On a recent night out, just before my husband and I left a restaurant, I made my way to the restroom alcove.
I could see two women in the facilities on my right as I approached, so in I went, only to find the women busy with buckets, mops, cleaning solution and other tools of the restroom-cleaning trade.
"A problem?" I said, intelligently enough, I thought. But the women, who had been chatting, fell silent and looked at me as if I'd interrupted a doctor-patient conversation.
A pause ensued while we all tried to deduce the next move. On my end, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why the door was propped open. On their end, they were apparently trying to tell me something without offending a customer.
"This is the men's room," one of them finally said, having decided to go with the blunt truth. At that precise moment, I noticed the male-only plumbing that should have tipped me off in the first place.
"Of course it is," I said, all traces of intelligence gone, and fled next door, where I locked myself inside a stall and started to ask hard questions.
I say "questions," but really, only one question matters: Am I blundering into ridiculous situations more often, or does it just seem that way to me?
It's not that I fear dementia is setting in. Dementia is when a person doesn't realize she's suffering from dementia. I understand the errors of my ways all too well, once I'm up to speed.
Take the other day. I stopped at a traffic light after picking up my daily latte at a drive-thru window. At the instant the driver of the car next to mine glanced over, I realized I wasn't sure if I'd closed my window after pulling away from the coffee shop.
Without thinking, I put one finger on the window and ran it up the glass. I don't have to tell you which finger it happened to be.
Well. The light changed and I drove off, looking straight ahead, sure the driver on my left was indignantly returning my rude gesture. How to explain myself at 55 mph? Write a note? "I just got coffee and my window looked unusually clean, causing me to ask myself if I rolled it up, so I put out my finger to see if the glass was actually there and ..." Even writing quickly, I'd be lucky to explain that much before traffic separated us, and I hadn't even gotten to the part where I apologized.
In Belgium, decades ago, a helpful passerby decided to take my husband and me to a chicken restaurant owned by a family member. She led us down a busy Liege sidewalk, turning every few yards to curl her fingers, palm out, at us. She seemed to be saying "Get lost!" and several times we skidded to a halt, confused, until she all but stamped her foot with impatience at our stupidity. Eventually, we realized she was beckoning, Belgian style, and we trotted obediently behind her.
Now I hoped the driver I had inadvertently insulted would assume I was wishing him well in sign language -- say, American Finger-on-Safety Glass.
Speaking of coffee, get this: Last week, I ordered a drink at an in-store kiosk, and when the barista set it down, I reached for a cardboard sleeve and knocked over the cup. Hot, milky liquid flowed across the stainless-steel counter, saturating everything, running under the machines and pouring onto the floor like a venti Victoria Falls.
"I'm so sorry!" I said. "Can I come back there and clean it up?"
The barista just looked at me.
"Kidding!" I said, lying my head off. I'd have mopped up and then worked the rest of her shift, pumping caramel, wiping down coffee makers and filling the napkin holder, which, by the way, was empty.
But I could only watch as the woman methodically blotted the enormous body of latte with three trees' worth of paper towels. Customers piled up as she made me another drink. When I offered to pay for it, the barista just waved me away. "Far away," was her unmistakable message.
I can think of some other people who probably feel the same.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.