to be getting along with her extended family, as everyone settled in for some nice conversation, following dinner. I slyly slipped away to the upstairs bathroom to see a man about a horse.
As I flushed the toilet I failed to notice something. I never noticed that the water wasn't running. This reality came crashing down as the toggle switch to the toilet clunked down, without bringing forth one drop of water.
Blood rushed to my face. Here I am with my pants around my ankles, trapped in the bathroom, in no condition for family pleasantries, and only one way out; through a herd of my new girlfriend's family members. For what seemed like hours I just sat there listening to my own heartbeat as it became heavier and heavier. It seemed as if my entire body jolted with every pulse. Finally, I heard someone coming up the steps. "Dear Lord, please let it be Amanda!" I quietly call out:
Voice: No, it's David (Amanda's brother)
Me: (inner-monologue) $#!%
David: You okay in there?
Me: Can you get Amanda?
David: I guess
Amanda soon joined David at the door
Amanda: What's wrong?
Me: It would seem that the water in the cabin is malfunctioning
Amanda: Uhh, ok. What's wrong?
Me: Well, I already went to the bathroom....
This is where David rejoins the conversation.
David: Is the toilet clogged?
Me: No, it flushed once
David: Okay, well what's the problem?
Me: Umm....how do I say this? You see, there are two parts to this job. I used up the one flush on the first part of the job.......I'm stuck.
David's voice is now pained as he struggles to hold back the laughter when he speaks.
David: (in his best, overly calm hostage negotiator voice) Well, what are our options?
Me: I have no idea. What are the chances that the water comes back on soon?
David: Not too good. There are a lot of people at the fairgrounds tonight and it puts a lot of stress on the system.
Me: The system is stressed, huh?
David: Do what you can and come downstairs. I'll get our cousin to take you to his house to, uhh.....finish the job?
Me: Kill me
As a gently came down the steps en route to the front door, EVERY eye quickly darted away as the mere thought of eye contact with Mr. dirty butt would be too much to bear. All's well that ends well though, as somehow once I returned all those snarky little jokes I'd use to diflect my embarrassment were somehow KILLING now. I don't care how nervous the laughter was; it was laughter. I would take it.
I guess lesson three is: When in doubt, be REALLY, REALLY human.