Tag Archives: embarrassment

Thou Shalt Kill, But Not Cuss


Hello, my name is Elizabeth“Jesus Christ is a name, not a swear word.”

This fat-stacked headline was red-lettered boldly on the back of the semi that I cannot help but assume was trying to introduce me to the aforementioned Christ Himself in person, by way of steamrolling my puny convertible to smithereens as I was being forced onto the California Freeway last week.

Perhaps the publicly reproachful driver felt, as he muttered words of encouragement to himself, foiled in his efforts to separate my soul from my body, that perhaps I was a pro-choice supporter, and he could feel sure that another in The Crusade might tag me later – and I’d plummet downward, instead.

Jesus! That was close!” I said to my beautiful assistant, Lacey, my passenger.

Although the driver could not hear – he was, by then, far ahead of me, blowing the doors off California’s law against truckers driving faster than 55 mph – it DID give me some satisfaction to say it.

The trucker DOES make a point, however, that I’ll wager he himself is too ignorant to know he’s making.

Words – particularly names – have enormous power.

Take my own. You might as well. There are an awful lot of Elizabeths out there.

So many, in fact, Elizabeth Stone wrote a Lives column in the New York Times Magazine about an online gathering of Elizabeths in May, 1999 – an article which obviously caught my eye – and I, obviously not being shy, wrote the New York Times to tell them, and they, obviously tickled by my response, even published it.*

[READ THE LETTER AT THE END OF THIS POST.]

(So: on my tombstone, or in my obituary, someone PLEASE mention that I was at least ONE time published in The Grey Lady?** Thank you. Much obliged.)

To carry on:

Unlike the many Liz, Lizzie, Bess, Libby, Bitsy, Bette, Betsy (the Elizabeth who birthed me is one), Belle, Beth, Bettina, Eliza, Lisa, Liza, Tibby, and the list goes on ad infinitum, I myself prefer: “Elizabeth,” the anglicized form of the original Hebrew name “Elisheva,” meaning “my G-d is an oath.”

What “my G-d is an oath” means, though, I’m not sure.

People, when I introduce myself, nearly always try to be kind of smooth, and say: “So… do you go by ‘Elizabeth,’ or…” Then they trail off, sort of expecting me to fill in one of the above nicknames.

(Sometimes, though, they just insert the horrid “Liz.” Which is not horrid, of course, on some people. Just horrid on ME.)

Which means I have to jump in quickly with: “Yes, ‘Elizabeth.’ It’s a few more syllables, but I’m worth it.”

(Actually? My good friends, and even my oldest daughter, call me “Tish,” a nickname I got dubbed with by someone whom I love with all my heart – but that’s another story.)

I’d often heard rumors that medics, in efforts to revive someone, will call their name, but I’d dismissed it until I’d reluctantly found myself headed to the Emergency Room with yet ANOTHER concussion (I’ve been told that if I were a pro athlete, I’d be forced into retirement.)

Promptly, and to the extreme embarrassment of everyone – except, of course, me – I dropped like a stone, right at the nurses’ check-in station, galvanizing everyone into action.

Although I recall little of the actual dive downward, I DO remember two things:

A sharp pain in my chest where a cruel nurse helpfully twisted my skin sharply to revive me – which, although it certainly focused my attention, even THAT didn’t pull me out of the fog I was in – until I heard the nurse ask one of my kids: “What’s her name?”

Naturally, in standard kid-fashion, I heard the kids go: “What?”

As if the nurse has asked instead:

“What is the cosine derivative of x minus the square root of pi?”

“Her NAME,” the nurse asked again. “What is her NAME?”

“Oh,” they said. “Elizabeth.”

In their defense, I think they had to stop for a moment and remember my name isn’t actually MOM.

When the nurse started barking “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” in that demanding sort of way, it really DID pull me back. Sort of the same way your own grownups do when you’re a kid and you get the call from your bed: “Get up! The bus will be here any minute.”

Calling my name brought me back from Neverland in the oddest sort of way that confirmed the rumor: it turned out to be a sort of Dr. Jekyll experiment on my own self that left me with a “Dang! It’s TRUE!” feeling, wondering what ELSE I’d heard that might ALSO be true.

Jesus Christ! There’s a whole world of weirdness out there to discover!

Hopefully, though, I won’t have to get concussed or run over to find them all out.

# # #

* Where Everybody Knew My Name

Published: Sunday, May 30, 1999

Elizabeth Stone’s Lives column (May 9) on the on-line gathering of Elizabeths reflected perfectly the trend for small groups to coalesce on the Internet based on hobbies, interests or random commonalities like names. The Internet, vast as it is, seems to spark a small-town quilting-bee longing in many users.

Of course, there was another reason Stone’s column caught my attention. I’m also an Elizabeth. Maybe I’ll send her an E-mail.

Elizabeth Bushey
Middletown, N.Y.

** “The Grey Lady” is the nickname journalists have for the prestigious, much-revered New York Times.

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Speaking of naked…


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Very fat woman in undiesSpeaking of naked, aren’t you glad she isn’t?

Actually, aren’t you glad neither of these women are?

I keep explaining to my daughters that extremes – either way – are, well, downright icky.

Who wants to cuddle up to a pile of bones, held together somewhat loosely by thinly-stretched skin? Who wants to kiss an ashen, skeletal face that’s about ten minutes away from cadaverhood?

Not me. Even if I liked the ladies.

On the other hand, the thought of being smothered doesn’t appeal to me greatly, either.
Neither does the thought of finding those panties – or Very thin woman in red dressthat bra – in my laundry, either.

I can, however, imagine repurposing that bra as an awning on an outdoor gazebo in the backyard. Couple of wind chimes – you’re in business.

That, however, triggers a rather nasty image in my fetid imagination of those bulbous girls swinging freely, with their usual support instead shading several square yards of my property.

Think it hurts when they do? Flop around, I mean. Yikes.

Ordinarily, the excruciatingly perfect etiquette my Scarsdale, NY grandmother drilled into my head forbids me from commenting on anyone’s personal appearance, outside of “You look wonderful, darling.” That’s it, by the way. That’s all that’s allowed.

Even should someone show up to your wedding with an overturned flowerpot on their head, peat moss streaming down their face, one bare foot, a potato sack dress and accessorizing the ensemble with a tightly clenched pitchfork, all you are allowed to say – if you’re looking to be strictly polite is: “You look wonderful.”

Of course, one can say vastly more than that with tone of voice, one raised eyebrow, and a very slow inspection from head to toe as one tells the pitchfork bearer how wonderful they look. If you’re my Scarsdale grandmother. That’s the whole trick.

Etiquette, Grandma always reminded me, is to keep YOU from being embarrassed. It can work wonders, she advised, when wielded properly as a weapon.

But, like Ninja warriors, it takes years of training and practice to learn how to humiliate others with grace and aplomb. It helps a lot if you have a natural mean streak, or a talent for quick hurtfulness under pressure.

Take the famous Dorothy Parker, known for many things, but probably best of all for her ability to humiliate on cue. A young starlet tried to embarrass Parker at a Hollywood premiere when they nearly collided at the entrance. “Oh, Miss Parker,” chirped the starlet, heading, as young starlets do, boldly into territory she had no business being, “please do go in – after all, as they say: ‘age before beauty.’”

“Thank you, I will,” said Parker, tossing back over her shoulder, “after all, as they say: ‘pearls before swine.’”

Gotcha. Grandma was a dedicated sensei, but I never quite had the mean streak necessary to pull off snobbery. I ended up WAY too egalitarian, in the end.
Being a starving artist, too, makes it tough. When you’re paying for coffee in rolled-up pennies, insulting people is usually the last thing on your mind.

However, I digress.

The reason I feel at liberty to make any sort of comment on these women’s appearance at all is that they not only deliberately POSED for these pictures, but allowed them to be posted on the Internet, where I found them – to my everlasting shame, I don’t remember where, and so cannot give appropriate credit – and can thus bring them to your attention.

I myself am about a size 4, maybe a 6 on my fat days. I am lucky enough to be a sort of tiny person – annoyingly, so little that complete strangers find it okay to actually lift me in the air, as I may have mentioned earlier.

Still, in my own life, I have struggled with both weight gain – after a bout of postpartum depression with my first daughter, I must have, in my haze, thought that PopTarts were the answer – and also with anorexia. Real, honest-to-goodness, let’s see if we can survive on Altoids and cigarettes anorexia. So I have, in my past, resembled the skeleton in the red dress.

Looking back at a couple of pictures, I see now why so many people that I thought were annoying at the time were actually alarmed when they tried to casually suggest I perhaps indulge in a sandwich or three.

I didn’t used to think there was such a thing as too thin.

We all know there’s such a thing as too fat – and yeah, we’re all pretty mean-spirited about it. It’s the one thing nobody minds being right up-front about, either: if someone’s fat, we’re grossed-out.

Even fat guys don’t want fat girlfriends. (The nerve, really, because who really wants a fat boyfriend, even if he is rich? Okay, well how rich? Nice car rich, nice house rich, or nice portfolio rich?)

But the other day, driving along Main Street (yes, it really was Main Street, if you can believe the perfection of coincidence) I saw this enormously (excuse the pun) happy couple waddling (sorry, HAD to use that verb) along, holding hands. They were both extremely huge, but they were obviously extremely into each other, and I was missing Peter, who won’t be home until June, and I thought to myself: how terribly sweet that these two people found each other – and while many people wouldn’t find them all that attractive, perhaps, they probably see each other as the most beautiful people in the world.

And maybe they’ll have a lifetime of happiness – until their enlarged hearts give out and they drop dead at around forty.

In each other’s big arms.

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Embarrassment? I’m Bulletproof.


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Elizabeth Williams Bushey in concertI’m a grownup. That means I can eat frosting right out of the can if I want to. (Yes, I said the CAN. Is there anyone who still makes homemade frosting? Okay, then, you probably aren’t a parent with a job. And if you ARE a parent with a job, and you still make homemade frosting, and get everything else done you’re supposed to do, then you must be my very nice, but gobmackingly perfect sister. Please forward a package of your frosting in one of your gazillion extra organizing tubs.)

I have a vehicle. I can drive to the mall anytime I please. I’ve got a cell phone, too, complete with a butterfly charm from the Icing at the Galleria. How cool am I? I have a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, and I rock with it. I even perform onstage. With a real wireless headset mike. (Testing. 1, 2, 3…) I am SOOOO AWESOME.

Oh, wait, I forgot – I’m the Dork of the Universe.

I’m someone’s mom.

Please do NOT TALK TO MY FRIENDS, MOM.

Please do NOT KISS ME, MOM.

Please DO NOT EMBARRASS ME, MOM.

Now: I, my own self, am nearly impossible to embarrass, being a rather outspoken, outgoing sort. (Anyone who sings in public doesn’t exactly have a low embarrassment threshold.) But one does have to remember what it’s like to NOT be a grownup.

We were in McDonald’s, happily enjoying our happy meals.

“Mom!” Urgency crept into my daughters’ voices – an alarm so deep I wondered for a moment if an armed gunman had entered the establishment.

I bent my head, the better to hear their agonized whispers.

“Ourfriendfromschooljustwalkedin. PLEASE DON’T EMBARRASS US.”

Okay. I don’t mind being considered a dork by my kids, even though in reality, I’m fairly cool. They’re supposed to think I’m a dork. I’m the one teaching them right from wrong, sending them to bed, etc. If they DID think I was cool, I’d be messing up.

But there I was, sitting quietly in McDonalds – a restaurant I don’t even like all that much – minding my business, not doing any of the things they generally hate, like talking to their teachers, or their friends’ parents, or performing.

I’ll admit my baser instincts got the better of me. C’mon, we all – a little bit – hate it that our kids don’t know how cool we really are, don’t we? Don’t we all wish, deep down in our black hearts, that our kids could have seen just how awesome we really are?

“You would have WANTED to be my friend when I was your age!”

Isn’t that sometimes what you want to shout? “You would have thought I was cool THEN!”

So, more than a little peeved about accusations before actions, I stood up.

“You mean, embarrass you by doing something like… dancing to no music at all?”

I began to dance. Slowly, deliberately… embarrassingly.

“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, Mom, pleasepleaseplease sit down, I’m begging you!”

“Something like this? Is THIS what you’re afraid I might do? Or maybe…”

“MOM!”

I sat down with a smirk. “Eat your dinner. She didn’t see.” She didn’t. Naturally I was watching. I DO take care not to embarrass them. Whenever possible.

I do recall that feeling when you’re a kid. Grownups realize everyone else in the universe is so wrapped up in themselves that they’re not paying anywhere NEAR the amount of attention you once thought they were. But kids are still the center of their own universes – the heroes of their own movies, and everyone else is a cameo player.

Extreme self-consciousness is so vivid, so much a part of your life, that any hair out of place, any fold in the cloth of your shirt, any label that’s not up-to-the-minute current makes you feel like a pariah.

You know you’re a real grownup when you realize the “pariahs” – the ones who dance to their own music – are who make the world so very, very interesting.

Kids love McDonald’s because it’s predictable; it’s always exactly the same chicken nuggets, precisely four, precisely cookie-cuttered into the same eerie, unnatural shape.

We grow when we peek beyond the predictable, to investigate: who that is dancing around the corner?

Look: no, really. Look.

(photo credit: © 2006 Tom Bushey)

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