What I wish I’d said

There are some concerts I attend and whose audiences include a lot of older people. A while back, I frequently observed that the water had been left running in the men’s room sink. As I stepped up to the sink one time and stuck my hands under the flow left running by the elderly man who had just left, I was aware of another man just approaching the sink to my right. Without turning to look at him, I shared my observation, “Some men just don’t seem to know how to turn the faucet off.”

Then I glanced to my right to see an old friend. “Oh, hi. I didn’t realize I was talking to someone I know,” I offered cheerily.

Yet his reply was, “You’re not talking to me.”

Wait. What? Did he think I was accusing him of leaving the water running? I wouldn’t confront someone in that situation in the first place, but how could I think that someone just about to wash his hands could’ve possibly left the water on?

I couldn’t muster any words before the brief encounter ended. Not long after, it occurred to me that my best response would have been, “To you, but not about you.”


You know the situation. You think of exactly the right thing to say — moments, hours or days later. Sometimes I’m just too shocked to think of a response. I just can’t believe what I’m hearing. Sometimes it’s not that I can’t think of a good reply, but the opposite: I think of too many appropriate responses to choose just one. So I stand there running through the menu in my mind while saying nothing.


One day in a small workout facility, as I was wiping down the machine on which I’d just been exercising, an older woman said something about how good it was to see a man actually doing some cleaning. All kinds of things went through my head, none of which came out coherently.

The sexism implied was bad enough, but there’s also common gym courtesy — and the signs reminding all patrons to wipe off machines after use. This woman was a regular and the wife of a physical education instructor. That seemed to be two good reasons for her to be familiar with workout room customs. So one of the things I wished I’d said was, “Just following protocol.”

As for the antiquated attitude about gender roles, I thought of saying something about how I’d learned about and practiced housecleaning from an early age. But that could’ve involved more time than I had as I moved on to the next machine.


I was working in the public relations office of a major medical center many years ago. Someone I vaguely knew worked there and was involved in workers’ right. One day she saw me and the job title on my name badge. “How can you do public relations for this place?”

I offered how much I enjoyed the activities I personally got to do, including taking photos and working on the in-house newspaper. By the next day, I knew the best response would’ve been: “Well, somebody has to.”


Sometimes people pick up on one word in what you’ve said and use it to steer the conversation in a different direction. My first mother-in-law, before she was, had trouble with my longish hair in the early ’70s. One time, at the urging of a friend, she got up the nerve to ask me directly why I wore it that long. I said it had been short most of my life, but in recent times, I’d decided to go with something different. She picked up only on “different,” saying that with so many guys having long hair, I’d be different if mine were short.

The sudden change in direction of the conversation threw me, as it always has and does. I’m not sure I said anything. Obviously, she was conceding that I wasn’t varying from the norm of the day, but she didn’t want the norm of the day dating her daughter (or coming in her house). Some time later, I realized I could’ve simply said, “I mean different from the way I have worn it in the past.”

I don’t think this change-of-direction tactic is characteristic of mothers-in-law or women in general, but I did have an analogous experience with MIL2, who at least was more accepting of me. There was a myth in that family that I could “eat anything and not gain weight.” She perpetuated it as much as anyone.

While it was a positive myth, it wasn’t true. After I had slowly put on 40 pounds over a number of years, I pointed out to her that the facts belied the myth. Her response? “Well, you weighed too little to start with.” Again, the sudden change in direction flustered me. Days past before my appropriate response crystallized in my brain: “Whether or not that’s true, it doesn’t change the fact that I have been gaining weight all along.”

Btw, it wasn’t true. I had been close to an ideal weight when she first knew me.


I was visiting a church one Sunday. During the passing of the peace, a woman stepped across the aisle, said “Sorry but I’m the congregational hugger,” and threw her arms around me.

What I thought and regret not saying was, “That’s certainly not something to apologize for.”


I was with a small group of people at the home of mutual friends. The hosts had not been married long and were anxious to start a family. Guests included a couple who were militantly anti-children. The wife of that couple noticed, picked up and examined a detailed temperature chart our hostess was keeping.

“I can’t believe someone would go through all this to have a baby.”
I said nothing, but eventually wished I’d thought to have said: “Why not? You’d go through that much not to have a baby, wouldn’t you?”


I’m one of those few people who figures the engineers and law enforcement people who set speed limits know more about it than I do. So, taking my “courtesy” into account, I tend to drive no more than 5 or so faster than the posted limit. On multi-lane highways, I stay over to the right as much as possible. I’m the old guy creeping along at 72 in the right-hand lane of a 65 mph zone. On two-lane roads, I deal with a lot of tailgaters.

One time, I listened as some person ranted about having to be behind someone going too slowly on a two-lane highway. I thought of the times I’ve had someone’s headlights in my rear-view mirror while I was going 60 on a 55-mph road at night. But I decided to give this person the benefit of a doubt and assume she was talking about someone going well below the limit, which does happen.

I just said something supportive and let it go. What I could have said, though, was, “Yes, that is quite frustrating. I’ve been there. And you know what is also frustrating? When you’re going 60 in a 55-mph zone and someone is riding your back bumper, putting you both at risk for an accident, as if you were holding up traffic”


I was a young adult when my mother was diagnosed with high blood pressure. As a hedge against heredity, I stopped adding salt to my food. I found other ways to help it be favorable. At a luncheon one day, as I declined an offer of the salt shaker, I told the others about my mother’s HBP and my desire to minimize my risk.

I then immediately said, “Pass the pepper.” There were giggles, which didn’t seem to fit the situation. I let it go, but later wished I’d thought to have said, “It’s not flavor that is the culprit, just sodium. ”


I’m sure you can think of similar experiences. I could go on, but that’s enough (maybe more than enough) examples. Tomorrow or next week, I’ll probably think of one more I’ll wish I’d included.

Characters as humans

Early in 2018, I was a supporting character in a Playmakers Repertory Company production of “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath. The drama is set in a mega church, complete with choir, which is on stage for about 2/3 of the play. I sang in the choir for 10 performances.

There are five main characters. As created by the playwright and presented by the actors, they are all full-dimension human beings. I found in each things with which to agree and to disagree. All were sincere individuals struggling with their beliefs.

Some people who saw the play missed a lot of what it offered because they chose to see the characters as flat.

The action centers around some changing beliefs about heaven and hell that the church’s pastor shares from the pulpit and the fallout therefrom.
For one friend, generally open-minded about most things, mega church means religious right. He wrote the pastor off as “a Billy Graham,” showing little (or no) interest in what happens to him and those around him. There’s some irony here in that the new theology the pastor espouses is not something Rev. Graham would believe in. Also, Billy Graham was never pastor of a mega church. But such distinctions don’t matter when one deals in stereotypes.

Another friend, who is Jewish, dismissed the whole play with “I’m of another persuasion.” It angered my wife, who also is Jewish, to hear this. This same man, I am sure, would never, ever dismiss a drama about African Americans because he’s not of that race.

The theological themes raised were not issues that only Christians ponder. Further, one doesn’t have to focus on the theological questions. They play works as a study of relationships and personal issues. Some who have little or no use for religion may have tuned out a compelling human drama.

During some performances more than others, there would be those in the audience who would laugh at lines that were not funny. Did they just not get the seriousness of what was going on? Or did they not care to? This was during a time when the pastor is being taken to task. Perhaps some in the audience figured, “I’m glad to see this Billy Graham mocked.” Maybe others, conversely, held on to the conservative view from which this man departed and thus were glad to see him put in his place.

In either case, they were flattening his character and that of the person questioning him.

Playmakers Repertory Company photo.

Alma Mater — Thoughts on team support and being true to one’s school

If I remember my Latin, “alma mater” means “beautiful mother.”    In terms of where one went to school, I think we sometimes translate it as “foster mother”  or maybe “nurturing mother.”     In any case, the term connotes the special relationship with one’s school, esp. college.

A concept I sometimes have trouble explaining, especially to people who have “adopted” a team or teams from an institution they did not attend, is the difference between an alum and a mere fan.   I have nothing against fans.   Pulling for one team or the other is a big part of what makes sports exciting.    However,  I cheer for Tar Heel teams and want them to succeed, not so much because I am a fan, but because they represent the institution that was my home for four years as I evolved from a teenager into an adult.   Yet the athletic programs of UNC (or UNC-CH, if you must) do not define my entire relationship with the University.    Nor does my relationship with UNC, though significant, define my entire being.   

I wear school colors when I attend games (just as I wear Hurricanes colors when I attend NHL games).    At other times, when I happen to wear a light blue, it’s because that’s what came up in the rotation.   And it likely is not Carolina blue.   (That is a specific color on the Pantone chart, darker than your average light blue dress shirt.   Similarly, the darker blue of a nearby institution is also specified on the chart and is lighter than Navy blue.)   When I wear other colors, it’s for the same reason, not to make a statement.     I drive a red car, not to show loyalty to the Hurricanes (or disloyalty to UNC), but simply because I like brightly-colored cars.   So far as I know, no person or organization owns any color. 

From time to time when someone learns I live in the Chapel Hill area, they assume that automatically means I am a UNC fan.   I explain that there are people living here who went to various schools and pull for them.  I go on to note that  I am a UNC graduate and would be loyal to my alma mater wherever I lived.    It’s not because I live here or, for that matter, because I once worked at UNC.  

Some people seem to begin pushing their offspring  toward their alma maters almost from birth.   What we have tried to instill in our children is to find a college where they can have the kind of experience we did, wherever that might be.    We even encouraged them not to go to UNC, but rather to get away from the place in which they had lived their entire lives to that point.   Two ended up deciding on UNC.   The reasons they decided to do so were compelling, but were not because of parental expectations. 

It seems that the more loyalty one has to one’s own school, the less he/she needs to put down others’.   That’s the “cheer for your team, not against the other” theory.    I don’t think it builds up my alma mater to insult others.  In fact, I think it may reflect badly on it.  

I’m somewhat bemused by the individual who talks as if he/she thinks everyone should be fans of his/her team.     What would it be like if everyone supported the same team?    What would be the point in competition?   Indeed, would there be any sports competition?

I know other people see things differently.   This is just a brief outline of what I believe on this subject.   I realize it means that I choose not to play some popular games (i.e., trash talking) others seem to enjoy.   For that I do not apologize.  

There are some places where you can get cut  if you say something bad about someone’s mother.   You won’t hear me say something bad about your alma mater, not however because I fear you will cut me, but simply out of respect.    I hope others feel about their alma maters — especially undergrad, because that it such a formative time of one’s life — as I do about mine, regardless of where they live or work.   I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t.   

Famous guests

On rare occasion over the years, I have had a chance to meet someone we would consider “famous.” When I was growing up in West Asheville, we even had “famous” people come to our house, not once but twice.

The first time was when I was about 8 or 9. My father was a veterinarian who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One evening, an older lady came by our house to get some papers signed. Something about selling some goats.

As soon as she came in, my father walked her to the book case and said, “See, we have your husband’s books.” I was confused. Why did we have his books? Had he given them to us? I knew to be seen but not heard and gave the matter little thought for several years.

It was only as a college student, appearing in a production of “The World of Carl Sandburg,” that I realized that had been Mrs. Sandburg at our house. The books were Carl Sandburg’s four-volume “Abraham Lincoln: The War Years.”

The other celebrity guests visited during the summer after my first year in college. The Chuck Wagon Gang was in town for a concert. My brother Benjamin was active in their fan club. The group was to have dinner at the home of the club’s president, a friend who lived nearby. Benjamin and I were invited to the dinner, and he arranged for the two of us to drive them from the hotel to our friend’s home — by way of a brief stop at our house to say hello to our parents.

On rare occasion over the years, I have had a chance to meet someone we would consider “famous.” When I was growing up in West Asheville, we even had “famous” people come to our house, not once but twice.

The first time was when I was about 8 or 9. My father was a veterinarian who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One evening, an older lady came by our house to get some papers signed. Something about selling some goats.

As soon as she came in, my father walked her to the book case and said, “See, we have your husband’s books.” I was confused. Why did we have his books? Had he given them to us? I knew to be seen but not heard and gave the matter little thought for several years.

It was only as a college student, appearing in a production of “The World of Carl Sandburg,” that I realized that had been Mrs. Sandburg at our house. The books were Carl Sandburg’s four-volume “Abraham Lincoln: The War Years.”

The other celebrity guests visited during the summer after my first year in college. The Chuck Wagon Gang was in town for a concert. My brother Benjamin was active in their fan club. The group was to have dinner at the home of the club’s president, a friend who lived nearby. Benjamin and I were invited to the dinner, and he arranged for the two of us to drive them from the hotel to our friend’s home — by way of a brief stop at our house to say hello to our parents.

Members of the CWG on our front steps with my parents and me (in vest).