The case of the mistaken dinner guest

As promised, I’ll be sharing my #1 most embarrassing moment with you all today. It’ll be cathartic, right? Actually, I’ve written about this before, because I just can’t resist a hilarious anecdote about a complete moron, even if that moron is me.

I’m the type of person who acts first and asks questions later, which, as you will see, really hasn’t worked that well for me. In fact, it leads with surprising regularity to asinine misundesrtandings at which I’m at the heart. I blame this on my general lack of concern with immediate and pertinent detail, coupled by my aforementioned unwillingness to ask questions. For instance, on the first day of a brand new job for which I had been hired to write about student travel, I let a Human Resources clerk give me a tour of the entire wrong department before I screwed up the courage to tell him that maybe I didn’t belong on the accounting floor. And how had this mix-up occurred in the first place? He had said something like, “You’re here for the new bookkeeper job, right?” and I, too consumed with studying the posters of Paris on his cubicle wall to hear him properly, had not asked for clarification like any other sane person, but had simply muttered, “Uh huh.”

Need another example? When I was a freshman in college, I was instructed to interview a prominent member of the faculty for a journalism assignment. I failed, however, to ensure I had the right person on the phone, and subsequently turned in an entire article on the secretary of the Dean of Foreign Studies, instead of on the dean herself. My journalism professor, who just so happened to be good friends with said dean, knew right off the bat that she couldn’t possibly be the same woman who I had featured in my paper. For one thing, the dean had a slightly more extensive academic resume than an associate’s degree in administrative sciences.

But neither one of those cases of mistaken identity can compare to the case of the mistaken dinner guest. Are you comfortable? Have the beverage of your choice? This is a long ‘un. My senior year of college, I was enrolled in a U.S. History course whose professor–fifty-something, handsome, quite popular with students and faculty alike–had a tradition of inviting his students to his home for dinner with his family. Throughout the course of the semester, we were all assigned a date. (Private university, small class sizes. What can I say…except that we just finished paying off our loans.)

When my ‘dinner date’ rolled around, I pulled up at the curb of the lovely Tudor to which my directions had led me right on time. It was a very nice home in a very nice neighborhood (no less than I expected from a tenured professor), and I had barely knocked on the door when it swung open and a pleasant woman in a sporty tennis skirt greeted me heartily. “Come in, come in!” she said with a smile, and so I did.

Now, I had never met my professor’s wife, and while I was a little taken aback to see that she appeared to be only in her 30s, who was I to judge? She invited me into the living room and offered me an iced tea, and I sat down on the sofa and started petting the dog (a somewhat high strung black poodle). While she had clearly been expecting me, there was no sign of my professor at all, which, in hindsight, was Red Flag #1.

Red Flag #2 appeared a moment later in the form of a young girl of about ten, who entered the room to scoop up a basketball lying on the floor and go out again in the direction from which she‘d come. This was troubling because I had known this professor of mine for nearly three years, and while he often told personal anecdotes in class, he’d never once mentioned having a daughter.

By this point, I’d been in the house about five full minutes, which was a hell of long time considering that about every ten seconds, I would crane my neck around in hopes that the one person I expected would walk through the door and save me from this social weirdness. I had drunk most of my iced tea, and while I was trying desperately to convince myself that he was probably just running late, I was really starting to wonder in earnest where my professor could be.

My internal dialogue at this point progressed something like this:

I’m sure he just got caught in traffic.
Something is wrong here.

I bet he told his wife to pass on the message, but she forgot.
I’m starting to think this might not be his house.

His dog is nice.
I really, really think this may not be his house.

I was probably early. I’m always early to things.

I sipped my tea.

The wife came back into the room from the kitchen, and I finally opened my mouth to ask some questions (and remember, I don’t like asking).

“So…” I said cautiously.

“Oh, he’ll be right down,” she said, and instantly, my heart stopped pounding quite so hard. He’d be right down! This was great news! I even accepted the chips and salsa she set out, and told her that no, I don’t have a preference between well-done and rare  (apparently, we were having kabobs).

She sat down across from me in the cheery living room. “So!” she parroted back to me brightly. “How’s school going?”

I found this question a little bit odd, considering that the spring semester had nearly ended and she hadn’t any way of knowing that I was taking a summer course in Modern Poetry, but I was still on a high from the knowledge that he’d be right down, so I answered.

She continued to beam at me. “Your top is cute!” she observed happily as she bounced up to get more tea. Then: “You two should have lots of fun tonight!”

Red fucking Flag #3.

My top was cute?! We’d have lots of fun?! I wasn’t here to have ‘fun’ with my aging professor, and anyway, why would his wife…?


I was still reeling from this new twist of awkwardness when a teenaged boy came bounding down the stairs. I concluded that he was about 16, partly because he was wearing a ‘Mead High School Marching Band’ sweatshirt and partly because he was calling out to his mother to borrow the car as he descended.

She and I both turned at the sound of him thumping down the stairs, and then she said, “Your date’s here, honey!”

Um…what?? A dark, churning sort of chaos immediately invaded my brain and clung. It made a sound similar to chain saws on a blackboard and caused my vision to blur. THE. HELL.

The boy paused mid-leap and stared at me. I stared at him. And I knew the gig was up. The gig I had never even wanted, of course.

“Oh, no, no, no–” I stammered, while he started to laugh.

Wait one damned minute! LAUGH? You’re sixteen and pimply. I’m twenty, in a cute top, and brought my own car, you little shit. You‘d be lucky to–

But that wasn’t the point, of course, so instead I only continued to stammer. Somehow my professor’s name came pouring out of my mouth along with “This-has-all-been-a-misunderstanding-and-I-thought-you-were-someone-else-entirely-and-I-think-I’ll-just-go-now,” and the mother, who I have to say took this whole mix-up very well, informed me that yes of course they knew my professor, and that he lived just one block over. I had mixed up one number on the street address. (In my defense, you’ll be good enough to remember this was before the dawn of GPS.)

She tried to give me the correct address, but of course I wasn’t listening, because I wanted nothing more by this point than to simply disappear, and I certainly didn’t care if I ever saw my professor again. The stupid teenager continued to stare at me from the stairs, the mother was looking slightly disappointed that it turned out I was not Pimply Junior’s date, and I was simply trying to beat a very hasty retreat.

Too hasty. Because as I flung open the door to escape, the dog ran out between my legs. Of course I hardly cared, right? Whatever…I just wanted to be gone. But the mother squealed and even the boy yelled out, so of course I had to stop. My face was flaming red by this point.

Apparently, the dog was never allowed out, and was now in grave danger, because the last time he had escaped out the door, he had almost been hit by a car. Everyone was frantic…even the little girl had come from the driveway where she had been shooting baskets, and was starting to cry.

So for anyone keeping a tally here:

I had barged into their home, drunk their iced tea, eaten their chips, tried to pick up their underage son, and had now let their dog out to a sure death.

Of course I had to stay to help them capture the dumbass poodle.

There’s no graceful way to chase a dog around a yard. If you’re looking for an ice-breaker for your next party for which the theme is ‘awkward’, this is it. I kid you not, we chased him for at least ten minutes before I snagged him around his worthless neck and thrust him at his owners.

Then I got in my car and left. I never went to my professor’s house. I called him when I got home and lamely told him I’d been delayed helping someone find their dog. I ended the semester the next month, having never mentioned what happened. I sometimes wonder if his neighbors ever stopped him at the mailbox one day and told him the whole story.

Either way I would bet money that they still talk about me at family gatherings, or at very least, that they think of me every time that poodle gets out. “Remember when that girl…?”

I hope they always have a good laugh.

15 thoughts on “The case of the mistaken dinner guest

  1. This is utterly fantastic. By the time I got to the part where you were desperately hoping it WASN’T your professor’s house I was laughing so much I snarfed coffee up my nose. Laughing with sympathy, because I can totally see myself doing something like this.

    Thanks for sharing this story. I stumbled upon your blog last week and I have been enjoying it so much.:)

  2. This is amazing! Well worth the wait. Too bad we do not know one another in real life– we could hang out and be awkward together. Which, of course, always makes it better!

  3. Amy!!!! I am so sorry. I can just feel the awkward even after all these years. I’m so glad you didn’t have to actually go out with the underaged boy as payback for the iced tea and chips.

  4. I love you. You are seven kinds of awesome.

    I, too, was one of those people who just sort of hit the mute button, even if something seemed terribly wrong. Which is why I spent a month student teaching Kindergarten when I was enrolled in the high school education program as a graduate student. A month. With kids who pee their pants all the time. I just figured they didn’t have enough high school slots, so I was assigned something else. Me=Dumbass.

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