Once upon a time, in a Starbucks, far, far away.
“Oh look,” the old lady said, sitting across from me. “We’re making him blush.”
It was true. I could feel a dry, granular heat building first in my neck, and then flooding into my face. No point trying to hide it. Oh the embarrassment … at this point, the least shameful thing was probably looking the part.
“How long has it been doing that?” I asked, wrestling with my laptop, fumbling for one of three different ways of hitting mute, none of them working all too well. “Just a couple of seconds, right?”
Old lady smiled, and lifted off from her face a pair of glasses, behind which were nestled another pair. Odd. “More like a couple minutes, dear,” she said, returning to crochet a fanny pack out of lint-grey yarn.
The heat continued to build.
I shut up the computer, forced a chuckle, and apologized for unwittingly sharing my music with the immediate crowd of coffee drinkers at the local Starbucks. How this happened, I don’t know. Somehow, my basket-case of a Sony Vaio — which under normal circumstances struggles to do any two things at once — managed to muster the act of playing music through my earbuds, while blasting it out loud at the same time. I didn’t even know that was even technically possible until a few minutes ago.
“It’s OK, it’s not like we’re making fun of you,” a warm, disembodied male voice said from behind me, before hastily adding a sarcastic jab. “Actually, we kinda are.”
I looked around, trying to spot the heckler. As everyone’s grins and laughter subsided, I tried to recollect my thoughts and find the scattered remnants of my dignity. Beneath the gloom of a tabletop, cloistered in shadow, something twinkled like glossy plastic: a clean little bottle of Purell hand sanitizer, clipped to someone’s belt. Who does that, I thought to myself, trying to throw the switch on my painful self-awareness to a polar-opposite state of self-righteousness. It’s a bad coping mechanism, I know, a habit I’ve almost kicked.
Guiltily, I atoned by thinking back to the music and to my uneasiness. Did this help? Not really. In doing so, I realized the song that played wasn’t even one I could comfortably live down. My Vaio, possessed with some virus, I’m sure of it, falteringly shuffled my playlist, and decided, out my two-thousand, four-hundred and fifteen tracks, to cue an obscure Gwen Stefani ballad that 2008-me must have thought was pretty cool at the time – because apparently I own it. As far as my music collection goes, I honestly don’t think there’s anything worse to play in public.
If, on the other hand, it had been, say a single from Boxed In …
… then I probably would have shrugged off the event in its entirety. Hell, I may have even turned up the volume.
And then I realized something.
This whole time, I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. Why beat myself up over a simple accident, why be embarrassed over one kind of music playing, and not another, when somewhere, out in the world, you now know that there are lint-grey fanny packs.
Crocheted. By. Hand.
We’ve all got our dark secrets.