I always did want to post this out-take from Southern Vapors. I liked it, even though my editor said it needed to come out of the book. She thought it was irrelvant. For anyone who knows me well, it actually says alot.
“Temporarily embarrassed.” That’s an old-fashioned phrase that perfectly describes how I felt about my situation in the summer of 2010: back in Atlanta, impoverished, one step away from going on the dole with my mother, rejected by prospective employers at every turn and living in an apartment with uneven floorboards and no thermostat.
I love this particular usage of the word “embarrassed.” It was often used in the Victorian novels I read as a teenager, the very same novels that introduced me to “the vapors” (only spelled “vapours” in the English way). The typical context was when a young dandy found himself “temporarily embarrassed” at the gaming tables, that is, out of money or credit, but sure to re-establish himself in short order.
As distraught as I was by my feelings of “temporary embarrassment” and worries about being jobless, my distress was often offset by moments of levity, courtesy of Suzy Marmalade.
I remember one day in that same summer of 2010 being on my way out of town for a quick trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
I decided that I had better fill up on gas and check the oil in my car. I pulled up to the pump, got the gas going and, in Suzy mode, made an instant assessment. “I don’t know how to open the hood and I have no idea how you check the oil on this car (having owned it for a year and a half). There’s a twenty-five-year-old guy in an Ole Miss T-shirt sitting over there reading a book; let’s rock n roll.”
I walked over to the guy and said, “How would you like to meet the last of a dying breed?” He looked up, made his own quick assessment, and answered, “What do you need help with?” I told him and he followed me over, asked me to pop the lid on the hood. Up until then his expression had been neutral, but I saw his lip begin to curl when I told him that I thought there was a latch in the car that popped the hood because I had pulled it by mistake before, but I didn’t remember where it was. He found it, popped the hood, propped it up and started checking the oil. As he went along, he gave me a little lesson, explaining where the dipstick was, how you pull it once and wipe it, then check it again—all things I’d done years ago, but somehow allowed to fall out of my memory.
Not “somehow.” It was Suzy, banking as always on the “temporary” part of “temporarily embarrassed.” Surely the day was just around the corner when once again I would have someone taking care of the details for me, right? So I smiled inside while the kid gave me a lesson he thought I needed, and secretly tuned him out. In truth, however, I’m not a total idiot and it actually was a little interesting, so I listened with one ear and afterwards I once again knew how to check the oil in my car.