My Emily Litella Moment
Wanted to share a recent telephone call with my sister who over the years has worked on rape hotlines and with organizations who support victims of domestic violence.
She opened the conversation. “I have a new assignment.”
“Yes. I’ve been working with a lot of prostitutes and one of the biggest problems is literacy. I’m trying to find books for them. But the problem is, the reading level is about fourth grade.”
“Well, since my kids are older and you have kids who have just entered middle school, I thought you might have some books I could give them.”
“I’m sure I have books at that reading level, but the subject matter might not be that engaging for adults.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the books I have are geared toward young kids. I don’t really think adults will want to read Magic Tree House and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” I scanned the bookshelf. “Maybe some of the nonfiction books like Mistakes That Worked, The Big Book of Bugs, or The Guinness Book of World Records could hold an adult’s interest.”
My sister’s voice went up an octave. “Adult? What are you talking about? Who do you think the books are for?”
I nodded. “The prostitutes.”
“I’m not working with prostitutes!”
“What? Who are your clients?”
“Foster kids. I said, ‘Foster kids!”
“Oh…That’s different… Never mind. My children’s books will be perfect. I’ll pack ‘em up for you and put them in the mail.”
During lunch with some of my girlfriends, I relayed this story, laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. (Yes, I laugh at my own jokes! My delivery may be poor, but at I’m my own good audience.). One of my friends was quick to try to make me feel better by offering the following personal experience.
When working on a volunteer project at school, she struck up a conversation with another mother helping out. The two sat at a table stuffing envelopes or some such.
My friend asked, “How old is your daughter?”
“She’s 16, a junior this year and so busy!”
“Really, what she involved in?”
“Well, she’s a stripper.”
There must be better ways for a high school girl to earn a buck. “Really?”
“The hours are so long and she has to shower when she finishes, so it makes for a really long day for her.”
Now, my friend, a pretty lenient parent and rarely speechless, nibbled her fingernails and widened her eyes. “Uh huh.”
As my pal tells the story this conversation went on for a good five minutes before she realized the fellow volunteer had said, “SWIMMER – her daughter was a swimmer,” not a STRIPPER, after all!
Tell me about a conversation that turned into a game of telephone (remember the one when a whispered phrase is sent around a circle and winds up completely different by the time it reaches the last player!) I’d love to hear about something you heard wrong that made you laugh when the light bulb finally went off above your head with the real meaning of the conversation. Share a story. It’s all fodder for fiction!
Best to you,
Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Author of Smart Women’s Fiction