Was trading stories from our youth with a buddy of mine the other day, and this one made us both chuckle.
My first job out of college was managing a car rental agency. The hours were long, but money was decent, plus I had my pick of any car in the fleet for my personal use.
However, it was a high-stress and highly frenetic job. We had the largest fleet in the district, and days could get pretty crazy. As a result, I was usually a bit desperate to make sure everything got done, but would occasionally forget who was supposed to have done what.
So on a typical day as I ran back into the building, I saw my assistant (and to this day, one of my dearest friends) Robert, going over a rental agreement with an elderly couple.
Out of breath and without thinking, I interrupted their conversation and blurted out:
“Did you call Dr. Tan?”
“…Ummm, …no, but…”, he began.
“Dammit, I asked you to do that first thing this morning!” I said. “You need to take care of him immediately, as soon as you’re finished with these folks. Okay?”
Yes, I was being rude. Yes, I should have waited until they were gone. I know that now, and knew it then, too: I simply wasn’t paying attention.
Yet even as I was talking, I noticed the couple become alarmed, even shocked. The man went so far as to actually use his arm to shield his wife, who now appeared to be downright scandalized by my very presence.
Assuming that my mild cursing had offended them, I offered a too-quick “My apologies for interrupting…”, and raced back to my desk to handle a ringing phone.
Regardless, both the man and woman kept staring at me, eyes wide as headlights, and they were whispering to each other a-mile-a-minute.
I did my best to ignore them.
When they finally left (and the staring/whispering had continued all the way out the door), my assistant came over to me and asked, smiling:
“You’re probably wondering about that couple, aren’t you?”
“Yeah!” came my immediate response. “What WAS their problem?!”
Patiently, with his smile getting bigger by the second:
“Well, they took issue with your question…”.
“Oh, c’mon,” I said. “They’ve never heard the word ‘dammit‘ before?”
“That wasn’t it” he informed me. And it was then that I learned, between his stifled laughter, that I had NOT, in fact, uttered the words: “…Did you call Dr. Tan?…”
No, he promised that my query, clearly stated and in front of those customers, was instead:
“Did you KILL Dr. Tan?”
Which, of course, puts what I’d said next (“…You need to take care of him immediately, as soon as you’re finished with these folks….“) in a slightly different light, and most assuredly to THEM.
I’m guessing they didn’t rent from us again, either.
One (more) odd thing about the whole misunderstanding: I have no actual recollection of the mysterious Dr. Tan himself. None whatsoever. After all these years, only his name stands out. No clue who the good doctor was, why we needed to call him, and I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup of one.
But I’m just as certain that both he AND his wife probably remember me…