What’s your most embarrassing moment?
I have many. But for some reason, this particular memory is the one that most often comes to mind when I hear that question.
Even more so than throwing up copious amounts of champagne in a large outdoor fountain, in front of my former high school English teacher, at a New Year’s Eve party.
Or crapping my pants while trying to get some guy to like me. (We were out in the woods, making out. There was no easy place for me to go.)
No, this moment took place in the early 1990’s when I was living in Manhattan. I was dating the guy who would, a few years later, become my first husband and the father of my children. My brother was in town with his girlfriend who later became his wife, my sister and the mother of his three children. And I think one of their friends was with us.
Someone decided that we were going to go to The Whiskey Bar in the newly-renovated Paramount Hotel. On 46th Street between 8th Ave. and Broadway. The bar hadn’t been open for too long but it already had the reputation for being cool.
Entering the lobby of the Paramount, I was a little intimidated. It was sleek and modern and hip. Everything that I was not. Sure, I had been living in Manhattan for a couple of years but I was so not cool.
I had only one shirt that I really liked wearing out. It was a long-sleeve, low-cut black leotard that buttoned in the crotch. (Thanks Donna Karan.) And I always wore it with hand-me-down Levis, that I pinch rolled, and a black belt with a big silver buckle.
My hair was very big. Plus I was a little dumpy. I’m short and this was way before high heel wedges were popular. And I still had my mustache. Waxing was not a way of life.
Once in the bar, we were seated on a sofa and in some low chairs circling a few coffee tables. It was loud in there. Music blasting like it was coming out of my teenage daughter’s bedroom.
The waitress came over to take our orders. She was, as all waitresses were at places like that, tall, with long blonde hair and whippet thin. And of course she had a gorgeous face.
She looked at me blankly with my dark, curly hair, round face and big nose. I’m sure she was thinking, “I wonder what the dumpy little Jew is going to get.” (Ok, so I had a few self-esteem issues back then.)
And I ordered a martini. It was the easiest thing for me to order. One word. No funny foreign pronunciation. I felt relieved. I was done.
Or so I thought.
She asked me a follow-up question. But I couldn’t hear what she said. So I asked her to repeat herself. And I still didn’t understand her. Context clues told me that she wanted to know how I wanted it. The now-me knows she was asking if I wanted it straight up or on the rocks.
I thought she asked me if I wanted it in a glass or a vase. I thought a vase must have been a fancy name for a martini glass. Cool. I like vases. So hell yes, I wanted it in a vase.
But she looked at me with those judging eyes and said, “Huh?”
Hoping she would understand hand signals, I made a V with my two fingers. V like a victory sign. Or V like vagina. The only way it could have been worse would have been if I had put my tongue between those two fingers and simulated cunnilingus.
Because she still didn’t understand. Dumb bitch. My face was getting red and heated. And I was starting to sweat.
Finally, I blurted out, “A glass.” I should have just ordered an Amstel Light.
My worst fear had come true. That people knew I didn’t belong there. And I so wanted to belong in a place like that. I so wanted to not be dumpy. And I so wanted to have a drink in a vase.
I’ve changed since then. I don’t think that I’m dumpy. I have more than one shirt that I like to wear out. My mustache is gone. I am very comfortable in my skin. (Some may say I am too comfortable.)
And I know how to order a martini: Ketel One slightly dirty martini, straight up with blue cheese stuffed olives. I practice often.
But I am still haunted by that one night at The Whiskey Bar. Victory was not mine.