Thursday, July 15, 2010

Esprit d'Escalier

I sat and licked my ice cream cone, and listened to the crazy old man talk about roaches.

We'd stopped by this ice cream cone stand, right? We'd heard they had great homemade ice cream. They did, too. It was delicious. But the elderly couple had stopped around the same time, and while his wife was getting ice cream, this old guy had decided I was his friend, and was going to tell me about his roach problem, apropos of nothing, whether I wanted to hear it or not.

I don't get it. When I strike up conversations with strangers, I can think of better things to talk about than vermin, filth, or genital warts. But for this old codger, there was nothing in the world more compelling than his roach problem. Mom raised me to be respectful to the elderly... no matter HOW full of shit they may be... and so Becca and I sat and ate our ice cream and listened to the old man rant and rave about roaches.

His wife came back with the ice cream, and immediately looked dismayed. She said nothing, but her facial expression said, "Oh, no. He's on about the roaches again, and he's trapped some poor bystander, and now this man and his wife think I'm married to an Alzheimer's case."

The old man developed a spooky glint in his eye. "But THEN," he said, "I realized where they was COMIN' from."

The woman said "Oh, dear, please, no--" She knew what was coming, and was already dying of embarrassment.

"They was comin' from the SHITTER!" he cried, fairly loudly, his voice filled with triumph. "Comin' out of the SHITTER, they was! Them roaches was gettin' in through the SHITTER!" His eyes durn near glowed with lunatic glee. I wasn't sure if he was pleased he'd outsmarted the roaches, or if he was just thrilled that he'd said the word "shitter" three times in less than three seconds. His wife shriveled behind him. Too late...

"That reminds me," I said. It was the first time I'd spoken since the old man had begun talking. "Are you familiar with the Japanese giant hornet?"

The old man stopped cold, and looked confused. I continued onward. "Big suckers. We're talking hornets the size of your thumb. They build nests the size of Volkswagens. Hostile, too. They kill about twenty Japanese folks each year -- if you get too close to the nest, they swarm you."

The old man sat there with a "durr?" look on his face. Plainly, this wasn't in his script. Feeling pleased with myself, I pressed onward. "What's even worse, their poison is corrosive. First they sting you, then they SPRAY you with the stuff. Not only does it burn your skin, but it's got a pheremone in it that tells all the OTHER wasps that you're an enemy, and should be stung to death immediately. They'll chase you for hundreds of yards once you got THAT shit on you."

The light of lunacy died in the old man's eyes, slowly replaced by the steady gleam of confused lucidity. "Um," he said, raising a hand, preparatory to speaking. I didn't want him to speak. I kept going.

"And if giant monster wasps who spray flesh-melting poison isn't bad enough," I said, "they're really bad for beekeepers. See, they attack beehives. I saw a video once, only three wasps, fighting THOUSANDS of bees, right there at the hive. The bees can't touch them. Their stings won't go through the wasps' shells. THREE WASPS just killed every single bee in the hive, bit 'em in half one at a time, then when they were all dead, crawled right in there and ate the queen and all the baby bees..."

"Um, now, hold on, just WAIT a minute!" said the old man, by now quite bumfuzzled. "What does THIS have to do with anything? I was talkin' about ROACHES!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said as sincerely as I could. "Did I mess up? I was under the impression we were having some sort of non-sequitur contest with the topic "insects." Did I not use enough profanity? I wasn't real clear on the rules..."

This story was true, all the way up until I began talking about the hornets. For that matter, the stuff about the hornets is true, too -- it just didn't occur to me to say anything about them at the time. I wish I had... "Esprit D'Escalier," means "Spirit of the staircase." It means "stuff you wish you'd said at the right time, but didn't think of until you were already on your way out."

I like that there's a word for that.

But to my dear wife and anyone who really cares about me: if, when I am old, I begin pouncing on complete strangers and begin talking to them about roaches or bowel movements or anything, just shoot me. Seriously. The part of me that is still lucid would thank you for it...

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